Anders Grendstadbakk

Getting started with Jekyll

A couple of days ago I moved my blog from WordPress to Jekyll, a static site generator. Jekyll has a simple structure that allows for easy theming and styling.

In this post I will go through:

  • What Jekyll is
  • How to get started
  • Features of Jekyll
  • Hosting your site on Github

What is Jekyll

Jekyll is a static site generator created by Tom Preston-Werner in 2008. It’s written in Ruby and compiles all your source files to a static HTML site.

Since it’s a static site generator you don’t need a database, so it’s fewer “things” to take care of.

And combining it with Github gives you a dead simple awesome blog engine. But more on that later on.

Why should I consider Jekyll?

  • Fast
    No database is needed, so when users visit you don’t have to query and handle the data.
  • Simple
    A folder with posts, a couple of layout files, and that is all you need.

The setup

After you have installed Jekyll:

gem install jekyll

You can generate a sample site with the following command:

jekyll new awesome_blog

This command will generate a folder awesome_blog with a working Jekyll site inside.

To see your freshly generated site in action type:

jekyll serve

This will make your blog accessible from localhost:4000 (if you would like another port you can add -P 4242 to the command).

The structure

  • The main Jekyll file is called _config.yml and contains global settings and variables.
  • All blog posts are located in the _posts folder.
  • Layouts are located in the _layouts folder.
  • Jekyll has builth-in support for SCSS, but more on that later.

Files and folders starting with an underscore will not be part of the generated site. Everything else will.

SCSS

If you are familiar with Compass, Gulp og Grunt tasks this approach may look weird at first.

There are two folders _sass and css, and if you go the Sass folder you would expect a style.scss and some partial files. But in Jekyll the partial files are stored in the sass-folder, and the main sass file that imports them are located in the css-folder. Weird right?

These Sass files will be compiled automatically with the jekyll build or jekyll serve commands, but there is nothing that stops you from using your own CSS preprocessor and folder setup.

Templates

Templates use a templating language called Liquid, if you are familiar with Handlebars or Underscore.js they are kind of similar.

A really simple index page could look something like this:


---
layout: default
---
<div class="home">
  <h1 class="page-heading">Posts</h1>
  <ul class="post-list">
    {% for post in site.posts %}
      <li>
        <span class="post-meta">{{ post.date | date: "%b %-d, %Y" }}</span>
        <h2>
          <a class="post-link" href="{{ post.url | prepend: site.baseurl }}">{{ post.title }}</a>
        </h2>
      </li>
    {% endfor %}
  </ul>
</div>

The first part between the dashes is the YAML, and a funny thing I just learnt is that YAML is short for:

YAML Ain’t Markup Language

“YAML is a human friendly data serialization standard for all programming languages.”

We tell Jekyll that we want to use the default template located at _layouts/default.html. There are a couple of variables you can add to the YAML to configure the output:

  • permalink - Set the url where this post is located (will override the site setting)
  • title - The post/page title should be added, this way it is available to the layout and can be displayed in the title tag.

Includes

In Jekyll you have includes, you can think of them as reusable blocks of code.

In the starter theme the header and footer are includes. They are located in the _includes folder and are referenced like this:

{% include header.html %}
{% include footer.html %}

Includes are great for things you repeat on multiple pages and across layouts.

Writing posts

To write a post you simply:

  1. Add a file to the _posts folder with the name pattern yyyy-mm-dd-some-text.md.
  2. Start the file with the YAML block, and add a title and what layout you want to use.
  3. Write your blog post with markdown (or html).
  4. Run the build command or just look at the blog if you use the serve command.
  5. Your first post is visible on your blog!

Hosting on Github

A very cool feature of Github is that you can host your Jekyll powered website for free.

There are two ways you can set this up:

  1. Create a repo called username.github.io and keep your Jekyll site in the master branch.
    Site available at username.github.io.
  2. Create another repo and create a branch called gh-pages.
    Site available at username.github.io/repo_name.

If you have your own domain it’s also very easy to use it. Just add a file called CNAME to your Jekyll folder with the domain you want to use.

Then you just have to point your domain to Github.

Local development with Vagrant

I have created a Vagrant with Ruby and Jekyll that you can use if you don’t want to hassle with Ruby on your local computer.

If you have Vagrant installed just do:

git clone https://github.com/andeersg/jekyll-vagrant jekyll
cd jekyll
vagrant up
vagrant ssh
jekyll new my_blog
cd my_blog
jekyll serve

What next?

You could for example take a look at the source code for this blog. Or you could visit Jekyll’s homepage to get a more extensive look at Jekyll.

To learn more about hosting on Github I reccomend the Github Pages site.