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tufte-jekyll theme

The Tufte-Jekyll blog theme is based on the github repository by Edward Tufte here, which was orginally created by Dave Leipmann, but is now labeled under Edward Tufte's moniker. I borrowed freely from the Tufte-CSS repo and have transformed many of the typographic and page-structural features into a set of custom Liquid tags that make creating content using this style much easier than writing straight HTML. Essentially, if you know markdown, and mix in a few custom Liquid tags, you can be creating a website with this document style in short order.

Please be aware that the feature parity between the tufte-css repository and this project is not perfect. It is very close, but this Jekyll theme has additional CSS to scratch some of my own itches. One example is that the sidenote's typography is vertically spaced in my CSS so they are on the same baseline grid as the body text and it doesn't hurt my eyes when I look at them. Another example is the optional use of color to style links. The current tufte.css repo doesn't allow that, but my opinion is that hey, this is the web. It shouldn't have to ape the way a book looks exactly. I attempt to stay true to the overall sensibility of the tufte.css repo, but I am not going to sacrifice anything that I think reduces the usability or esthetics of this theme in the service of exact feature parity. Just as I have 'forked' the tufte.css, you are more than welcome to modify this theme to suit your own tastes and specific needs.


A sample site with self-documenting content is available here on github pages.


I'm not going to go into great detail here. I am just going to assume that anyone interested in either Jekyll, Edward Tufte's work or Github has some basic skills. I created this with Ruby 2.2.0 and Jekyll 2.5.3. There is absolutely nothing exotic going on here, so you can probably make any recent version of Jekyll work with this setup.

So copy, pull, download a zipfile or whatever and fire it up.

cd ~/thatPlaceYouPutIt/tufte-jekyll
jekyll build
jekyll serve -w

And then point your browser at localhost:4000/tufte-jekyll

You can also use jekyll serve -w --baseurl '' to remove /tufte-jekyll from the url and serve your site directly from localhost:4000. This only affects your local preview. See Setting your baseurl correctly for more details.


Jekyll site building options

I have created a very simple site options file in the _data directory that contains two settings currently. The file in the github repo looks like this:

mathjax: true
lato_font_load: true

Removing either 'true' value will prevent the jekyll site building process from adding links to either the Mathjax library or the Google Fonts Lato font as a fallback for the Gill Sans. Set these values to blank if you want to really streamline your page loading time.


I am using Sass to create the css file used by this theme. If you would like to change things like fonts, text colors, background colors and so forth, edit the _scss/_settings.scss file. This file gets loaded first when Jekyll constructs the master CSS file from the tufte.scss SASS file, and contains SASS variables that influence the appearance of the site. The one variable that may be of interest to some is the $link-style variable, which can be set to either underline or color. This will determine if your links are styled using the $contrast-color variable with no underlining, or whether they are styled using light underlining as seen on the tufte-css repo.

Social icons

You can edit the _data/social.yml file and put in your own information for the footer links

Silly-ass badge in the upper left

In the assets/img directory is a file called badge_1.png. This file's parent is badge_1.psd and is an editable photoshop file with layers for the letters comprising the initials. Change them to suit your fancy. Or just substitute another badge in its place. You can edit the _includes/header.html file and change the file that it points too. Find your favorite Tufte emoji and fly your freak flag proudly.

Some things about the things

I needed to create several custom Liquid tags to wrap content in the right kind of tags. You will create your posts in the normal way in the _posts directory, and then edit them with Github-Flavored Markdown. In addition to all that GFM goodness, you can use the following custom Liquid tags in your content area.

Note that these tags have been altered from Version 1 of this theme to accommodate some responsive features, namely the ability to reveal hidden sidenotes, margin notes and margin figures by tapping either a superscript or a symbol on small screens. This requires you to add a parameter to the tag that is a unique ID for each tag instance on the page. What the id is called is not important, but it is important that it be unique for each individual element on the page. I would recommend in the interest of sanity to give names that are descriptive, like 'sn-id-1' or 'mf-id-rhino'.

Notes about quotes in Liquid tags

The custom Liquid tags are designed to simplify writing content and displaying it with the tufte-css look. Here are a few notes on using quotes inside the tags.

  • Liquid tags work with either double or single quotes to surround the tag parameters, as you'll see in all the examples below.

  • You can use single quotes and apostrophes in the text inside tag parameters, as long as all the parameters are surrounded by double quotes. Liquid will automatically process them correctly. For example: {% newthought "I'm so smart!" %} will render as I'm so smart!. If the text inside one of the parameters contains a single quote, then use double quotes to surround the parameters. Conversely, if the text inside one of the parameters contains a double quote, use single quotes to surround the parameters.

  • One can also use a double quote in the text inside a tag parameter by 'escaping' the double quote by placing a backslash directly in front of it, for example: {% newthought "\"I'm so smart!\", she thought." %} will render as "I'm so smart!", she thought.

