Static site generation with Jekyll

Do you search for a fast, portable way to create your site with a command-line tool ? It exists and is called Jekyll.

What is Jekyll ?

A static site generator. Basically, you just have to enter your blog posts in small text files and it will generate a complete site out of it. Static means it is pure HTML so the result will be light (no java) and safe (no requests). If you want to customize your site, I recommend it. For easier versions, see the last section.

Another huge advantage (which decided me), is that you can use latex formulas. It will create automatically pictures and inserts it where it should. Neat, huh ?

A typical usage

This site is done with Jekyll. Whenever I post a new article, I just create a text file with a small header indicating some informations. Take for example this article:

Then the site is generated locally

Copy all the files on your server, and voilà !

How do I install it ?

You have to install Rubygems, a package manager and use it for installing Jekyll. On Debian :

I am ready, where do I start ?

Note : you can use my blog as an example. See the git repository.

First, set a homepage named index.markdown. Specify the layout and the content like this :

This homepage will use the default home theme. A theme is simply a html file placed in the _layout directory. For my blog, the themes are actually defined in _include/themes/minimalist with several versions for each page. You can define several pages at the same level than the home page. In my case, I used one page for each category.

Then, you can add you posters in the _posts directory. There must be on the Markdown format and the filename must respect the convention DATE-SMALLTITLE.markdown. Example :

Finally, we can generate our site with

Open a browser and go to http://localhost:4000 (the address given by jekyll). Lo, and behold ! Your site is there. The last step is to upload it to your site. I use ncftpput in an update script which puts every thing on the server. Note that you only need to send the _site folder, which will contain the site, plus eventual folders, like png pictures generated for LaTeX formulaes.


Jekyll configuration is done in the _config.yml file. There, you can specify the interpreter. I set it to maruku initially, but the new version uses kramdown.

If you want to add comments on your site, you can create a Disqus account. Then you will need to add some code in your html header, but it is quite painless.

Of course, each category page list automatically the post of its category. This is done by jekyll. See computing.markdown for an example. Each category will only list the first line of the post. For that, each post will have a macro.

Finally, you can see each post links to the previous and next post. This was tricky and there is apparently no simple solution. The approach I have found on the Web is in the theme post.html and need to hardcode all the categories.

Writing math

When I first wrote this post, I used blahtex to write formulae. However, the new version is done using Mathjax and is easier to use. If you still want the old instructions, see at the end. To use Mathjax, I simply put the following in the HTML header:

Then you can simply write equations in Markdown:

$$ f(x) = x^2$$

Are there easier versions to use ?

Octopress is a good way to have a nice and clean site in minutes. There is also some customisations available. For a complete control over your site, I prefer Jekyll. If you like the Octopress template, stop searching and try it !

Embedding Youtube videos does not work !

The parser has issues with reading the code. You just need to add a space before the closing ispace. Thank the original author for this tip.

What about Github pages ?

If you want free hosting with jekyll, you can use Github pages. You only have to upload your posts and the website will be generated by Github. A small documentation is available on the official site. Beware, you cannot use blahtex as mentionned before. An alternative is to use a site for generating the pictures, like codedogs.

Using blahtex (old version)

The idea is to generate png pictures for each formula in the markdown file. Do not forget to upload the pictures to your site !

If you want to install blahtex from source. For that, download the source code Extract it and build it with make blahtex-linux. Don’t forget to copy the executable to /usr/local/bin.

If blahtex is not installed, you will have the following error :

You can also install blahtexml instead with Debian packages :