Pedro Rodriguez


PhD Candidate in Artificial Intelligence, Data Scientist, Snow Geek

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Creating a Github Pages Website with Pelican

The (PhD) intern application season fast approaching which means its about time to refresh all those websites, resumes, and cvs out there, including mine. In the process of working on my website, I decided to switch my hosting and workflow.

Before my recent changes, I had two websites: a Ghost blog at pedrorodriguez.io and a resume site at cv.pedrorodriguez.io. I didn't like the first because it costs money to host (I am now a "poor" grad student, so finding savings here and there is very nice). Second, I didn't want to invest the time to learn Ghost's templating system, and keep the server updated to prevent all those nasty security bugs. Lastly, my career site and actual resume fell far out of sync. It is much better to maintain only a resume and point to it from here.

Roughly speaking, the website portion involved:

  1. Github Pages to host the site.
  2. Pelican to generate static HTML for Github Pages using Markdown and Jinja2 templates.
  3. ghp-import to stitch the two together.

Github Pages is a service that can take care of hosting a static HTML or Jekyll website using a Github repository. For example, this blog's code is at github.com/EntilZha/entilzha.github.io. This has the advantage of being a git/vim centric workflow, no security maintenance requirements, and easy to understand.

At the center of this is using software to compile template files and posts to valid HTML/CSS/Javascript. This is what engines such as Jekyll do. Since the only thing to host are static files, it is dead simple and cheap/free to host on Github Pages and many other places.

While I could have used Jekyll and been happy, there turned out to be a Python equivalent, Pelican. Given the choice between Ruby and Python, I prefer Python since I am more comfortable and productive with it.

Lets get started.

Github Pages

In my case, I initially setup the domain entilzha.github.io. Since it is a account page (as opposed to a project page), Github requires that the repository name be exactly named username.github.io. After creating this, the master branch is automagically deployed to username.github.io.

To host your content at a custom domain, there are a few additional steps.

Default Theme and Pelican

To get that started, lets install Pelican then run its init command.

$ pip install pelican markdown
$ mkdir -p ~/projects/yoursite
$ cd ~/projects/yoursite
$ pelican-quickstart

Pelican will ask a few questions, and eventually generate a site. Be sure to generate a fab file since it is quite useful. The next thing to do is create a dummy article so Pelican can generate the site. In content/sample.md try something like:

Title: My First Post
Date: 2050-12-03
Category: blog

My first pelican post

Then run pelican content. By default this should render a full site at output/. To view the site (assuming you said yes to the fab file option), you can run fab regenerate and fab serve in separate terminal sessions. The first will regenerate the site when changes are detected and the second will start a webserver running at http://localhost:8000. The theme will be from the Pelican defaults, but there are a wealth of options to choose from. It is also not very difficult to roll your own theme like I did. To do that, look at the Pelican docs and Jinja2 docs.

Editing templates and configs is subject of another post, but to get started you need to at least modify pelicanconf.py and publishconf.py. The largest difference will be insuring that the SITEURL variable is set to localhost for development but username.github.io for publishing.

Lets talk publishing. At the end, your generated site must be on the master branch to be hosted on Github Pages. This means that most of the code will need to live in a different branch. I named mine source, but the name should not matter. The most important point is that the master branch will get nuked at every deploy so don't store any files in the master branch. I also found it helpful to empty out the output directory, add a output/.gitkeep file using touch output/.gitkeep, and add output/ in your .gitignore. Since output can be considered a build artifact, it should not be under source control.

The next thing to do is generate the site using your production settings: pelican content -o output -s publishconf.py. Finally, this has to get published by replacing the contents of the master branch with the contents of the output directory. Run pip install ghp-import to install the utility that will make this easy.

Then from the source branch run: ghp-import -b master output.

This will have the effect of nuking the contents of master then copying the contents of output/ to master. The last step will be to push this changes to Github: git push origin master.

Hopefully you now have a basic site running. There are many Pelican blogs out there including mine to use as a reference. The documentation is also fantastic so be sure to check that first.