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Jekyll Static Website with Continuous Deployment/Delivery to S3/Heroku

Develop a static website with Jekyll and deploy it automatically to S3 and/or Heroku



As a Ruby (on Rails) developer, I sometimes wonder if a web application is always the right solution for all my problems. Most of the time it is not, a simple HTML static website would be enough. But then it would be nice to have some of the nice tools that you can use developing a web application, like templates and partials, an assets pipeline, easy deployment and some sort of intermediate markup or scripting language to dynamically generate pages and assets (like markdown, ERB, SCSS/Less and Coffescript).

To find a viable solution to these needs, I would recommend jekyll: an awesome and really popular gem to build static websites with powerful tools, like markdown syntax, liquid templates, assets pipeline and many more. Github uses it to provide simple to mantain pages to be hosted for free on their servers.

But what if you don’t want to use Github to host your static websites or you want other options instead of hosting them on your own servers?

This tutorial will explain how to use Jekyll and some of its plugins to develop a static website with a Rails-like assets pipeline and deploy it to Amazon S3 and/or Heroku with a Continuous Deployment/Delivery system.

Let’s start by installing and configuring the basics.

Basic setup

Install the Jekyll gem

gem install jekyll

Create a new jekyll project

jekyll new example_website
cd example_website

Run the jekyll server

jekyll serve --watch

and visit http://localhost:4000: you will see a nice looking page with some examples of the potentialities of Jekyll.

Configure the project

For the pourpose of this tutorial, I want to start from a clean slate. I will remove the boilerplate files created by Jekyll and create a slightly different directory structure. You are free to skip this passage, if you wish to keep the example files.

rm -fr css _posts _layouts/post.html _layouts/page.html feed.xml
mkdir -p _assets/javascripts/ _assets/stylesheets/ _plugins/ _vendors/javascripts/ _vendors/stylesheets/ assets/
touch _assets/javascripts/ _assets/stylesheets/application.css.scss _plugins/ext.rb Gemfile

The project directory structure:

├── _assets
│   ├── javascripts
│   │   └──
│   └── stylesheets
│       └── application.css.scss
├── _includes
│   ├── footer.html
│   ├── head.html
│   └── header.html
├── _layouts
│   └── default.html
├── _plugins
│   └── ext.rb
├── _vendors
│   ├── javascripts
│   └── stylesheets
├── assets
├── _config.yml
├── Gemfile
├── Gemfile.lock
└── index.html

Create a Gemfile in the root directory and add these gems.

source ''

gem 'jekyll-assets'
gem 'bootstrap-sass'
gem 'uglifier'

Install the gems

bundle install

Assets Pipeline

Add the jekyll-assets plugin to the _plugins/ext.rb file. This plugin allows to use a Rails-like assets pipeline in a Jekyll project, including using CoffeScript, Sass, Less and ERB as intermediate languages to write your assets and pages, automatic minification of code, cache busting and many other cool features that you can discover on the Github repository of the plugin.

require 'jekyll-assets'
require 'jekyll-assets/bootstrap'

We also added the bootstrap plugin to automatically use the framework in the project. Feel free to skip this if you want to start from scratch or with an other framework/library.

More information about Jekyll plugins can be found in the Jekyll documentation.

To use the assets pipeline, we need to add the assets configuration to the _config.yml file.

# Site settings
title: Your awesome title
description: "Write an awesome description for your new site here. You can edit this line in _config.yml. It will appear in your document head meta (for Google search results) and in your feed.xml site description."
baseurl: ""
url: ""

# Build settings
exclude: ['', 'Gemfile', 'Gemfile.lock']
markdown: kramdown
permalink: pretty

  debug: false
  js_compressor:  uglifier
  css_compressor: sass
    - _assets/javascripts
    - _assets/stylesheets
    - _vendors/stylesheets
    - _vendors/javascripts

If you set the debug flag to true, you skip the minifications of the assets. It can be useful during development to debug the Javascript.

