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The code that runs the WiCS site

The site is generates static content from Markdown articles, using software called Pelican.

These docs are aimed at a Debian-based Linux user.




Contributing content to the website


Heroku Review Apps




git is the source control that we use to manage changes to the website. It comes preinstalled on most Linux systems. If you don't already have it, just run

sudo apt-get install git-core

For more information about what a typical git workflow for contributing to the site might look like, check out the curriculum from the WiCS git workshop and this OpenHatch document. You can also look into completing the OpenHatch git training mission.


The easiest way to install Pelican is to create a virtualenv. To do so, first ensure that virtualenv is installed:

sudo apt-get install python-virtualenv

Now you can create a virtualenv:

mkdir -p ~/virtualenvs/pelican
cd ~/virtualenvs/pelican
virtualenv .
source bin/activate

Your shell prompt will change slightly, like this:

user@honk ~/virtualenvs/pelican $ source bin/activate
(pelican)user@honk ~/virtualenvs/pelican $

Now you can install Pelican by typing

pip install pelican markdown

If you ever need to re-enable the virtualenv, simply run

source ~/virtualenvs/pelican/bin/activate


Before you get started with development, we're going to walk through some setup steps.

Cloning your repository

Only complete this step once!

You'll need to fork a copy of this repo in order to contribute. To do so, click the "Fork" button in the upper right hand corner.

One the project is forked, you'll be taken to your very own local copy of the WiCS website, perhaps at<your-username>/website. This is your personal remote repository on GitHub, or what we'll call origin.

Next, you'll need a folder to store the code in. On Linux, use the command line to create a new directory and navigate there (mkdir /path/to/code and cd /path/to/code). On Windows, you can make a folder in Windows Explorer, and since you have git installed, right click and select "Open Git Bash Here" to launch a terminal.

Now you can clone your code:

git clone<your-username>/website.git

which will create a folder called website. This is your git repository! In both git bash or your Linux terminal, cd website.

Now we need to add a reference to our upstream remote repository:

git remote add upstream

Contributing content to the website

Creating a feature branch

In git, when we are working on a feature, we usually split it off from the master branch and refer to this branch as a "feature branch" or "topic branch."

If you're ready to work on a topic branch, follow these easy steps. First, ensure your master branch is up to date:

git checkout master         # Check out your master branch
git fetch upstream          # Fetch any new upstream code
git rebase upstream/master  # Rebase your master branch to match upstream
git push origin master      # Update your remote `origin` repository

Now you can make a new topic branch off master:

git checkout -b topic-name  # Equivalent to git branch topic-name then checkout

Commit structure

Here are some tips for structuring your commits. These are generally considered best practices.

  • Use present-tense, imperative commit messages.
    • DON'T write "This fixes issue #234 by optimizing the algorithm"
    • DO write "Optimizes algorithm; fixes #234"
  • Write descriptive commit messages that give the reviewer the big picture
    • DON'T write "Updates in css files"; this is redundant and can be determined by viewing the files the patch modifies
    • DO feel free to write multi-line commit messages; keep in mind that while only the first line is visible in summary view, additional comments below go into the git log and can be very useful
  • Separate commits in the smallest logical, reversible steps possible.
    • DO squash multiple small commits into a single commit.
    • DO include whitespace updates in a separate commit from code changes, template changes separate from adding content, etc.
  • Ask for help if you're not sure how to do some of these things!

Instructions on how to amend a commit can be found here. Remember: code reviews will help catch these things and give you a better idea of what's considered standard. Don't fear constructive feedback!

Seeing what your change looks like

Before submitting a pull request, you can test your change locally to see what it will look like on the website. If you don't want to test locally or are having trouble setting it up, you can also just submit a pull request and wait for someone to deploy a Heroku Review App

Submitting pull requests

After you've made your modifications on your topic branch, perhaps following the guide in the Development section, you can now ask for your code to be merged by submitting a pull request.

To do so, first push your code to your personal remote, origin:

git push origin topic-name

Then log onto GitHub. You'll find a big green button asking if you want to submit a pull request. Click it and follow the steps to submit your pull request.

Once it's merged, you can click the "Delete branch" button on GitHub. In your local repository, the branch can be deleted with the

git branch -d topic-name

A Common Error That Occurs When You Push

When you try to push to you branch, and someone else has contributed updates to the repository since your, git will not allow you to push to your branch and will suggest that you run git pull. Do not ever run git pull. Instead run:

git fetch upstream
git rebase upstream/master
git push -f origin HEAD

If you can't fetch from upstream, you might have to add a reference to our upstream remote repository:

git remote add upstream


Reviewing a pull request

There are three views for reviewing a pull request on GitHub: Conversation, Commits, and Files changed.


  • Comments on the pull request show up here, including any inline comments that are added when viewing the file diffs. A summary of submitted commits is also listed.
  • Use this section to submit general feedback about the pull request.


  • A more detailed list of commits included in the pull request, that will allow a reviewer to view each individually.
  • Usually before merging, you'll want all the commits from that change to be squashed into a single commit.

Files changed

  • The diff view of the pull request. Lets the reviewer see the full patch in its entirety, and add inline comments on changes.
  • Use this section to submit line-specific feedback.

