Tips From Rebuilding on Jekyll

Feb 24, 2017

Read time: 4 mins

I recently rebuilt this website on Jekyll – a static site generator, built on Ruby, that uses Markdown/Liquid for templating. I wanted to share a few tips based on issues I ran in to while building it. This isn’t going to be a full walkthrough tutorial, rather a heads up on various roadblocks I hit along the way.

Creating a Custom Theme

The first hiccup I hit, or at least took a second to wrap my head around, was how themes work, and what would be the best way to go about creating a custom theme for this site. By default, an initial build of a Jekyll site comes with a Gem-based theme called Minima installed. The docs show how to work with this theme, and even how to override specific files in the theme to customize it, but this wasn’t where I wanted to start. I wanted a skeleton, just the basic structure of files, that I could edit as needed.

I did quickly find that Jekyll has a built in command to generate a new theme. This assumes that you’re creating a new gem-based theme, but it built the skeleton I wanted, and I could just remove the gem configuration files that won’t be needed.

$ jekyll new-theme my-theme-name

Once that is created, move the directories in the new theme into the root directory of your Jekyll site. This should include the following:

├─ _includes
├─ _layouts
  ├── default.html
  ├── page.html
  └── post.html
├─ _sass
└─ assets
  └── main.scss

Once you have a theme structure in place, you should remove the default Minima theme from your _config.yml file, so that it get loaded. To do this, simply open _config.yml and remove theme: minima.

From there you can start building out your theme. Some things to note on this structure:

  1. Everything inside of /assets will be placed in the _site folder during a build. This means that you should probably organize this however you’d like, with /css, /js, /img, etc folders. Additionally, any Sass (or CoffeeScript) files you include here will be compiled first and output as plain css/js.

  2. You should use the /assets/main.scss file only as a list of includes from the _sass directory ( or installed vendor packages ).

Utilizing values in your _config.yml file

This is pretty basic, and might be glaringly obvious to most, but it was something that I missed at first, and can save some time/effort.

Any value that you put in to your _config.yml file can be accessed later in templates with a Liquid tag.

// in _config.yml
my_custom_key: 'value'

// in a template file 
{{ site.my_custom_key }}

This can be used as a global storage for any constant value. I personally stored my Google Analytics ID, my CloudFront CDN URL, and a version number to append as a parameter to asset URLs for browser cache busting. This way, in the event something needs changed, I have a single location to edit variables, instead of having to hunt for everywhere I used them.

Collections as Custom Post Types

Coming from the WordPress world, I was initially concerned with using a static site generated, as I assumed there would only be structure for a single Post type for a blog. I was pleasantly surprised not only to find that it was possible, but was incredibly easy to setup.

For this site, I have a Book Reviews section, that if I were in WordPress, would have required creating a plugin and writing code to register/configure the post type. Not too complex, but not completely painless either.

Registering a new Collection for my Book Reviews in Jekyll was as easy as adding this to your _config.yml:

    output: true
    permalink: /book-reviews/:title/

Then create a directory in the root of the project with a name that matches the Collection you created: _book_reviews. This folder now works just like your _posts folder, where each new file is a new post.

And if you want to display an index of that collection, you can do so in any template, with a normal loop:

{% for review in site.book_reviews %}


That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll run into more as I keep playing with it, and will share as well. And please feel free to tell me if any of this is categorically false, or even just an antipattern. This is my first go at it :)