Add some content

JQuery is required to use the bootstrap JS components, so you can download the latest version (1.11.1 at the time of writing) of the library and put the file in _vendors/javascripts/. As a convention, it’s better to put external libraries, stylesheets and files in the _vendors directory and keep your own files separated from them.

curl -o ./_vendors/javascripts/jquery.min.js

Require both the jquery minified file and bootstrap in the _assets/javascripts/ file. You can add more files and require them in this one.

#= require jquery.min
#= require bootstrap

Similar to the javascripts, we import the main bootstrap stylesheet in the _assets/stylesheets/applications.css.scss file. We added just a little style to account the fact that we use a fixed navigation bar and we need to push the main content a bit down.

@import "bootstrap";

body {
  padding-top: 70px;
  padding-bottom: 30px;

Finally let’s setup the default layout _layouts/default.html template. As you can see we are using some helpers to include other html files that you can find in the _includes directory. We us also the javascript helper provided by jekyll-assets to include our application javascript file.

<!DOCTYPE html>

  {% include head.html %}


    {% include header.html %}

    <div class="container" role="main">
      {{ content }}

    {% include footer.html %}

    {% javascript application %}

Nothing special here apart the usage of the stylesheet helper, always provided by jekyll-assets in order to include the application stylesheet in the _includes/head.html file.

  <meta charset="utf-8">
  <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=edge">
  <title>{% if page.title %}{{ page.title }}{% else %}{{ site.title }}{% endif %}</title>
  <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width">
  <meta name="description" content="{{ site.description }}">
  <meta name="robots" content="noindex, noarchive">
  <link rel="canonical" href="{{ page.url | replace:'index.html','' | prepend: site.baseurl | prepend: site.url }}">

  <!-- Custom CSS -->
  {% stylesheet application %}

Our _includes/header.html file with just a basic nav-bar provided by bootstrap.

<nav class="navbar navbar-inverse navbar-fixed-top" role="navigation">
  <div class="container">
    <div class="navbar-header">
      <a class="navbar-brand" href="/">Example Website</a>

And a simple _includes/footer.html file.

  <div class="container">
      2014 Copyright Example Ltd

Finally add some content to the index.html file. It will be the default page diplayed when accessing your website.

layout: default

<h1 class="page-header">Example Website</h1>
<p class="lead">
  An example of using Jekyll with an assets pipeline, automated build and deployment to S3 or Heroku.

And we are done for this part. Run the server (if you haven’t already).

jekyll serve --watch

Visit localhost:4000 and check the results.

Deploy to S3

Amazon S3 is mostly used as an external storage for assets or files, but can also be configured to serve an entire static website in a scalable, cheap and performant way. To deploy our static website to it, we can use the s3_website. To start using it, add the gem to the Gemfile.

gem 's3_website'

and bundle it.

bundle install

We are going to use a YAML file to hold the information that the s3_website gem will use during the deployment process. Create a new file called s3_website.yml in the root dir with this content.

s3_id: <%= ENV['AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID'] %>
s3_secret: <%= ENV['AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY'] %>
s3_bucket: <%= ENV['S3_BUCKET_NAME'] %>

As you can see we are not going to store any sensitive information - like your AWS keys - in the repositories file. Create an .env file in the root dir of the project and add there the credentials that you want to use. Remember to add the .env file to the .gitignore. In this way you can have other environment variables on your servers. More information about storing your variables in the enviroment can be found on the 12factor website.


More information about setting up a IAM user on AWS for s3_website can be found on the github repository

Create a new bucket in your S3 account. Open the Static Website Hosting menu in the properties for the new bucket and check Enable website hosting and adding index.html as the Index Document.

In order to upload correctly the compiled files with s3_website we need to give the permission to do so to the IAM user we just created. Go to the Permissions tab and click on Add more permissions. Select Authenticated Users and grant at least List and Upload/Delete.

