Setting up Octopress on Github Pages

There’s a lot of good information out there already on setting up Octopress on Github. The Octopress documentation covers the subject in depth, as do assorted blog posts. However, perhaps it’s because I was drinking while doing it, or perhaps it was because I missed something while reading the guides, or my poor mental model of how things were supposed to work, or even that it was late at night, but I had a lot of trouble setting up What’s Shaking, NZ? on Github Pages.

A few things to note:

  1. A lot of what I’ve done with setting up this website is completely new to me. I’ve never edited CSS before, for example – or ever owned a domain name. So if something is obvious to most, apologies if an explanation may seem unnecessary. I especially apologise if an explanation is wrong! Please let me know.
  2. If you want a guide to setting things up, this isn’t it. A lot of things I did here are wrong. This post is simply to point out some of the things I struggled with, in the hope that pointing out the right way to do things may be of help to someone else some day.

Now, on to the post!


My intent was to host the website as a project page on a Github repo, using a custom domain. This repository would consist of a master branch with the source on it, and a gh-pages branch with the website on it. From there, I could have the domain point at the right place and everything would all work splendidly. I spent a fair bit of time playing around with colours and layout and resizing locally (resizing the header was only possible thanks to Lee at Big Dinosaur). When it was at a this-sucks-less-than-everything-else-I’ve-tried stage, I decided it was time to put it up online.

I spent a bit of time poring over the Octopress documentation as well as this post by Rob Dodson. I figured I was armed with enough knowledge to get this to work first time.

My test setup on my local machine looked something like this:

  • Octopress cloned into ~/Sites/wsnz using the command on the site
  • POW running so I could access locally and see the changes to my site as I made them, after running rake watch

What I wanted, was this: - Octopress WSNZ site in ~/Code/wsnz-website with source on master branch and easy deployment to gh-pages branch - POW running the same as above, for easy local development

So, with beer in hand and the internet at the ready I embarked on this adventure.

Following instructions

First of all, I wanted my code in a different place locally. So I created the repository on the Github site (adamsp/wsnz-website) and cloned to ~/Code/wsnz-website using the ‘Clone in Mac’ button and the Github application. Then through the OS X Finder I copied the contents of ~/Sites/wsnz into ~/Code/wsnz-website. Importantly, this means I no longer have the original .git folder, so that explains why the wsnz-website repository has no commit history (where as the repo for this site is a ‘proper’ fork and does have the commit history Edit 18 Sep 2012: This site ended up copy/pasted from that linked repo).

Now my code was in the right place, I went ahead and did some other modifications. I changed my _config.yml file so that the URL property pointed at the domain, url:, I added a .gitignore, added a Google Analytics ID, etc. I also did echo '' >> source/CNAME, as instructed in the guides, so I had a CNAME file with my site URL in it.

I now ran rake setup_github_pages (with the git endpoint as – this changed my _config.yml and Rakefile. This is wrong!

When I ran rake deploy I ended up with a broken website. I figured I should be able to see it at – but that didn’t work. This was confusing, as everything appeared to be right on the gh-pages branch.

Fixing problems

I was looking through HTML in the gh-pages branch when I realised that the files weren’t at root. Checking back in my source again, it looked like everything in the config files was prefixed with wsnz-website/!

The setup_github_pages command changed all the URLs to be prefixed with wsnz-website/. I had to go through and edit these out. So you should still have the following settings in these files:

subscribe_rss: /atom.xml
root: /
destination: public
public_dir = "public"
http_path = "/"
http_images_path = "/images"
http_fonts_path = "/fonts"
css_dir = "public/stylesheets"

But oddly enough, things still weren’t working. Turns out, I had to leave the URL property in _config.yml as url:

Once I did this and redeployed, everything worked as expected. I updated my link in ~/.pow to point to ~/Code/wsnz-website and I could access my site for local development again. Pushing blog posts and changes is now as simple as rake generate then rake deploy. Easy.

Specific issues

Anyway, after all of that, these are the issues I had, and their fixes/correct settings:

  • The settings in _config.yml require a space after the colon or else the generate command fails.
  • If you’re updating files in the sass folder and things don’t appear to be changing, you may need to delete .sass_cache.
  • The url setting in _config.yml is the Github pages URL – eg url: This is true even if using a custom domain. See this commit for what I mean.
  • The paths in _config.yml, config.rb and Rakefile should not contain your sites repository name. eg destination: public and not destination: wsnz-website/public. The rake setup_github_pages command may put these settings there.
  • The CNAME file should exist under the source folder, and then when deployed it will exist in the root of your gh-pages directory. This is required.
  • Setting up the DNS entries is also required. With the CNAME file present you cannot access the site at the Github address. Note that you should just point it to rather than

Again, I must emphasise that most of this is fairly new to me. I’m sure most of these things are common knowledge, but not to me - and that means probably not to someone else.