Moving to Blogdown

October 28, 2017

[This article was first published on Data Imaginist, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers]. (You can report issue about the content on this page here)
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As I announced last friday on Twitter I have moved Data Imaginist to Blogdown from Jekyll. This is going to be a short post about why I did it. There’s not going to be much tutorial about this; the migration is as painless as can be expected and besides, other more qualified people have already made great tutorials about the matter.

A little over a year ago I started blogging, using what I expect most were using at the time (in R-land anyway) — The Jekyll/Github Pages combo. I’d stolen a script from David Robinson that converted new RMarkdown files into Markdown documents for Jekyll, resulting in a workflow quite like what Blogdown offers. So when Blogdown arrived, I had little inclination to look more into it. Blogdown might be newer and more flashy, but it didn’t seem to offer enough to warrant the time investment it would take to migrate my post and learn about Hugo. Arguably it is possible to ignore the Hugo backend when using Blogdown, but I like to tinker and would never be satisfied using an engine I didn’t understand (this might explain why I have been poking at ggplot2 to the extend I has).

Bottomline: I let it pass…

Then, little by little, I was drawn in anyway. The first seducer were the slew of blogposts descibing the bliss that migrating your blog to Blogdown had brought – In addition those posts also spoke highly of the hosting from Netlify and their free HTTPS support. Being around Bob Rudis (in the Twitterverse) had made me aware of the need for secure browsing habits so this appealed a lot to me (even though the HTTPS support came throgh Let’s Encrypt – something Bob vehemently opposes). The second seducer was more of a repulsor from my current setup: My page was falling apart… Due to changes in Jekyll my internal links were no longer functioning and I would need to go through my whole theme to fix it. What was most annoying was that this stabbed me in the back. Jekyll had been upgraded on Github pages at some point, silently wrecking havock on my site without me knowing it – clearly an unacceptable setup. Lastly, as convenient as the automatic Jekyll building was by Github (when it didn’t break my site), as annoying it was to do it locally to preview a post before publishing. Mayby it is because I haven’t spend much time in Ruby-world but I never quite managed to get everything installed correctly so I could ensure that my own system matched what Github was using… The final push came when I for a brief period was the designer of the Blogdown logo and decided that now was the right time to make the switch.

As I said in the beginning, this will not be a post about how to switch to Blogdown from Jekyll as I’m horrible at writing such posts. I can, however, describe my approach to migrating. I started by browsing the available Hugo themes and to my joy the one I was currently using had been ported and improved upon so the choice was easy (to be honest I’m not really really pleased with the look of my blog but the Cactus theme is pretty stylish in its minimalism). Once the theme was sorted out I began moving my posts into the new system one by one to see how it went. To my surprise it went predominantly without a hitch. Blogdown sets some other default figure sizes which resulted in some of my animations becoming unbearably large, so this had to be adjusted, but other than that it was mainly a matter of switching the Jekyll macros for Hugo shortcodes. My most used macro was for linking between blogposts which is akin to the ref shortcode but it took me a while to figure out that the argument to ref had to be enclosed in escaped quotes to survive the RMarkdown + Pandoc conversion. This could be a nice thing for Blogdown to take care off as it feels pretty cumbersome to write a path as '\\"my-post.html\\"'

Once I had gotten all my posts successfully into Blogdown I needed to get the rest going, which meant for the most part to port all my hacks and changes from the Jekyll theme into the Hugo version. One thing I’m pretty serious about is how links to my posts look when shared on Twitter so I had made a system where I could set the Twitter card type in the preamble of a post (large vs small) as well as a picture to use instead of my default logo. Porting this meant getting a bit into the Hugo templating system so that I could migrate my changes to the HTML header that gives these nice cards on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn. In the end HTML templates seems to be so alike nowadays that moving from one to the next is mostly a matter of understanding the data binding and how it differs between the systems. If you have some custom templates in Jekyll I can assure you that they probably wont take long to port over to Hugo…

My last big todo was my RSS feed. Had I only had one it would not have been an issue at all, but as it is my page actually got two – a general one and one unique to posts in the R category (this was only made for R-Bloggers). Hugo comes with automatic RSS generation for both the main site and for differentt tags and categories, but they all reside at different locations. My two feeds both resides at the root of my page – something not really supported by Hugo. But I couldn’t accept breaking subscription or link so I scavenged the net and came to a solution – as my git commits tell, it was not straightforward…

In the end I prevailed. If you are in a similar situation do look at my source code for the solution or contact me – I wont bore the 99.9 % rest with the details. The RSS episode was my first experience battling the Hugo system and arguably only because I had to support a setup from Jekyll that was handled in another way by Hugo…

I wish I had a lot to tell you about my experience with Netlify, but I haven’t. Their service is the posterchild of easy, one-click solutions and I can whole-heartedly recommend them. The switch from Github to Netlify hosting took a total of around 20 minutes, including setting up HTTPS.

As easy as I have hopefully made all of this sound, I really, really, really hope that something new and better doesn’t come out within a year. Doing this sort of infrastructure stuff is not something I particularly enjoy and I could have given my site a new look or begun developing the next version of gganimate instead of basically getting to the same page I had before. But sometimes you have to clean your room before you can play, and hopefully playtime is coming soon.

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