We need also to setup the bucket policy to allow every page to be seen as public. To so click on Add bucket policy in the Permissions tab again and paste this code in the textarea. Remember to substitute BUCKET_NAME with your correct bucket name.

  "Version": "2008-10-17",
  "Statement": [
      "Sid": "Allow Public Access to All Objects",
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Principal": {
        "AWS": "*"
      "Action": "s3:GetObject",
      "Resource": "arn:aws:s3:::BUCKET_NAME/*"

You can try if your AWS setup and configuration is ok by running

s3_website push --dry-run

It will execute all the commands to build the files from Jekyll and test the permissions to upload them on S3, without actually doing it and cleaning up afterwise.

If everything went ok, you can push your website for real, by removing the --dry-run option.

s3_website push

You can now check on your AWS management console if the files were uploaded and visit the S3 url to see your new shiny pages. The url will be composed by your BUCKET_NAME and the REGION were you created your bucket. More information on the S3 documentation about website endpoints.

Deploy the static website to Heroku with Rack

If for whatever reason you don’t want to deploy your static website to S3 (or not only), you have another option by deploying it to Heroku as a simple Rack application.

This tutorial is not about setting up an Heroku app, more information on how to get started with Heroku can be found in the official documentation.

Start by adding these gems to the Gemfile:

gem 'rack'
gem 'rack-contrib'
gem 'thin'

And run the bundle install command.

We are going to render a 404 page for all the requests that don’t exist. Create a 404.html file in the root directory.

<!DOCTYPE html>
  <meta charset="utf-8">
  <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=edge">
  <title>Your awesome title</title>
  <!-- Custom CSS -->
  <link rel="stylesheet" href="/assets/application-713ae02b40c09a6a380683ba251607be.css">
    <nav class="navbar navbar-inverse navbar-fixed-top" role="navigation">
      <div class="container">
        <div class="navbar-header">
          <a class="navbar-brand" href="/">Example Website</a>
    <div class="container" role="main">
      <h1>404 - Content Not Found</h1>
      <a href="/">Go back home</a>

To run our static website as a Rack application, we need a file to specify the configuration. In this case we are going to use Rack::TryStatic from the rack-contrib gem. It similar to the standard Rack::Static middleware, but it allows us to specify which files should be tried to be loaded for a request: for example a url like /about will try to load an about.html, about/index.html file or render the 404 page.

Credits to Matthew Manning for the tutorial on how to deploy a static website to Heroku with Rack::TryStatic.

require 'rack/contrib/try_static'

use Rack::TryStatic,
  urls: %w[/],
  root: '_site',
  try: ['.html', 'index.html', '/index.html'],
  header_rules: [
    [['html'],  { 'Content-Type'  => 'text/html; charset=utf-8' }],
    [['css'],   { 'Content-Type'  => 'text/css' }],
    [['js'],    { 'Content-Type'  => 'text/javascript' }],
    [['png'],   { 'Content-Type'  => 'image/png' }],
    ['/assets', { 'Cache-Control' => 'public, max-age=31536000' }],

run lambda { |env|
  [404, { 'Content-Type' => 'text/html' },'_site/404.html', File::RDONLY)]

Add some new files to the exclude key in your _config.yml file.

# ...
exclude: ['', 'Gemfile', 'Gemfile.lock', 's3_website.yml', 'Rakefile', '', 'Procfile', 'vendor']
# ...

To try if our configuration is working you can either use the rackup command or a server like thin (that we bundled in the Gemfile). With rackup just visit localhost:9292, while thin runs the server by default on localhost:3000, but first remember to build the website with jekyll build.

jekyll build
# visit localhost:9292
thin start
# visit localhost:3000

For the purpouse of this guide, let’s assume that you have already an Heroku account and everything ready to create a new app. First thing we need to create a git repository inside the project directory and create the first commit to be deployed.

First create a simple .gitignore file in which we specify not to commit the _site and .sass-cache directories and the .env file. We will build the files during the deployment with the clever trick of using the assets:precompile rake task to actually build the website with Jekyll.