Giving feedback

Everyone is invited to give feedback regardless of experience. Comments can touch on:

  • phrasing of any text added (typos, awkward phrasing, using gendered language where it could be gender neutral)
  • tags on event posts (do they make sense? are they existing tags?)
  • lines that are over 80 characters long (which we avoid except for certain cases like the metadata at the top of many of the files)
  • any identation that's hard to read
  • the way the change looks on the Heroku Review App
  • if there are multiple commmits that can be squashed into one commit
  • linking to the site with a static urls instead of relative urls (which generally is bad practice)

You can even look at it and decide it looks good and just comment with “looks good to me!”

Squashing commits

What does it mean to squash commits?

A commit is a snapshot of the changes made to files at a particular point. To "squash" x commits means to retain the changes of those x commits, and omit the individual commits from history and replace them with a single commit instead.

What does it mean to squash commits? Typically, it's useful to represent all the commits of a pull request by a single commit by squashing. This gives us a clean, meaningful git history when we merge the pull request into the master branch.

How to squash To squash the last x commits you want to squash into one, run

git rebase -i HEAD~x

  • you'll see a list of the last x commits.
pick d3d8769 adds big csters event post
pick e77b0d1 fixes typo
pick 36be271 removes extra whitespace
  • change the file like this
pick d3d8769 adds big csters event post
squash e77b0d1 fixes typo
squash 36be271 removes extra whitespace
  • Write/quit you editor twice (the second file would allow you to change the commit message, though it's easiest to keep it the same).
  • At this point, your commits are squashed into one. If you run git log, there should be just one commit there.
  • To push your squashed commit, run git push --force origin HEAD.

Note: Why force push? If you simply push without the -f flag, git will think you're missing those x commits (when really you just squashed them into a new single commit). You might see the error message failed to push some refs to<some-path> and a suggestion to run git pull. Do not git pull. It will bring back in a copy of all the commits you squashed and potentially other commits unrelated to your change.


A back-and-forth revision process will occur during the course of the review. For the developer to update the pull request, they simply need to push new changes to the topic branch being considered (sometimes using a force-push if they need to rewrite commits).

When all parties are happy with the patch, the reviewer can then sign off and merge the code by clicking the big green "Merge" button. This code is then merged into the upstream master branch. For the changes to appear on the website, someone needs to deploy the new code (see the Deployment section for more details).


You can either add content to the site or modify its theme.

Adding site content

All site content is contained in the content/ directory. Posts are sorted by term directories, e.g. "F2014". There is also a pages/ directory that contains non-post type pages, such as contact info, about us, etc.


We currently use three posting categories: Blog, Events, and Media.

  • Use the Media category for video recordings of talks and events.
  • Use the Events category to advertise event details.
  • Use the Blog category for everything else: news, essays, etc.

You can also tag posts! Try to use tags that have already been used on the other posts, but feel free to add new tags as necessary.

Please try to use a consistent naming scheme. Articles are named by term, category, and slug; for instance, posting a video of a talk about automata in S13 might be named


We only need a limited number of pages. You probably won't need to add many more. These include things like our Code of Conduct, contact info, etc.

It might be useful to add a page that doesn't show up in the site navigation. To do so, make sure you set Status: hidden in the Markdown preamble. This will cause the page to be generated without showing up in the site's main navigation.

Markup beautification

The theme we are currently using is called notmyidea. Pelican uses the jinja2 templating system; if you've used Django, you'll find the templates very similar.

To modify the theme css or html, simply take a look at the theme data under theme/notmyidea/ and modify it at will.

Testing Locally

To test a local copy of the site, you'll need to start the development server. There's no additional software you need to install to launch a local version of the site! Simply run

./ start

in the top directory, which will launch the development server on port 8000. Then you can navigate to the local site by visiting http://localhost:8000 in your browser. This script will conveniently regenerate the site every time you make a change to a file, so you won't need to rerun this command.

To shut down the development server, use

./develop_server stop

Heroku Review Apps

When prompted, Heroku will provision temporary public web hosting and a domain name for any open pull request, and post a pingback on GitHub. This allows anyone to access the temporary site and review what our website would look like upon merging the changes from that pull request.

Permissions to access Heroku

Access to Heroku is granted to all committers in the wics-uw GitHub organization. Membership to the "committers" group is granted to all full Systems Committee members, as well as individuals that the Systems Committee have chosen in recognition of their contributions and demonstrated responsibility and good judgment.

To become a committer, you'll need to learn git, contribute regularly to the WiCS website (both opening pull requests and reviewing them), and then ask the Systems Committee for access, by emailing

To deploy a pull request

  1. Go to
  2. Click on wics-site
  3. In the left column, named Review Apps, find the PR you want to deploy and click the button that says Create Review App


We are currently using the Computer Science Club's "club hosting" as our webhost. You must have a CSC login in the wics group to complete the next steps.

To deploy the site, first log into the CSC's webserver:


Then use become_club to switch to the WiCS user account:

become_club wics

Pull the latest version of the site from GitHub:

cd ~/pelican
git pull

Then build and deploy the site:

source ~/virtualenvs/pelican/bin/activate
make rsync_upload

Which conveniently deploys the site into the wics user's www/ directory.