Tag Archives: jekyll

Hosting Jekyll website on Azure Web app using TeamCity automated deployment

The public website of my company Keluro is built with Jekyll. If you are a Jekyll user you are probably aware of Github pages. To me, the best feature of Github pages is the automated deployment of your website when pushing on a specific branch (namely ‘gh-pages’). We hosted the website almost a year in Github pages. However, we suffer many inconveniences with it:

  • Https is not supported by Github pages. As Google announced, http over SSL is now a bonus in term of rankings. At Keluro we do have a wild card SSL certificate, its a shame that we could not use it for our public corporate website!
  • We could not tune some server caching configuration (ETag, Cache-Control etc.), resulting on poor results from Google Page Speed Insights.
  •  With Githup pages you cannot use custom advanced gems. They are ruby extensions, which is the technology on which Jekyll is based on. I have already blogged about our solution to support multi-lang website. Even if it works, I am more and more thinking that a Jekyll gem would do a better job…
  • We had problem with Facebook scrapping our open graph meta tags and there was nothing we could do about it: see issue here.
  • You do not control the version of Jekyll run by Github pages. We found out that there are some breaking changes introduced when migrating from Jekyll 2 to Jekyll 3. We do not want our website to get down because of a silent release of a new Jekyll revision.
  •  At Keluro due to our business model we are windows users. However, the server running Github pages are Linux servers, so you face the technicalities coming from switching between Linux/Windows: CRLF vs LF etc. Even if there are solutions such as .gitattribute file etc. these are extra technicalities that our non-tech teammates working on the website are not aware of and we do not want them to spend time on this.
  • We use a project page rather than a personal page, it was complicated to configure DNS names etc. There are always exception when it comes to project pages with Github pages.

For all these reasons I wanted to quit Github pages. As the CTO of Keluro, I had not a lot of time to investigate all alternatives and wanted a simple solution. We are already Bizspark member, our web apps, APIs, VMs etc. are hosted on Azure. We are familiar with configuration of IIS server. Consequently, it was a reasonable solution to host the website on Azure with all our other resources. On the other hand, we already had an automated deployment solution: our continuous integration server, TeamCity, which is also hosted on Azure.

The solution proposed here is then very simple. Similarly to the automated deployment provided by Github pages, we use TeamCity to trigger changes on a given branch of the Git repository. Then, the website is built by Jekyll on the integration server virtual machine. Finally, it is synchronized with the Azure web app FTP using the sync library WinSCP. At the end, our static html pages are served using Azure Web app.

Once the TeamCity build configuration is created, you just have to write two Powershell build steps (see code below). You can also use two Psake build targets and chain them as I wrote here.

The prerequisite is to install Jekyll on the windows server VM with jekyll.exe on the environment variable $PATH. You can add WinSCP.exe and .dll in a folder within your source code under the ‘ignored\build’ location. Make sure that ‘ignored’ is indeed an ignored folder by Jekyll (you do not want Jekyll to output these to your deployed _site folder).

In the TeamCity build configuration you can set up environment variable that will be consumed by the Powershell script ($env:VARNAME). It is an acceptable solution for avoiding hardcoding passwords, location path etc. on the sources. For example, the variable $env.RepoDir is set to %system.teamcity.build.checkoutDir%. You use such environment variable, to store ftp settings. To recover the FTP settings of an Azure Web App, see this stackoverflow question.

REMARK: We did not manage to redirect the WinSCP ouput of the sync logs in real time to TeamCity. We log the results when the syncing is completed. If someone has a solution we will be glad to hear it.
We tried the WinSCP powershell CMDLets but they seem heavily bugged at the time of the writing.

Build the website with Jekyll

$repoDir = $env:RepoDir
cd $repoDir #change location and go to the repository
Exec{Invoke-Expression "& jekyll build"} #invoke Jekyll from Powershell command line

Sync the website with WinSCP

$hostName = $env:FtpHostName
$repoDir = $env:RepoDir
$userName = $env:FtpUserName
$pwd = $env:FtpUserPwd

$sitePath = Join-Path $repoDir -ChildPath "_site"
$windscpPath = Join-Path $repoDir -ChildPath "ignored\build\WinSCP"

$dllPath = Join-Path $windscpPath -ChildPath "WinSCPnet.dll"
$exePath = Join-Path $windscpPath -ChildPath "WinSCP.exe"
if(!(Test-Path $dllPath)){
    Write-Error "No dll path found! " $dllPath
if(!(Test-Path $exePath)){
    Write-Error "No exe path found! " $exePath

Add-Type -Path $dllPath

$sessionOptions = New-Object WinSCP.SessionOptions
$sessionOptions.Protocol = [WinSCP.Protocol]::Ftp
$sessionOptions.HostName = $hostName
$sessionOptions.UserName = $userName
$sessionOptions.Password = $pwd
$sessionOptions.FtpSecure = [WinSCP.FtpSecure]::Explicit

$session = New-Object WinSCP.Session
$session.ExecutablePath = $exePath
$session.SessionLogPath = $logpath


    Write-Host "Start syncing..."

