Website Build

I decided to build my own website partly for the learning experience and partly because I’m cheap and didn’t want to pay $5/month for a service (ask me how that decision is going now that I’ve spent tens of hours fussing with styles, scaling, and portability issues). Since I’m a graduate student, I probably shouldn’t have spent so much time on this side project; but maybe now that I did, someone else can benefit from that time investment and the knowledge I’ve gained in the process.

The template for this site, hpstr-jekyll-theme came from Michael Rose, available on his Github

Please feel free to clone or download these website materials and adapt as you see fit. Make sure to give credit where credit is due, particularly the original template. My only significant modification was to the homepage, where I defined a secondary header style and added it after the primary header. I did so because I wanted a bit more of a personal hook on the homepage so that visitors could learn at least one sentence about me without having to navigate any further. The rest of the modifications were for content - I added more page links to the menu bar to make the site a bit less focused on the blog content. In the future, I’d like to entirely rework the homepage and make the blog far less of a centerpiece.

Here are some instructions for adapting this site as your own (possibly with Github Pages). Following that are some additional instructions and code snippets related to the modifications and additions that are possible.

Basic Setup for a new Jekyll site

  1. Depending on your hosting process and plans to modify the site, you might want to install Ruby and Jekyll on your local machine. I did not elect to do so, since most of my content modifications could be done in a text editor and pushed to Github. To set up locally, install Bundler using gem install bundler and then install Jekyll and all dependencies using bundle install.
  2. Clone or download either the original HPSTR Jekyll Theme repo or my modification of it and rename the site.
  3. If you are planning to host the site via Github Pages, make sure to name your repository *your_github_name* and set up the hosting process in the repository settings. Check out Github Pages for more information and setup guides.
  4. See the next section for the first edits you should make, primarily by editing _config.yml to personalize your site.
  5. Check out the sample/existing blog posts in _posts to see examples for pulling in large feature images, assigning categories and tags, and other YAML data, which can easily be repurposed for your own use.
  6. Read the documentation below for further customization pointers and documentation.
Download HPSTR Theme
Download My Site

Important First Customizations

  1. Change the title:, description:, url:, name:, avatar:, bio:, email:, github:, google_analytics:, and timezone: fields in the _config.yml file in the top directory.
  2. Customize the site menu by editing _includex/navigation.html and _data/navigation.yml. The latter includes the external links to other pages; the two could likely be consolidated, but the separation can be helpful for organization.
  3. Work on replacing information in all of the top lavel pages: index.html (homepage), about/, and research/ (only on my site).

Running Jekyll Locally

The preferred method for running Jekyll is with bundle exec, but if you’re willing to deal gem conflicts feel free to go cowboy with a jekyll build or jekyll serve.

In some cases, running executables without bundle exec may work, if the executable happens to be installed in your system and does not pull in any gems that conflict with your bundle.

However, this is unreliable and is the source of considerable pain. Even if it looks like it works, it may not work in the future or on another machine.

bundle exec jekyll build

bundle exec jekyll serve

Folder Structure

├── _includes
|    ├── browser-upgrade.html       # prompt to upgrade browser on < IE8
|    ├── footer.html                # site footer
|    ├── head.html                  # site head
|    ├── navigation.html            # site navigation
|    └── scripts.html               # jQuery, plugins, GA, etc
├── _layouts
|    ├── page.html                  # page layout
|    ├── page.html                  # post-index layout used on home page
|    └── post.html                  # post layout
├── _posts
├── _sass                           # Sass partials
├── assets
|    ├── css                        # compiled stylesheets
|    ├── js
|    |   ├── _main.js               # plugin options
|    |   ├── scripts.min.js         # concatenated and minifed site scripts
|    |   ├── plugins                # plugin scripts
|    └── └── vendor                 # jQuery and Modernizr scripts
├── images                          # images for posts and pages
├── _config.yml                     # Jekyll options
├── about/                          # about page
├── posts/                          # all posts
├── sample_posts               # sample posts included with original website template
├── tags/                           # all posts grouped by tag
└── index.html                      # home page with pagination

Disqus Comments

Create a Disqus account and change disqus_shortname in _config.yml to the Disqus shortname you just setup. By default comments appear on all post and pages if you assigned a shortname. To disable commenting on a post or page, add the following to its YAML Front Matter:

comments: false

To disable Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ share links on a post or page, add the following to its front matter:

share: false

Owner/Author Information

Change your name, and avatar photo (200x200 pixels or larger), email, and social networking URLs. If you want to link to an external image on Gravatar or something similar you’ll need to edit the path in navigation.html since it assumes it is located in /images.

Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools

Your Google Analytics ID should be placed in its field in the _config.yml file. You can also add Google Site Verification in the same.

Adding New Content

Posts are stored in the _posts directory and named according to the YEAR-MONTH-DAY-title.MARKUP format as per Jekyll standards.

To streamline the creation of posts and pages, Jekyll::Compose and Octopress are great plugins you can install to automate this process.

Jekyll _includes

For the most part you can leave these as is since the author/owner details are pulled from _config.yml. That said you’ll probably want to customize the copyright stuff in footer.html to your liking.

Reading Time

On by default. To turn off remove reading_time from _config.yml. Default words per minute is set at 200 and can changed by updating words_per_minute in _config.yml.

Feature Images

A good rule of thumb is to keep feature images nice and wide so you don’t push the body text too far down. An image cropped around around 1024 x 256 pixels will keep file size down with an acceptable resolution for most devices. If you want to serve these images responsively I’d suggest looking at the Jekyll Picture Tag1 plugin.

The two layouts make the assumption that the feature images live in the images folder. To add a feature image to a post or page just include the filename in the front matter like so.

  feature: feature-image-filename.jpg
  thumb: thumbnail-image.jpg #keep it square 200x200 px is good

If you want to apply attribution to a feature image use the following YAML front matter on posts or pages. Image credits appear directly below the feature image with a link back to the original source.

  feature: feature-image-filename.jpg
  credit: Michael Rose #name of the person or site you want to credit
  creditlink: #url to their site or licensing

By default the <div> containing feature images is set to have a minimum height of 400px with CSS. Anything taller is hidden with an overflow: hidden declaration. You can customize the height of the homepage feature image and those appearing on posts/pages by modifying the following variables in /_sass/_variables.scss.

$feature-image-height: 400px; // min 150px recommended
$front-page-feature-image-height: 400px; // min 150px recommended


Video embeds are responsive and scale with the width of the main content block with the help of FitVids.

Link Post Type

Link blog like a champ by adding link: http://url-you-want-linked to a post’s YAML front matter. Arrow glyph links to the post’s permalink and the the post-title links to the source URL. Here’s an example of a link post if you need a visual.

Further Customization

Jekyll 2.x added support for Sass files making it much easier to modify a theme’s fonts and colors. By editing values found in _sass/variables.scss you can fine tune the site’s colors and typography.

For example if you wanted a red background instead of white you’d change $bodycolor: #fff; to $bodycolor: $cc0033;.


This theme is free and open source software, distributed under the MIT License version 2 or later. So feel free to to modify this theme to suit your needs.

  1. If you’re using GitHub Pages to host your site be aware that plugins are disabled. So you’ll need to build your site locally and then manually deploy if you want to use this sweet plugin.