Then initialize the git repository, add and commit the files.

git init .
git add .
git commit -m 'First commit'

In order to compile our files and not needing to commit them to repository, we are going to use a clever trick. Create a Rakefile in the root directory of the project and add these two tasks:

task default: 'assets:precompile'

namespace :assets do
  desc 'Precompile assets'
  task :precompile do
    sh 'bundle exec jekyll build'

desc 'Remove compiled files'
task :clean do
  sh "rm -rf #{File.dirname(__FILE__)}/_site/*"

As you can see, we are overriding the usual assets:precompile task that is run to compile the assets during deployment to actually build the whole website with Jeyll. In this way Heroku will build the website for us!

Credits for this solution have to be given to Jesse B. Hannah.

To tell Heroku how to run our Rack application, we need to create a Procfile file in the root directory. We are going to use thin and let the Heroku environment picks up the right port.

web: bundle exec thin start -p $PORT

Finally we came to the point where we can create the Heroku app and push our website to it! We can pass the name that we want to use for the app, example-static-jekyll in my case. Remember to change it with your own. The app will be then available at the url In my case I also create the app on the European region, if you are somewhere else, just skip it.

heroku apps:create example-static-jekyll --region eu
git push heroku master

If everything went right, you should be able to reach your website at For more information on how use your own domain and other things that you can do with your Heroku app, please refer to the official documentation.

Continuous Deployment/Delivery with

Whether you choose to deploy your website to S3 or to Heroku or both, it would be nice if you can have a Continuous Deployment/Delivery process in place: you do some changes to your source code, commit and push and automatically some external system deploys/delivers your compiled website somewhere.

I use Codeship for my own company and personal projects and I will recommend you to try it. You can signup for a free account with 100 included deploys a month (more than enough for a side project) and the setup is really easy if you host your repository on Github or Bitbucket and deploy to Herou or similar system. With a little bit of configuration you can also put complex continous integraion and delivery processes for big applications.

If you want to try out this way of deploying your website, just create an account and setup your project by giving the possibility to Codeship to pull your repository, depending if you are using Github or Bitbucket.

You need then to specify your build command to test and deploy your application/website. First select Ruby from the technology dropdown in the Test section and add these commands to the Setup Commands area:

bundle install
jekyll build

In order to “test” our application we will use the s3_website push --dry-run command in the case of S3 deployment. You can leave the test commands section empty if you plan to deploy to Heroku.

If you want to deploy to S3 with s3_website we need to specify our credentials in the Environment section in the sidebar. Just copy the variables that you set in the .env file.


Finally we need to configure the actual deployment process: go to the Deployment section and select Custom Script for S3 or Heroku for that. In the custom script (for S3 deployment) just add s3_website push and you are done.

For the Heroku setup you need to specifiy the name of the Heroku app that you created some steps before and give the Heroku api key that you can find following the instructions. You can also specify the url to check to confirm the proper deployment of the app.

This is it! To test the final process that you’ve just configured, just edit something in the project repository and push to Github or Bitbucket. Codeship will start the test and deployment process as soon it finds a new commit to the repo.

Bonus: Add Basic HTTP Authentication

One of the reasons to move from a simple S3 hosting to an Heroku app, is because we can leverage on the amount of Rack middlewares, for example to add a basic HTTP authentication to our static website with three lines of code.

To do so, add the Rack::Auth::Basic middleware to the file, before the Rack::TryStatic configuration.

# ...
use Rack::Auth::Basic, 'Restricted Area' do |username, password|
  [username, password] == ['my_user', 'secret_password']
# ...

Remember to change the username and password with something less trivial. Commit and push your app to Heroku and enjoy an added layer of security to your website.


Whoa! It was a long ride, wasn’t it?

You can find the code generated for this tutorial on Github.

I hope I gave you some good tips on how to leverage the potentialities of the awesome Jekyll gem, S3, Heroku and Codeship. If you have any question feel free to comment on this page or send me and email to



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