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A simple python static blog generation utility.

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Written by David Zhou in python, forked and enhanced by Chyetanya Kunte for his personal use, Chisel is an amazing blog engine -- all in just one file.

This fork includes the following additions and enhancements:

  • Smartypants content parsing to emit typographically nicer quotes, proper em and en dashes, etc.
  • A shorter (just year based) permalink structure.
  • RSS feed generator script using PyRSS2Gen (Hat-tip: Ronan Jouchet).
  • Support for Page titles in title tag for permalinks added in templates.
  • Supports clean URLs.
  • Works just fine with MathJax for rendering using LaTeX (math syntax). (Just remember to use \newline for multiple lines instead of \n. For mathjax support, see the section below.)

Example blog

What it does not do

Chisel keeps it simple and stupid. And so, there is

  • No taxonomy support, i.e., no categories, and no tags.
  • No built-in search. (When you carry an entire copy of your site on your hard drive, I think you don't need one; use grep, Spotlight or find instead. If you are inclined to create a search, go ahead and do it. It isn't too complicated. Just like populating the RSS feed file or the Archive file, it is possible to update an index for new posts in a JSON enclosure, and query it.)
  • Multiple posts in a day, since the time stamp is simple without the time element. (This can be changed by the user to suit, if multiple posts per day is preferred by modifying the date/time stamp to get chronological order.)

What it does best

  • No loss of fidelity. All your posts would be plain text, which kind of makes it timeless. Great for archiving. Burn on a CD, or save it on a USB stick.
  • You can regenerate your entire site again if you just have native markdown draft posts, and Chisel + templates.
  • It's incredibly lightweight -- less than 8kB! (Compare that with anything out there, and they all seem like they weigh a ton, not to mention the complexity of install, maintain, and backup.)
  • Zero security issues. Generate site locally, and upload only the thus created html files out of markdown post drafts.
  • Pure static site. Pretty robust to network spikes, and heavy loads. No server-side scripting ensures no overload.
  • Helps you blog offline, run your own private blog, information system, if you don't want to host it on the web, and still have a web like interface.
  • Written in python: Simple to understand, simple to modify, but most of all, simpler to use. (Knowledge of python is not required, except for installation, which is explained in detail below.)

How it works

  1. Write the post in Markdown, save it as or (or in a designated folder, say, posts.

  2. Run python in a Terminal, and Chisel will parse all .md, .markdown or .mdown files in posts folder to another designated folder, say www in html -- ready to be served using a web server.

  3. Sync [See Note] all files and folders from the local www folder to the root of your web host, and you've got a fully functioning web site.

(Note: There are a number of ways one can sync files, git, rsync, or plain vanilla (s)ftp. The sync can be further automated using a (ana)cron job, or via the Automator.)


If you are using a Mac or Linux, then python comes pre-installed. In addition, you'll need just a few python packages for Chisel to function. They are as follow:

  1. Jinja2 is a templating engine, developed by Pocoo Team.
  2. Markdown is a text markup language, developed by John Gruber. It's nearly plain text, i.e., zero learning curve, which is why it's awesome.
  3. Smartypants is a typographical enhancer, also by John Gruber.
  4. PyRSS2Gen is a library for generating RSS 2.0 feeds, by Andew Dalke, et al.

Install these on a Mac OS X via pip -- python package installer:

$ sudo easy_install pip
$ sudo pip install jinja2 markdown mdx_smartypants PyRSS2Gen

On Ubuntu (Debian) linux:

$ sudo apt-get install python-pip
$ sudo pip install jinja2 markdown mdx_smartypants PyRSS2Gen

To update these packages, you may run the following:

$ sudo pip install --upgrade jinja2 markdown mdx_smartypants PyRSS2Gen

Create a site structure on your computer (This is just an example)

$ mkdir ~/site
$ cd ~/site
$ mkdir posts www chisel

Now download Chisel as a zip file or via git (git clone git:// Move the unzipped contents into chisel folder created above. The structure should look like this following:


While it is not required, keeping chisel, posts, and www separate is a good idea. It helps keep chisel folders clean (for future updates), aside from keeping the tool separated from the content you create using it (posts, and www).

Remember to open and edit templates, particularly base.html as it contains site name, description and other meta into in the <head> section hard-coded. In addition, you will need to update the settings below.

Updating Settings to suit

Open in a text editor and have a look at the section Settings. You may need to update the following:

# Settings
BASEURL = "" # Must end with a trailing slash.
SOURCE = "../posts/"             # Must end with a trailing slash.
DESTINATION = "../www/"          # Must end with a trailing slash.
HOME_SHOW = 15                   # Number of entries to show on homepage.
TEMPLATE_PATH = "./templates/"   # Path of Jinja2 template files.
TIME_FORMAT = "%b %d, %Y"
FORMAT = lambda text: markdown.markdown(text, ['footnotes','smartypants',])
    title = "My Blog Title",
    link = BASEURL + "feed.xml",
    description = "My Tagline or Blog Description",
    lastBuildDate =,
    items = [])


$ cd ~/site/chisel
$ python

Sample Entry

sample.markdown (Note: Filenames shall not have spaces. Good examples:,, and so on):

Title of the post

Content in Markdown here onward.

