How to Set Up a Jekyll Development Site on Ubuntu 18.04

Published on June 5, 2020

Senior Developer Educator

How to Set Up a Jekyll Development Site on Ubuntu 18.04
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Ubuntu 18.04


If you’re looking to build a static website or blog quickly, Jekyll could be a great solution. An open-source static-site generator written in Ruby, Jekyll allows for quick execution of commands that help manage your site from initial to production deployment, all from your command line. Jekyll is blog-aware, giving priority to categories, posts, and layouts with a range of importers available to import previous blog content. If you need to work offline often, prefer using lightweight editors to web forms for content maintenance, or wish to use version control to track changes to your website, Jekyll could provide you with what you need to accomplish your goals.

In this tutorial, we will install a Jekyll development site on Ubuntu 18.04 with automatically-generated content. With Jekyll installed, you’ll be able to create a personal site or blog primarily using markdown files and a few Jekyll commands.


To follow this tutorial, you will need:

Once you’ve completed this prerequisite, you’re ready to install Jekyll and its dependencies.

Step 1 — Installing Jekyll

We’ll start by updating our package list to be sure we have the latest information on the newest versions of packages and their dependencies:

  1. sudo apt update

Next, let’s install make and build-essential so that Jekyll’s libraries will compile, and for Ruby and its development libraries to use. We include the y flag here to confirm that yes, we would like to install the packages and avoid the prompt to confirm.

  1. sudo apt -y install make build-essential ruby ruby-dev

When that’s complete, let’s add two lines to our .bashrc file to tell Ruby’s gem package manager to place gems in our user’s home folder. This avoids problems occurring from system-wide installations while also adding the local jekyll command to the user’s PATH.

Open .bashrc with an editor of your choice, such as nano:

  1. nano .bashrc

At the bottom of the file, add the following lines:

# Ruby exports

export GEM_HOME=$HOME/gems
export PATH=$HOME/gems/bin:$PATH

Save and close the file. To activate the exports, run the following:

  1. source ~/.bashrc

When that’s complete, we’ll use gem to install Jekyll itself as well as Bundler, which manages gem dependencies. Note that this may take some time.

  1. gem install jekyll bundler

Next, we’ll make sure that our firewall settings allow traffic to and from Jekyll’s development web server.

Step 2 — Opening the Firewall

Let’s check whether the firewall is enabled. If so, we’ll ensure traffic to our site is permitted so we will be able to view our development site in a web browser.

  1. sudo ufw status

If you’ve encountered a status showing inactive, run the following commands.

ufw allow OpenSSH
sudo ufw enable

This will enable your firewall to run on system startup. You may get the following prompts (confirm with ‘y’ to continue):

Command may disrupt existing ssh connections. Proceed with operation (y|n)? y
Firewall is active and enabled on system startup

In our case, only SSH is allowed through:

Status: active To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)

You may have other rules in place or no firewall rules at all depending on how you have set up your firewall. Since only SSH traffic is permitted in this case, we’ll need to open port 4000, the default port for the Jekyll development server:

  1. sudo ufw allow 4000

Now our firewall rules should include the following:

To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere 4000 ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6) 4000 (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)

Now with the software installed and the necessary port open, we’re ready to create the development site.

Step 3 — Creating a New Development Site

From our home directory, we’re using Jekyll’s new command to create scaffolding for a site in a subdirectory called www:

  1. cd ~
  2. jekyll new www

The jekyll new command initiates a bundle install to install the required dependencies, then automatically installs a theme called Minima. Following a successful installation, you should receive output like the following:

New jekyll site installed in /home/sammy/www.

Jekyll’s new command creates the following directories and files:

├── 404.html
├── about.markdown
├── _config.yml
├── Gemfile
├── Gemfile.lock
├── index.markdown
├── _posts
│   └── 2020-05-29-welcome-to-jekyll.markdown
└── _site

These aren’t the actual web site files. They are the source files that Jekyll will use to create the static site. Jekyll relies on specific names, naming patterns, and directory structures to parse the different sources of content and assemble them into a static site. It’s important to use the existing structure and follow Jekyll’s naming conventions when adding new posts and pages.

Tip: tree is a useful command for inspecting file and directory structures from the command-line. You can install it with the following command:

  1. sudo apt install tree

To use it, cd into the directory you want and type tree or provide the path to the starting point with tree /home/sammy/www

Step 4 — Starting Jekyll’s Web Server

Jekyll’s built-in lightweight web server is tailored to support site development by monitoring the files in the directory and automatically regenerating the static site any time a change is saved.

Because we are working on a remote server, we’ll specify the host address in order to browse the site from our local machine. If you are working on a local machine, you can run jekyll serve without the host setting and connect with http://localhost:4000.

  1. cd ~/www
  2. jekyll serve --host=
Output of jekyll server
Configuration file: /home/sammy/www/_config.yml Source: /home/sammy/www Destination: /home/sammy/www/_site Incremental build: disabled. Enable with --incremental Generating... done in 0.645 seconds. Auto-regeneration: enabled for '/home/sammy/www' Server address: Server running... press ctrl-c to stop.

When we invoked jekyll serve, Jekyll parsed the configuration and content files into a new directory, _site and started serving the content in that _site folder:

├── 404.html
├── about.markdown
├── _config.yml
├── Gemfile
├── Gemfile.lock
├── index.markdown
├── _posts
│   └── 2020-05-29-welcome-to-jekyll.markdown
└── _site
    ├── 404.html
    ├── about
    │   └── index.html
    ├── assets
    │   ├── main.css
    │   │   ├── main.css.map
    │   └── minima-social-icons.svg
    ├── feed.xml
    ├── index.html
    └── jekyll
        └── update
            └── 2020
                └── 05
                    └── 29
                        └── welcome-to-jekyll.html

It also started watching the current directory, www, for changes. As soon as a change to a post or page is saved, the static site will automatically be rebuilt, so it’s important not to make changes directly to files in the _site folder.

If we leave this terminal open with the development server running in the foreground when working on our site, we’ll receive immediate feedback as we add pages and posts and change content.

Note: If you’re working with a large site, enabling the --incremental build can speed up the rebuild each time you make a change by only regenerating the files that are changed, but we don’t need it for this small site. You can learn more about this experimental feature on the Jekyll website.

The site is now available. In a web browser, we can visit it at the server address and port shown in the the output from jekyll serve:

Screenshot of the Jekyll homepage


In this tutorial, we installed Jekyll and created a development site with some automatically-generated content. You can learn more about Jekyll by reading our other tutorials on the subject:

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About the authors
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Senior Developer Educator

Software engineer, writer, and speaker who loves solving problems and educating the next generation.

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