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Moving to GitHub pages with Nikola

So I've finally decided to move my blog from Wordpress to GitHub pages. I highly recommend it if you are technically skilled enough to do it. I was getting pretty annoyed at Wordpress. It forces you to write your posts in html (or else using their WYSIWYG editor), the is locked down, so you can't add any Javascript, their math is stuck in the past rendering png instead of using MathJax. The list goes on.

With GitHub pages, I can write my posts in Markdown, and I have full control over everything. And there is no lock in. If I decide I don't like the software that is generating the posts, I can easily move to something else, since the post content itself is all Markdown (or the occasional rst or IPython notebook if I want to do something that Markdown doesn't support). I can use MathJax for math (like $ e^{i\pi} + 1 = 0 $). doesn't let you install abtirary Javascript on your blog, so you can't do things like install MathJax or enable some cool sidebar thing (like a Twitter feed).

Setting up GitHub Pages

First, you need to set up GitHub pages. This is a bit confusing, because there are actually two kinds of GitHub pages, user pages and project pages. User pages are if you have a repo named (or .com). The pages are served from the master branch.

For project pages, you add a gh-pages branch to any one of your projects, and GitHub hosts the content automatically at I originally had my blog content at, but I didn't like that I had to do everything in master, both the generated and original content. So instead I created a repo called blog. I have my content in the master branch and the generated pages in the gh-pages branch (more on this later). At my repo, I just have for now a basic redirect to the blog. In the future, I may want to put additional, non-blog content on the website, and it would go there (or in a separate project repo with its own gh-pages branch).


I had initially planned on using Pelican. However, I got stalled on the Wordpress import. I like that Pelican is written in Python, but I was not too keen on their abrasive license. Frankly, I shouldn't say too many bad things about Pelican because I never really tried that hard with it.

I have decided to try Nikola instead. It's also written in Python. It has a very nice license. I like the philosophy of the manual:


I've also discovered that the Nikola community is very nice. And of course, even if Nikola ends up not being for me, it will be easy to switch, because my actual content is just some Markdown files that I own.

Getting started

Getting started with Nikola is pretty easy. First, you need to install it. It has a ton of dependencies (fortunately all Python, so it won't be that hard). In addition to the ones in the requirements.txt, you should also install markdown and webassets. While using nikola, it will tell you if you don't have something installed that you should, so if you see that, just install what it tells you to. If you use conda and Mac OS X, I have uploaded all the dependencies to my Binstar, so you can just conda install -c asmeurer nikola. Oh and don't worry, Nikola and its dependencies fully support Python 3 (I wouldn't be using it if they didn't).

Then you just run the commands from

One thing that doesn't tell you is that after you init the site, you should walk through and change the settings to your liking.

Another trick not there is that you can add

eval "`nikola tabcompletion`"

to your Bash profile to get tab completion.


Here are some useful tricks:

  • To enable MathJax, you have to type mathjax in a line by itself in the metadata file. There are some bugs right now, but ideally you could do inline math with $math$ and display math with $$math$$. $math$ doesn't work currently, but you can do \\(math\\) (both \s are required, although this is likely a bug). You can do \\[math\\] for display math. Here are some examples. Inline: $ \sin ^2{x} + \cos^2{x} = 1$. Display: $$ e^{i\pi} + 1 = 0 .$$

  • Your one-stop command when blogging is nikola auto. This requires livereload. This will serve the blog on localhost, and automatically rebuild it when any change is made (and I really mean any change: it can even detect when you change Nikola itself).

  • I have the following in my to deploy:

    "git checkout gh-pages",
    "rsync -rPv --delete-after --exclude old_blog --exclude .git --exclude .gitignore --exclude cache/ --exclude .doit.db.db output/ .",
    "git add -A",
    "git commit -a -m 'Updating blog content'",
    "git push",
    "git checkout master",

WARNING: These commands are dangerous. If you don't properly exclude things like .git, you will wipe your entire git history. I highly recommend committing everything and pushing to GitHub before deploying.

  • Use

for your .gitignore.

  • Despite what it says on the Nikola page, be sure to read the docs, because there are a lot of cool features you won't know about unless you read about them. Also be sure to read through

Wordpress import

This is something that I am still figuring out. You can see the progress at

Importing from Wordpress is pretty easy actually (at least in theory). First you need to go to the Wordpress site dashboard and go to "Export" from the "Tools" menu. From here you can download an XML file with all your content. Then just do

nikola import_wordpress export_file.xml

Note that the current version of Nikola as of this writing (6.3.0) doesn't do this right, so you'll need to use the git master. There are some issues with the import, since Wordpress has its own markup that it doesn't know everything about, so you may need to go in and fix things. Or report them as bugs to Nikola and reimport when they are fixed.

You'll need to go through the posts and make sure that they are rendered correctly (this is one reason I haven't finished doing it yet).

For comments, you first need to create a Disqus account, and enable it in your You should then upload the xml file that you exported from Wordpress to Disqus. At this point, the comments should just work, because Nikola sets the Disqus url for the imported comments to the old Wordpress url (look at the Disqus section of one of the built pages).

I don't know how to automatically backlink from Wordpress back to Nikola. Maybe I should just automatically generate some links and paste them in manually.