    $transferResult = $session.SynchronizeDirectories([WinSCP.SynchronizationMode]::Remote, $sitePath, "/site/wwwroot", $True, $False,[WinSCP.SynchronizationCriteria]::Size)


    foreach ($transfer in $transferResult.Downloads)
    Write-Host ("Download of {0} succeeded" -f $transfer.FileName)
    foreach ($transfer in $transferResult.Uploads)
        Write-Host ("Upload of {0} succeeded" -f $transfer.FileName)
    foreach ($transfer in $transferResult.Removals)
    Write-Host ("Removal of {0} succeeded" -f $transfer.FileName)
    Write-Host "... finish syncing."
    # Disconnect, clean up

Organize a multilanguage Jekyll site

In this post I will describe a simple organization of Jekyll sources to get a mulitlanguage website.

EDIT: In the post below I suggest to use a ‘translated’ tree structure under the /fr directory. e.g. /about/about.html becomes fr/apropos/apropos.html. This leads to complication and nobody cares if the url is translated. I suggest you to keep the exact same tree structure in base site, _layout and fr directories.

What is Jekyll actually? Jekyll describes itself as a “a blog-aware static site generator”. If you know the product you’ll find this description totally fitted but still obscure if you are a newcomer. Let me introduce Jekyll in my own terms. Jekyll helps you to build .html pages, they are created when you publish (or update your site). Contrary to traditional dynamic webservers (e.g. ASP.NET, PHP etc.), the pages are not served and created “on demand” when the user visits the website. With Jekyll it’s more simple, they are only web pages stored on the server disk as if you have created them “by hand”. The magic lies in the fact that you do not have to duplicate all the html everywhere. Jekyll is a “generator” which means by using its basic features, includes, layouts etc. you will not have to repeat yourself so your site will be easily maintainable. What does “blog aware” mean? Jekyll can create pages but it has also been created for blogging on the first place. On its core you will find many things related to blog matters such as pagination, ordering, tagging etc. To conclude the presentation of Jekyll let us mention the fact that it is supported natively by github-pages.

The multi language organization described in this post will illustrate some of the features of Jekyll. If you create a website with Jekyll, you must have a clean website structure such as the following one. You will notice the usual directories _layout and _site.

├── _config.yml
├── _layouts
|    ├── default.html
|    └── post.html
├── _site
|    └── ...
└── index.html

_layout is extremely powerful, it is a form of inheritance. When you declare a page such as index.html and if you reference in the YAML (a kind of file header recognized by Jekyll) the default layout then your page will use all the html defined in the _layout default. We will use extensively the layout pattern for our localized website structure. The main idea is simple: the content of the pages are stored in a layout file located under the _layout directory, the rest of the site will only “call” layouts with the proper language to use.

Let us take a simple example to illustrate this. Suppose that your have a website which default language is english and another one: french. Naturally, the default language is located at the root of the website while other languages are located on a subfolders (e.g. www.myexample.com/fr). Suppose now that you have another subdirectory “about” (“à propos” in french) then your hosted website will have the following structure:

├── fr
|    ├── à propos
|    |    └── apropos.html
|    └── bonjour.html
├── about
|    └──about.html
└── hello.html

The question now is: how to achieve this easily with Jekyll such that the translation of the sentences are kept side by side on the same file? This latter requirement is important to work with your translators. The trick is to replicate the website structure in _layouts. We use the YAML formatter to define a key/value variable that will hold the translation. The “true” pages will only call the layout with the right language to use.

Then, for the example mentioned above, the Jekyll sources structure looks like:

├── _site
|    └── ...
├── _layouts
|    ├── about
|    |    └──about_lyt.html
|    └── hello_lyt.html
├── fr
|    ├── à propos
|    |    └── apropos.html
|    └── bonjour.html
├── about
|    └──about.html
└── hello.html

The about_lyt.html contains the html content of the page and the translation such as this one. This new layout uses the default layout containing the common content of all website pages.

layout: default
en: "This is my first sentence"
fr: "C'est ma première phrase"
en: "My second sentence"
fr: "Ma deuxième phrase"
en: "Last sentence"
fr: "Dernière phrase"

Then the two localized files simply contain a very basic YAML header.
Let us have a look at the file about.html

layout: about/about_lyt
title: "about"
lang: en

And now let us examine its french alter ego apropos.html

layout: about/about_lyt
title: "A propos"
lang: fr

This, organization is very simple and maintainable, this is the one that I have chosen for my own company’s website www.keluro.com. It is also very easy to send the YAML to the translators and put them back in your files to update your website. If you are interested in a script to extract YAML you may use this one written in powershell.