I have had a VM for web hosting for ….. about as long as VMs have been a thing. Before that I shared a physical machine with some old work collegues from ArsDigita. But ever since I hosed the PHP on my current VM, I haven’t really been doing anything that needed dynamic hosting. So it’s about time I saved some time and effort and move things to static hosting.
We do some AWS stuff at work so one of the simpler ways to move away from having my own server would be to host static sites in S3. The AWS console is a hot mess AND constantly changing AND isn’t version controlled. But terraform will let me manage my AWS configuration using code that can be version controlled. And will give me some additional experience using terraform and AWS. So win, win, win.
I found this blog post that does a pretty good job of explaining how to use terraform to set up a static web site on aws: The only things I had questions about where:
- Why use CloudFront for a low traffic site?
- Why not move DNS registration to AWS?
- Why redirect everything to www instead of to the bare hostname?
Item 1: CloudFront. I think for the author, part of the answer might be to get good scores on page response speed. I don’t really do a lot of speed optimization (other than mostly having just text on my site) but CloudFront is important for another reason. From the AWS docs as of August 2021:
Amazon S3 website endpoints do not support HTTPS or access points. If you want to use HTTPS, you can use Amazon CloudFront to serve a static website hosted on Amazon S3.
Item 2: DNS registration. I had originally been thinking of moving my DNS registration to AWS so I had everything in one place. I have been using DotYou.com for ages and they are fine, but nothing special. So while I was moving things, why not consolidate everything? Because AWS doesn’t have a super simple way to do email forwarding. With DotYou.com, I can navigate to the configuration for any of my domains and add one or more email addresses and where the email to those addresses should go. It is a personal life goal never to run a mail server. So I’ll be keeping my domains registered elsewhere - at least until setting up email forwarding on AWS is as simple as with my current provider.
Note bene: Because I want to continue to use the email forwarding from DotYou.com, I had to keep using their default nameservers rather than setting the name servers to be the Route53 name servers that Terraform set up for me. AND because CloudFront gives me a name rather than an IP to point my domain at, I can no longer have an A record for *.example.com; it needs to be a cname. I am not 100% there aren’t some implications of this that I am missing - but so far having a cname seems to work just fine….. or mostly, which brings me to item 3, what should be my canonical url?
Item 3: Canonial url. Google prefers if there is one canonical
copy of any page - but it treats
https://www.example.com as 4 different sites - even if they all
serve the exact same content. The best way to consolidate your
analytics is to set up redirects so that all of those similar urls
actually end up on one canonical url. I usually choose
https://example.com as my real url. But the blog post I was
following chose to redirect everything to
https://www.example.com. It wasn’t until I had everything set up and
was updating the DNS records, that I realized why it might have been
better if I had redirected everything to www.example.com as in the
example. I can create a wildcard cname record and point everything to
some CloudFront distribution, and I have a wildcard SSL
certificate. But if I try accessing http://foo.example.com, I get
“403 Forbidden” and a message about this being a mis-configuration. If
I try https://foo.example.com, I get an error with the error code:
CloudFlare supports wildcard CNAMEs so I might be able to set things up to catch all names - but that if that record points to the canonical distribution, then no redirect happens - so no consolidation of requests. So I think what I need to do is reverse my setup and make https://www.example.com my real bucket and real url. I did find this post about wildcard CloudFront distributions not behaving as the author expected - but I am not sure I understand how this is going to affect my setup.
After much fooling around with DNS settings and S3 bucket settings, I finally concluded that having working email addresses AND a web site served by S3/Cloudflare on my bare domain name (e.g. cynthiakiser.com) are incompatible. So I guess I will be keeping my VM after all.