Setting up a Jekyll workflow on windows

August 22, 2014

Static site generators are in at the moment, and for good reason. They remove a whole bunch of complexity from deploying and maintaining a site by creating a static representation of it, which you just upload to a web server.

For sites that are read heavy but get updated quite infrequently (like a blog, or marketing site) a static site is ideal.

Personally I love GitHub pages, it provides first class support for Jekyll which builds all your markdown content, templates, and other site assets into a static website.

The only problem is that Jekyll isn’t officially supported on Windows; I was using it for a a start up running the .NET stack called Slipspace. The good news is that it’s super simple to get up an running.

In this post we’ll look at how we integrated Jekyll into our work flow using Grunt to glue all the moving pieces together.

First you need to install Jekyll

This post isn’t about setting up your first Jekyll site, there’s already great resources out there to help with that. I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the basics and have Jekyll installed. If you don’t have Jekyll yet, follow this guide here. It’s the one I used, and I had no problems.

We’ll look at how we develop the Slipspace public site on Windows.

The set up

If you want to checkout the source of the website that we’re talking about, you can grab it here: https://github.com/slipspace/slipspace.github.io.

Visual Studio

First we point a Visual Studio website at our Jekyll project, this allows us to edit the files with all that intellisense goodness.

Visual studio solution

You’ll notice from the file layout that this is just a standard Jekyll site.

Warning: if there is a BOM (Byte order mark) header in your files Jekyll will implode. In my experience adding a file through VS will include this header, add blank files directly through windows explorer.

Grunt

We don’t want to have to manually run jekyll build every time we change a file. I like to use Grunt to watch files for changes and kick off a jekyll build on change. In addition you can minify all your JavaScript and CSS.

Check out the Slipspace site source to see the full Gruntfile.js definition but here are the important bits.

The task shell will kick off a Jekyll build

shell: {
  jekyllBuild: {
    command: 'jekyll build --source ../ --destination ../_site'
  }
},

The task watch will monitor the filesystem for changes then kick off any grunt tasks needed to build the Jekyll site.

watch: {
  files: [
    '../_includes/*.html',

    ..other directories..

    '../_config.yml',
    '../index.html'
  ],
  tasks: ['concat', 'uglify', 'cssmin', 'shell:jekyllBuild'],
  options: {
    interrupt: true,
    atBegin: true
  }
}

Set watch as the default task, so that you can just type “grunt” to kick it all off.

grunt.registerTask('default', ['watch']);

IIS

Great, now we can edit our Jekyll site and have it build automatically, but what about hosting it on our development machine?

Sure you can use the Jekyll command jekyll serve but I don’t want to introduce a secondary hosting tool.

All you need to do to host the site using IIS is to create a new website and point it at the _site directory. If you want to serve the pages without a .html extension just use the IIS rewrite module. Here’s how we configured ours:

<rewrite>
  <rules>
    <rule name="RedirectUserFriendlyURL1" stopProcessing="true">
      <match url="^(.*)\.html$" />
      <conditions>
        <add input="{REQUEST_METHOD}" pattern="^POST$" negate="true" />
      </conditions>
      <action type="Redirect" url="{R:1}" appendQueryString="false" />
    </rule>
    <rule name="RewriteUserFriendlyURL1" stopProcessing="true">
      <match url="^(.*)$" />
      <conditions>
        <add input="{REQUEST_FILENAME}" matchType="IsFile" negate="true" />
        <add input="{REQUEST_FILENAME}" matchType="IsDirectory" negate="true" />
      </conditions>
      <action type="Rewrite" url="{R:1}.html" />
    </rule>
  </rules>
</rewrite>

Now you’re all set!

Once your site is ready to show the world you can host it on GitHub pages because it’s a Jekyll site, but since it compiles down to a static site you can host anywhere you want! There is nothing more flexible or easier to scale than a bunch of files.