Next paragraph.

Next paragraph.

The very simple post entry format, shown above, is as follows:

  • Line 1: Enter a Title.
  • Line 2: Enter date in m/d/Y format.
  • Line 3: Blank line.
  • Line 4: Content in Markdown here onward.

Adding Steps

Use the @step decorator. The main loop passes in the master file list and jinja environment. Here's an example of a @step decorator added to to generate a colophon page:

Add this below in code:

def gen_colophon(f, e):
    write_file('colophon' + URLEXT, e.get_template('colophon.html').render(entry=file))

Clean URLs - Howto

GitHub (via nginx rewrite I think) recognizes post files ending with .html or feed URLs ending with .xml. So, generate the files with these extensions as usual, but tell chisel to skip the extensions in permalinks using settings.

The default setting in chisel now -- assuming server recognizes .html extension but does not require its inclusion when referring to a URL -- is as follows:


This above is what I use. (Note that you should not set both to empty or .html strings in the above; this would lead to unintended results.)

The fallback option is as follows:

URLEXT = ".html"

This above setting would be suitable if your server does not recognize .html files if they are referred to without .html extension in URLs.

Local server at home

Since I also run chisel on my home server, here's what I had to do to enable rewrite using nginx web server:

I edited the default file, which serves our local family site, in the following folder on my home server:

cd /etc/nginx/sites-enabled

and added this following in it:

location / {
    try_files $uri.html $uri/ =404;

I now get clean URLs with these above settings.

Can I use this to run a site locally, like offline?

Yes! Just navigate to ~/site/www and run the following to start a simple HTTP server in Terminal:

$ python -m SimpleHTTPServer

Then, point your browser to: http://localhost:8000 and your site is live on your computer.

I have a large number of posts in WordPress. How do I convert?

Have a look at Thomas Frössman's tool, exitwp. While it's written primarily for Jekyll, it does a very good job of converting all WordPress posts to Markdown post -- one file per post. Each post thus converted shows some preformatted lines in the beginning. much of which you don't need in Chisel (You only require Title and Date in the format illustrated above.) You could either manually edit each markdown file, or you could fork Thomas's exitwp and change the following lines (between line 253 and 259) from

yaml_header = {
      'title': i['title'],
      'date': i['date'],
      'slug': i['slug'],
      'status': i['status'],
      'wordpress_id': i['wp_id'],


   yaml_header = {

Further, the date would need a fix to read as m/d/Y. But at least for now, it reduces your edits to just changing dates. Or you could write a shell script to chuck out needless information generated for Jekyll to suit Chisel.

I miss pinging my site via Pingomatic. How do I?

Create and save a bookmarklet via Pingomatic. Alternatively, put the following script (hat-tip: Ned Batchelder for this script) in a file, say, and run python (please do remember to change the title and URL in the script below):

# encoding: utf-8
#!/usr/bin/env python

import xmlrpclib

# Ping-o-matic the Pinging service:
ps = ""

# Your site's title, url and rss:
title = "Your site title"
url = ""
rss = ""

remoteServer = xmlrpclib.Server(ps)
ret =, url, rss)
print title, ret['message']

My blog is now powered by Chisel. How do I automate all this?

Easy. Put this in a script (say,, for example) like the example below (do take note of folders, these are from my set-up, if yours is setup differently, then do make those changes in lines 3, 5, and 10 below):

#!/usr/bin/env sh
echo ""
cd ~/Sites/chisel
cd ~/Sites/
echo "Updating log.."
git add -A
git commit -m 'Updating log.'
git push -u origin master
cd ~/Sites/chisel
echo "Pinging Pingomatic.."
cd ~/
echo ""
echo "All done."

When you're ready to generate and post it to your site, run sh, and your post(s) are published.

MathJax support

The following MathJax script can be added for asynchronous loading in the base.html template just above the </body> tag:

<script type="text/javascript">
(function () {
    var mjx = document.createElement('script');
    mjx.type = 'text/javascript';
    mjx.src = '';
    mjx.async = true;
    var k = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];
    k.parentNode.insertBefore(mjx, k);

Notice that in the above (see mjx.src config), I have chosen to use only TEX-AMS_HTML instead of the default of many types that MathJax supports. I use only what I need. Also, by doing so, I think it loads less code from MathJax's CDN, and helps them save a bit of bandwidth from my site. (So, try and use only what you need.)

For inline TEX rendering, the following may be added before the </head> tag in base.html template.

<script type="text/x-mathjax-config">
   MathJax.Hub.Config({tex2jax: {inlineMath: [['$','$'], ['\\(','\\)']]}});

For new equation, just remember to use \newline instead of \n.

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