Static Website Hosting With Azure Blob Storage

There has been a boom in recent years of people falling in love with static site generators such as Hugo, Jekyll and Gatsby to name a few. Along with this, there has been a need for cheap static website hosting with little (to no) compute power required. After all, there’s no reason to spin up a huge VM to serve a couple of HTML pages!

Azure has entered the fray with their option titled “App Service Static Web Apps”, which is really just the ability to use blob storage to serve files as a website, under a custom domain. Officially, it’s still under preview at the time of writing, but it’s still a very solid service for hosting static websites of any size. On top of this, it can be a great place to host front ends of your single page application, built in Angular, React, or Vue, that can then call directly into an App Service or Function written in your favourite backend programming language.

Let’s get started!

Configuring App Service Static Web Apps

Head to your Azure Storage Account via the Azure Portal, and select the “Static Website” option under the left hand settings menu.

Then go ahead and enable your static website. You will be given a primary endpoint, and have the option to enter a index file name, and an error file name. TheseĀ  are the files that blob storage should serve when someone hits the index of your site, and when a user requests a file that doesn’t exist (404), respectively.

For static websites, it will likely be index.html and something like 404.html, however for front end frameworks such as Angular, you will want to direct the “error” page to the index also as all requests should be directed to the root page, irrespective of the URL, for Angular routing to handle the request. In this context, a 404 is whether a physical file exists in blob storage with a particular URL, not whether your angular application has a route for the URL.

In the end, things should end up looking a bit like below :

Also notice the message about a container being created for you, this does exactly what it says on the tin! If we hit save and check our containers within the account, we will see Azure has created a container named $web. Uploading content to this will automatically be served under our primary endpoint URL on the previous screen.

Deploying via Azure Devops/AZCopy

If you are using Azure Devops to deploy your code, then you already have an inbuilt way to send files to your blob storage account.

Consider the following YAML :

- task: [email protected]
  inputs:
    sourcePath: '$(Pipeline.Workspace)/FileFolder/*'
    azureSubscription: '$(serviceConnectionNameHere)'
    destination: 'AzureBlob'
    storage: '$(storageAccountName)'
    containerName: '$web'

Nice and easy! If you are using the classic editor instead of YAML, the same “AzureFileCopy” task is available to you via the GUI.

It’s also extremely important to note that AZCopy by default will try and guess mimetypes on your files. This is a good thing! However in various versions of both AZCopy, and the AzureFileCopy task, this can be easily accidentally overridden. For example, in some versions of the AzureFileCopy task, it will guess the mimetype *unless* you pass in additional flags, in which case it will automatically stop guessing mimetypes.

There is no one size fits all solution as different versions of the task, and AZCopy behave differently. But if you are finding that your files are not being uploaded with the correct mimetypes, or you are finding that your files “download” in your browser instead of being rendered in the browser, it’s likely an issue of AZCopy not guessing mimetypes correctly.

Adding A Custom Domain

Adding a custom domain is actually very simple, simply take your favourite domain provider and create a CNAME record between your domain, and your “zX.web.core.windows.net” primary endpoint domain. That’s it! It’s highly recommended to use Azure CDN in front of your static website which can help with handling of custom domains and HTTPS, but it’s not a hard requirement and for many Dev/Test scenarios, using the primary endpoint directly is more than sufficient.

What About ARM Templates?

At the time of writing, and probably owing to the fact that the service is in preview, users are currently unable to configure Static Web Applications via ARM Templates. While the storage account itself can be created via template, the actual configuration of a Static Web Application, including even the ability to turn the feature on, is required to be done via the Azure Portal.

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