  • You can use HTML inside of a tag parameter. Originally, Markdown support inside the Liquid parameters strings was spotty, but I recently added some code that should allow most Markdown inside the tag parameter strings. You can use either single quotes, or escaped double quotes in the HTML. For example, both of the following tags will work:

{% newthought "Example website: <a href=''>example label</a>" %}
{% newthought "Example website: <a href=\"\">example label</a>" %}

The demo site's Edge Cases entry has an example toward the bottom illustrating HTML inside of a tag parameter.


This tag will render its three components into a standalone epigraph. This can be used as an introduction to a page or to a section within a page. As with most things Markdown, surround the epigraph with a blank line above and below it.

{% epigraph ' "How did you go bankrupt?" Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.' 'Ernest Hemingway' ' "The Sun Also Rises" ' %}

New thought

This tag will render its contents in small caps. Useful at the beginning of new sections:

{% newthought "This will be rendered in small caps" %} blah blah


This tag inserts a sidenote in the content, which is like a footnote, only its in the spacious right-hand column. It is automatically numbered, starting over on each page. Just put it in the content like you would insert a footnote like so:

blah lorem blah{% sidenote "sidenote-id" "This is a random sidenote" %} blah blah

And it will add the html spans and superscripts. On smaller screens, tapping on the number will reveal the sidenote!

The full-width page layout will not display side notes. (It's a full-width page and has no margin)

Margin note

This tag is essentially the same as a sidenote, but heh, no number. Like this:

lorem nobeer toasty critters{% marginnote "margin-note-id" "Random thought when drinking" %} continue train of thought

On smaller screens, tapping on the symbol will open up the margin note.

The full-width page layout will not display margin notes. (It's a full-width page and has no margin)

Full width image

This tag inserts an image that spans both the main content column and the side column:

blah blah
{% fullwidth "assets/img/rhino.png" "A caption for the image" %}


blah blah
{% fullwidth "" "A caption for the image" %}

Note the absence of a leading slash in the image url when using relative file paths. (This is incorrect: /assets/img/rhino.png)

Also note that fullwidth images need to be included on their own line in order for the captions to work correctly.

Main column image

This tag inserts an image that is confined to the main content column:

blah blah
{% maincolumn "assets/img/rhino.png" "This is the caption" %}


blah blah
{% maincolumn "" "This is the caption" %}

No need for an ID in this tag because it doesn't have any doohickies that open and close on narrow screens. Again note the absence of the leading slash in the image url when using relative file paths. (This is incorrect: /assets/img/rhino.png)

And just like fullwidth images, main column images need to be included on their own line in order for the captions to work correctly.

Margin figure

This tag inserts and image in the side column area. Note that an id needs to be specified:

blah blah {% marginfigure "margin-figure-id" "assets/img/rhino.png" "This is the caption" %} blah


blah blah {% marginfigure "margin-figure-id" "" "This is the caption" %} blah

This needs an ID parameter so that it can be clicked and opened on small screens. Again note the absence of the leading slash in the image url when using relative file paths. (This is incorrect: /assets/img/rhino.png)

The full-width page layout will not display margin figures. (It's a full-width page and has no margin)


For those wanting to use this Jekyll theme for academic writing, the new Kramdown Markdown engine will accurately parse MathJax expressions as long as they are enclosed in a pair of double dollar signs like this:

$$ x = {-b \pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac} \over 2a} $$

As a side note - if you do not need the math ability, navigate to the _data/options.yml file and change the mathjax to 'false' and it will not load the mathjax javascript.

Setting your baseurl correctly

In the _config.yml file is a setting called baseurl. This is used by the Jekyll engine to construct all the proper links in the static site. Right now it is set to /tufte-jekyll since this project is using Github Pages and you are required to set the project name as the baseurl to serve from Github Pages.

Set this to your own project name if you're going to serve your site from Github Pages. Be sure to include the leading slash, and no trailing slash. For example: /my-project-name

For a full explanation of setting your baseurl to work with Github Pages, see the Project Page URL Structure section of the Jekyll documentation.

To serve from anywhere else besides Github Pages, use a blank baseurl in your _config.yml file:


This is baseurl: with nothing after it. Not even a space.


I have added a boilerplate Rakefile directly from the jekyll-rake-boilerplate repo. This saves you a small amount of time by prepending the date on a post name and populated the bare minimum of YAML front matter in the file. Please visit the link to the repo to find out how it runs. One thing to note is that there should be no space between the task and the opening bracket of your file name. rake post["Title"] will work while rake post ["Title"] will not.

There is another rakefile (UploadtoGithub.Rakefile) included that only has one task in it - an automated upload to a Github Pages location of the site. This is necessary because of the plugins used by this theme. It does scary stuff like move your _site somewhere safe, delete everything, move the _site back and then do a commit to the gh-pages branch of your repository. You can read about it here. You would only need to use this if you are using Github project pages to host your site. Integration with the existing Rakefile is left as an exercise for the reader.


Minimal Jekyll blog styled to resemble the look and layout of Edward Tufte's books




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