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Getting started with GitHub Pages

Github Pages is something as simple as a GitHub service for serving up static HTML from a GitHub repository. It’s the perfect place for project documentation, like Javadoc, and that’s what I’ve been using it for. It can also be used for blogging with Jekyll or even a complete site for your project.

Tell me more!

GitHub Pages (hence called Pages) can be tied to a project by creating a special branch called gh-pages, or directly to your account by creating a repository called yourname.github.com.

Also, saying it only feeds static HTML is like telling only part of the story. Pages can be used together with a couple of different templating systems (like Markdown) or as I mentioned earlier, the static blog-generator Jekyll, to easily keep a web presence for yourself or your project. As every part of a Pages page is in a GitHub repository it’s really easy to update and work with.

Getting started

Creating your personal page

Pages is really quite easy to use. Wanna create a site for yourself? Follow this 5 step guide to get started.

Important: there’s currently an issue regarding Pages and pushing over http, which means, it just won’t work. So use normal Git over SSH instead.

  1. Create a new repo named yournick.github.com (xlson.github.com in my case)
  2. Create a simple welcome page to verify that it’s working (an index.html with Hello World is quite enough)
  3. Verify that you’ve received a notification from GitHub that they’ve rebuilt your Page (normally within seconds)
  4. Wait for your Page to be created (will take up to 10 minutes the first time, probably just seconds after that)
  5. GitHub page will be available at http://yournick.github.com/ when it’s ready

Creating a project page

Creating the project page is about as easy as creating a personal page, but a little different. Instead of residing in a new repository it will live in a special branch (of your project repository) called gh-pages.

  1. Go into “Admin” mode on your GitHub project
  2. Click the GitHub Pages checkbox and then the “Automatic GitHub Page Generator”
  3. Choose the options you’d like and hit the “Create Page” button after that (it doesn’t matter that much what you choose as you’ll probably remove the generated page afterwards anyway)
  4. Follow steps 3-4 from the previous checklist for “Creating your personal page”
  5. GitHub page will be available at http://yournick.github.com/projectname/ when it’s ready
  6. Create a new local clone of your repository (check your GitHub project for links, in my case: git clone git@github.com:xlson/groovycsv.git groovycsv-pages)
  7. Go into the new projectname-pages directory and checkout the gh-pages branch. (git checkout origin/gh-pages -b gh-pages)
  8. Start working on the gh-pages branch and push to origin gh-pages

You could work with the gh-pages branch in your ordinary repository but I find it’s easier to manage when you have a separate folder for the page branch.

Templating using Markdown

We’re just about finished, but I’m going to cover one more thing, and that’s how to use the Markdown templating system.

Create a file named demo.markdown in your repo and add the following content:

title: This will be used as the title-tag of the page head

# This is a H1

[the clickable text](http://xlson.com/)

* Bullet lists are also easy to create
* One more

Important: the top part containing the --- and title segment is required and if you skip it, no conversion from Markdown to HTML will happen.

Try pushing the new file to your gh-pages branch, or personal repository. GitHub will turn this template into an ordinary HTML file named demo.html using the conversions specified in the sample. Pages supports a few other templating engines (like Textile) but Markdown is the only one I use.

There’s also support for the static blog generator Jekyll (which I’ve used to create this blog). Getting started with Jekyll is out of the scope of this article, but if you’ve gotten this far, getting Jekyll running should be no problem. Check the “Getting Started” instructions over at Jekyllrb.com to get started.

Rounding it off

I’ve had some problems with GitHub Pages and that’s where this guide comes from. I’m hoping this can help others to not make the same mistakes I did. But even with those problems I think the features GitHub provide via GitHub Pages is really great. It’s a simple way to put up both documentation and a project site, or even a blog without having to think about hosting at all.

So, in closing: Big thanks to they guys over at GitHub! :)

Further reading

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