R Blogging on a Chromebook

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A simple approach using Jekyll, GitHub, and RStudio Cloud


Let’s be honest. Can you really call yourself a member of the #rstats community if you don’t have your own blog where you share cool stuff about R? Yes. But many R users and developers blog regularly about R, and many of them use the package blogdown to do it.

Blogdown is awesome. It helps you create really nice looking personal websites using R Markdown. And with RStudio’s built-in blogdown package support, creating a new blog is as easy as File -> New Project -> New Directory -> Website, once blogdown and Hugo are installed locally.

Here’s my problem. I prefer to use a Chromebook for my recreational data science activities, which means I work almost exclusively in RStudio Cloud. So for me, blogdown is not a viable option. Blogdown requires you to download Hugo and build your site locally, which defeats the purpose of a Chromebook in my opinion. I’d rather do everything in the cloud if possible.

Fortunately, RStudio Cloud has excellent integration with GitHub, and GitHub Pages lets you create a blog directly from a repository with Jekyll. Like Hugo, Jekyll is a static website generator. The advantage of Jekyll for Chromebook and/or RStudio Cloud users is that setting up a blog is as easy as forking a repository (see below). With Jekyll, there is no need to download anything, or to build the site locally before deploying it GitHub Pages.

In this post, I will describe how to quickly set up an R blog on GitHub Pages using Jekyll and RStudio Cloud.

Getting started with Jekyll Now

Barry Clark has written an excellent tutorial entitled Build A Blog With Jekyll And GitHub Pages that you should read. In this section, I will briefly summarize some of the main points of the tutorial. I will assume you already have a GitHub account.

The first step in building your own site is to go to the Jekyll Now repository (or other Jekyll theme repo) and click fork in the upper right hand corner. Now you have an exact copy of the repo on your GitHub account.

Next, simply rename the forked repository as [yourusername].github.io and presto! GitHub Pages will build a site using the Jekyll Now theme, and host it for free at the aformentioned URL. It’s just that simple.

At this point, you will want to customize your site’s appearance by making changes to the _config.yml file in the main branch of the repo. This is where you can give your site a name and a brief description. You can also add an avatar, RSS feed, and social links that will appear at the bottom of your site. The Jekyll Now config file is well commented and easy to follow.

Lastly, you should update the about.md file in the main branch if you want to have an “About Me” page on your blog that is well…about you.

After following these simple steps to set up your blog, you’re ready to connect to RStudio Cloud and start writing posts.

Writing Posts in RStudio Cloud

Connect to repository

To connect your new GitHub repo to RStudio Cloud, all you have to do is follow a few simple steps.

First, in your Workspace, click on “New Project” and select “New Project from GitHub Repo”. Here you will be asked to enter the URL of your blog repository. Just copy and paste it, and click enter. RStudio Cloud will do the rest!

The next thing you’ll want to do is configure Git in the RStudio Cloud terminal tab with the following lines of code:

git config --global user.email "your email address"
git config --global user.name "your GitHub user name"

Now you can add, commit, and push to your heart’s content (If you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about, read this Git/GitHub tutorial by Karl Broman).

Create R Markdown file

After you get your GitHub repo connected to RStudio Cloud, you’re ready to start writing your posts.

Jekyll uses Markdown files to create your website, but you will want to write your posts in R Markdown. That means you have to create a new R Markdwon document and add the following to the YAML front matter so you can knit to Markdown.

    variant: markdown_github

Save your .Rmd files in the format year-month-day-title.Rmd. I save mine to a “drafts” folder in the main branch of my blog’s repo/project. If your post has charts, make sure to name the associated R chunks so that the saved images will have meaningful names after knitting to Markdown.

Knit to Markdown

Before you publish your post, you first need to knit to Markdown by clicking Knit -> Knit to md_document at the top of your notebook. This will create a .md version of your post, as well as a folder of images with any charts that you created.

Move the .md file to the “_posts” folder in the main branch of your repo/project. And move the charts and any other images to the “images” folder. Now you’re ready to publish.

Publishing on GitHub Pages

Commit and Push Changes

To publish your post on GitHub Pages, you need to Commit and Push the changes to your project. I use the Git tab in RStudio Cloud for this. It’s right next to the Connections tab.

First check the box that says “Staged” next to each document, then click Commit. This will open a new Git window where you can enter a Commit message (like “added new post”) and click Commit once more. If all goes well, you will be allowed to click Push and sign-in to GitHub with your credentials. Once you’ve authenticated, the post will be pushed to GitHub and published on your website.

Don’t forget!

Before you’re done, there is a couple of things you need to do to the .md version of your post in GitHub.

You need to manually add links to the images in you blog post by editing the .md file. Each image should be coded as ![](/images/image-name.png).

You should also add the following to the YAML front matter of the .md file.

layout: post 
title: Title of Post


If you’re a Chromebook user like me and you want to use RStudio Cloud to blog about R, then the easiest way to get started is to fork the Jekyll Now theme (or another theme) to your GitHub account. Then follow the simple instructions in this post to leverage RStudio Cloud’s excellent GitHub integration to create and publish blog posts on your free github.io website.

Questions or comments?

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