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Moved Blog to Jekyll and GitHub Pages

I just moved my blog to Jekyll and Github Pages which I hope will help me get back into the rhythm of posting regularly.

Why did I switch?

There were several things I wanted to change

  • Syntax highlighting for my code — Jekyll uses pygments which supports about a bazillion languages including "Gherkin" (cucumber) and blogger had nothing.
  • Authoring tools I wanted — The blogger wysiwyg editor never really worked for me and I'd prefer to use TextMate and markdown or textile anyway.
  • New site design — Making the move gave me a chance to redo my design. The old one felt cluttered and dated and I hope this new one is not.
  • Geek street cred — I like having everything on github and besides all the cool kids are doing it :)

Jekyll is a gem that converts a structured directory of pages and posts written in markdown, textile or html into static html files that can be served by apache or nginx. Of course there's an official definition that explains it in more detail.

With Github Pages I just have to create a git repository alexrothenberg.github.com and with each push github runs jekyll to generate a static site it serves up at http://alexrothenberg.github.com

How did I create this new site?

1. Create an empty site

There are lots of sites others have created with jekyll to peruse for design ideas. I spent some time looking through them and eventually picked one to use as a template. I copied one and pushed it to a new project on github called alexrothenberg.github.com.

2. Get my existing content

First I had to get my old content out of blogger into a Jekyll site. There are instructions for migrating from many different platforms (including from blogger to jekyll). I followed the instructions to "import with vilcans' Jekyll rss_importer" and just had to change the rss url to http://www.alexrothenberg.com/feeds/posts/full?alt=rss&max-results=1000 since I had more than 25 posts.

I now had my posts in the _posts folder. I copied these posts into my alexrothenberg.github.com/_posts and had a version of my blog with all my old posts.

3. Syntax highlighting code

I next did some experimentation with the old posts to see how the code highlighting worked. It's very natural and in-the-flow.

While writing my article I just add a block like

{ % highlight ruby %}
class User
  def name
    [first, last].join(' ') 
  end
end
{ % endhighlight %}

and get this fantastic output

{% highlight ruby %} class User def name [first, last].join(' ') end end {% endhighlight %}

Well not quite... It generated html with all sorts of css classes but I couldn't find css stylesheets out there with the Vibrant Ink theme I like.
Through some trial and error I created my own vibrant_ink.css

4. Disqus comments

Because Jekyll generates static pages it has no commenting engine so I have to integrate with an external service. I decided to go with disqus.
Adding it into my site was simple but getting my old comments in turned out to be much harder than it should have been.

First I went to disqus.com, signed up for an account and used their admin too to create a site for www.alexrothenberg.com. They give you a bit of javascript to add to your page. I added this to my _layouts/post.html and I was done.

It looked like it would be just as easy to import my comments from blogger as they have a big import from blogger button on their admin site under Tools->Import/Export. I ran it and I suddenly had all my old comments. But this is where things started to break down. Blogger ties the comments to blogger profiles instead of an email address so none of my comments had avatar pictures next to them.

What followed was a frustrating journey to try and edit the comments using their admin tool. The first thing I tried was using their admin tool but it doesn't let you edit a commenter's email or url so I couldn't stick email addresses in when I knew them (for example I know my own email). My next approach was to export the comments in disqus, edit the xml file it gave me and re-upload. The problem here is that the exported xml uses a different format than the import accepts although they don't tell you that when you try importing the file you exported it just tells you 0 items imported - how annoying?!?

After a lot of trial and error I wound up with all my comments in an xml file that disqus could import. In case you want to do something similar here are the steps I followed

  1. Create a temp site in disqus (I called mine alexrothenberg1)
  2. Import the comments from blogger using the Disqus import tool
  3. Export those comments to an xml file - I saved mine in alexrothenberg.github.com/_disqus_import/exported_comments.xml
  4. Run my script alexrothenberg.github.com/_disqus_import/exported2import to migrate the format to a Word Press XFR and change the timestamp format.
  5. Hand edit
    alexrothenberg.github.com/_disqus_import/import_comments.xml to update the emails and urls for each comment (luckily I didn't have that many old comments)
  6. Delete the temp discus site and create a new one
  7. Import my XFR file to the new site
  8. Jekyll and Blogger use different formats for post urls (jekyll includes year/month/date while blogger is year/month) so we need to run the disqus Migrate Threads->Upload a URL Map tool to upload a file like alexrothenberg.github.com/_disqus_import/url.map

5. Mapping my domain name

At this point I have a blog site up at http://alexrothenberg.github.com and its only a quick step to start serving it at http://www.alexrothenberg.com.

  1. Create a CNAME containing www.alexrothenberg.com in my project
  2. Update the dns entry in my domain to create a CNAME record aliasing www to alexrothenberg.github.com

Authoring and Publishing

Now that the site is up and running it was time to write my first article (this one).

  1. jekyll --auto --server

    Starts the jekyll server running at http://localhost:4000 and monitors the files so it regenerates each time I save an edit

  2. newpost Moved Blog to Jekyll and GitHub Pages

    Creates a new empty post using a script I stuck in my project _bin (thanks al3x for this gist)

  3. Start writing content in _posts/2011-01-27-moved-blog-to-jekyll-and-github-pages.md

    Each time I hit save I can preview in a few seconds at http://localhost:4000

  4. git commit -am 'wrote the article'

  5. git push origin master

In a few seconds github processes the site into static files and its published for all the world to see.