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Automatically deploying this blog to GitHub Pages with Travis CI

This blog is now deployed to GitHub pages automatically from Travis CI.

As I've outlined in the past, this website is built with the Nikola static blogging engine. I really like Nikola because it uses Python, has lots of nice extensions, and is sanely licensed.

Most importantly, it is a static site generator, meaning I write my posts in Markdown, and Nikola generates the site as static web content ("static" means no web server is required to run the site). This means that the site can be hosted for free on GitHub pages. This is how this site has been hosted since I started it. I have a GitHub repo for the site, and the content itself is deployed to the gh-pages branch of the repo. But until now, the deployment has happened only manually with the nikola github_deploy command.

A much better way is to deploy automatically using Travis CI. That way, I do not need to run any software on my computer to deploy the blog.

The steps outlined here will work for any static site generator. They assume you already have one set up and hosted on GitHub.

Step 1: Create a .travis.yml file

Create a .travis.yml file like the one below

sudo: false
language: python

  - 3.6

  - pip install "Nikola[extras]" doctr

  - set -e
  - nikola build
  - doctr deploy . --built-docs output/
  • If you use a different static site generator, replace nikola with that site generator's command.
  • If you have Nikola configured to output to a different directory, or use a different static site generator, replace --built-docs output/ with the directory where the site is built.
  • Add any extra packages you need to build your site to the pip install command. For instance, I use the commonmark extension for Nikola, so I need to install commonmark.
  • The set -e line is important. It will prevent the blog from being deployed if the build fails.

Then go to and enable Travis for your blog repo.

Step 2: Run doctr

The key here is doctr, a tool I wrote with Gil Forsyth that makes deploying anything from Travis CI to GitHub Pages a breeze. It automatically handles creating and encrypting a deploy SSH key for GitHub, and the syncing of files to the gh-pages branch.

First install doctr. doctr requires Python 3.5+, so you'll need that. You can install it with conda:

conda install -c conda-forge doctr

or if you don't use conda, with pip

pip install doctr

Then run this command in your blog repo:

doctr configure

This will ask you for your GitHub username and password, and for the name of the repo you are deploying from and to (for instance, for my blog, I entered asmeurer/blog). The output will look something like this:

$ doctr configure
What is your GitHub username? asmeurer
Enter the GitHub password for asmeurer:
A two-factor authentication code is required: app
Authentication code: 911451
What repo do you want to build the docs for (org/reponame, like 'drdoctr/doctr')? asmeurer/blog
What repo do you want to deploy the docs to? [asmeurer/blog] asmeurer/blog
Generating public/private rsa key pair.
Your identification has been saved in github_deploy_key.
Your public key has been saved in
The key fingerprint is:
SHA256:4cscEfJCy9DTUb3DnPNfvbBHod2bqH7LEqz4BvBEkqc doctr deploy key for asmeurer/blog
The key's randomart image is:
+---[RSA 4096]----+
|    ..+.oo..     |
|     *o*..  .    |
|      O.+  o o   |
|     E + o  B  . |
|      + S .  +o +|
|       = o o o.o+|
|        * . . =.=|
|       . o ..+ =.|
|        o..o+oo  |

The deploy key has been added for asmeurer/blog.

You can go to to revoke the deploy key.

================== You should now do the following ==================

1. Commit the file github_deploy_key.enc.

2. Add

      - set -e
      - # Command to build your docs
      - pip install doctr
      - doctr deploy <deploy_directory>

to the docs build of your .travis.yml.  The 'set -e' prevents doctr from
running when the docs build fails. Use the 'script' section so that if
doctr fails it causes the build to fail.

3. Put

        - secure: "Kf8DlqFuQz9ekJXpd3Q9sW5cs+CvaHpsXPSz0QmSZ01HlA4iOtdWVvUttDNb6VGyR6DcAkXlADRf/KzvAJvaqUVotETJ1LD2SegnPzgdz4t8zK21DhKt29PtqndeUocTBA6B3x6KnACdBx4enmZMTafTNRX82RMppwqxSMqO8mA="

in your .travis.yml.

Follow the steps at the end of the command:

  1. Commit the file github_deploy_key.enc.
  2. You already have doctr deploy in your .travis.yml from step 1 above.
  3. Add the env block to your .travis.yml. This will let Travis CI decrypt the SSH key used to deploy to gh-pages.

That's it

Doctr will now deploy your blog automatically. You may want to look at the Travis build to make sure everything works. Note that doctr only deploys from master by default (see below). You may also want to look at the other command line flags for doctr deploy, which let you do things such as to deploy to gh-pages for a different repo than the one your blog is hosted on.

I recommend these steps over the ones in the Nikola manual because doctr handles the SSH key generation for you, making things more secure. I also found that the nikola github_deploy command was doing too much, and doctr handles syncing the built pages already anyway. Using doctr is much simpler.

Extra stuff

Reverting a build

If a build goes wrong and you need to revert it, you'll need to use git to revert the commit on your gh-pages branch. Unfortunately, GitHub doesn't seem to have a way to revert commits in their web interface, so it has to be done from the command line.

Revoking the deploy key

To revoke the deploy key generated by doctr, go your repo in GitHub, click on "settings" and then "deploy keys". Do this if you decide to stop using this, or if you feel the key may have been compromised. If you do this, the deployment will stop until you run step 2 again to create a new key.

Building the blog from branches

You can also build your blog from branches, e.g., if you want to test things out without deploying to the final repo.

We will use the steps outlined here.

Replace the line

  - doctr deploy . --built-docs output/

in your .travis.yml with something like

  - if [[ "${TRAVIS_BRANCH}" == "master" ]]; then
      doctr deploy . --built-docs output/;
      doctr deploy "branch-$TRAVIS_BRANCH" --built-docs output/ --no-require-master;

This will deploy your blog as normal from master, but from a branch it will deploy to the branch-<branchname> subdir. For instance, my blog is at, and if I had a branch called test, it would deploy it to

Note that it will not delete old branches for you from gh-pages. You'll need to do that manually once they are merged.

This only works for branches in the same repo. It is not possible to deploy from a branch from pull request from a fork, for security purposes.

Enable build cancellation in Travis

If you go the Travis page for your blog and choose "settings" from the hamburger menu, you can enable auto cancellation for branch builds. This will make it so that if you push many changes in succession, only the most recent one will get built. This makes the changes get built faster, and lets you revert mistakes or typos without them ever actually being deployed.