Daniel O’Connor

An over-engineered, modern development environment and build system

I’d like to share a thing or two about the build system and development environment I’ve configured for this blog.

What follows is a description of over engineering a personal website all these technologies and implementation tips.


This blog post was written in Markdown and compiled into HTML using Jekyll. gulp uses custom tasks to compile .less files into CSS, add vendor prefixes, and minify the files.

gulp also minifies all images, installs front-end dependencies using Bower, runs jekyll build --drafts when a post is saved, and uses BrowserSync to serve the website locally.

Assets and posts are watched with gulp and changes appear instantly in the browser without refreshing the page.

This website uses Git for version control, is hosted on GitHub, and is deployed with Capistrano onto a DigitalOcean VPS.

Third party packages are installed locally using NPM, Bundler, and Bower.

You can view the source of this blog post on GitHub.

Installing the website locally

You can install this website locally with the following commands:

$ git clone git@github.com:danoc/danoc.me.git && cd danoc.me
$ npm install
$ bundle install
$ ./node_modules/.bin/gulp

(These commands require Git, NPM, and Bundler to be installed beforehand.)

At this point, gulp will perform a various build tasks and open the website in a browser.

I’ve installed gulp globally on my machine using npm install --global gulp so I can run gulp without typing the long path in the example above.

Using gulp, Jekyll, and BrowserSync

Compiling LESS, concatenating files, and minifying images is easy with gulp. Searching for “gulp minify css” on Google turns up gulp-minify-css, an NPM package that comes with code samples.

Getting gulp to play well with Jekyll and BrowserSync is a bit harder.

You can take a look at the entire gulpfile.js on GitHub, but I’ll explain the interesting parts that make these technologies play well together.

Required BrowserSync and Jekyll dependencies

I require brower-sync for, well, BrowserSync, and yargs plus child_process to run jekyll build.

var args = require("yargs").argv;
var browserSync = require("browser-sync");
var childProcess = require("child_process");

Watching Jekyll files in the default task

Jekyll files that should trigger a rebuild when modified are stored in a variable called jekyllPaths.

var jekyllPaths = ["index.html", "_layouts/*.html", "_posts/*", "_drafts/*"];

They are watched using gulp.watch() in the default task. default is normally the first task that runs when you execute gulp in the command line, but gulp runs the browserSync, less, css, and img tasks first since they are defined as dependencies.

gulp.task("default", ["browserSync", "less", "css", "img"], function () {
  gulp.watch(assets["src"]["css"], ["css"]);
  gulp.watch(assets["src"]["img"], ["img"]);
  gulp.watch(assets["src"]["less"], ["less"]);
  gulp.watch(jekyllPaths, ["jekyllRebuild"]);

Using BrowserSync in gulp

The default task depends on browserSync, which looks like this:

// Start BrowserSync to view the website
gulp.task("browserSync", ["jekyllBuild"], function () {
    server: {
      baseDir: "_site",

This launches BrowserSync and sets baseDir: _site. This option tells BrowserSync to load the files in the _site directory. _site is where Jekyll outputs the built website.

I use .pipe(browserSync.reload({stream:true})) in tasks that I want to trigger a refresh in BrowserSync.

Building Jekyll with gulp

You’ll notice that the browserSync task depends on jekyllBuild. We use Node.js’s child_process.spawn() function to run jekyll build. If the --type production flag is not provided, draft posts are also published. (More about this flag on the Capistrano section.)

// Build the Jekyll website
gulp.task("jekyllBuild", ["img", "css", "less"], function (done) {
  var args = ["build"];

  if (!isProduction) {

  return childProcess.spawn("jekyll", args).on("close", done);

There is a similar task called jekyllRebuild that runs when a file in jekyllPaths changes. It asks Jekyll to rebuild by listing jekyllBuild as a dependency and forces BrowserSync to refresh once the build is complete.

You might notice that the jekyllBuild task depends on the img, css, and less tasks. I’m not going to touch on those because there are tons of existing resources online. Feel free to poke around the entire gulpfile.js on GitHub to learn more.

Using Bundler and NPM and Bower

This website uses three package managers: Bundler, NPM, and Bower. Bundler is used to manage Ruby gems, NPM manages Node.js programs, and Bower manages front-end frameworks and libraries.

I currently use Bundler to install Capistrano, Jekyll and Rogue, NPM to install BrowserSync, Gulp, a bunch of Gulp dependencies, and even install Bower. Currently I only use Bower to download Normalize.css.

Deploying Jekyll with Capistrano

Deploys are incredibly easy and done with one command: cap production deploy.

Behind the scenes, Capistrano grabs the latest code from GitHub, creates a release folder, runs a few custom commands, then changes a symlink to the newest release folder if the deploy went smoothly.

The entire deploy.rb file looks like this:

# config valid only for current version of Capistrano
lock '3.3.5'

set :application, 'danoc.me'
set :repo_url, 'git@github.com:danoc/danoc.me.git'

set :log_level, :info

namespace :deploy do

  before :publishing, :build do
    on roles(:all) do
      execute "cd #{release_path} && sudo bundle install"
      execute "cd #{release_path} && npm install --production --silent --no-spin"
      execute "cd #{release_path} && ./node_modules/.bin/gulp jekyllBuild --type production"


The first two execute lines install dependencies listed in the Gemfile and package.json files. The third line runs gulp, but only the jekyllBuild task in the gulpfile.js which depends on the css, less, and img tasks. It does not watch files or launch BrowserSync as I do locally. The --type production flag tells gulp not to compile the draft posts.

Capistrano also requires a production.rb file. Mine is one line and looks like this:

server 'danoc.me', user: 'daniel'

Server-side configuration

Capistrano creates a release folder such as 20150301070052 in /var/www/danoc.me/releases, installs dependencies, and builds Jekyll. If the deploy works, it symlinks /var/www/danoc.me/current to the latest release.

I use Apache on my Digital Ocean VPS and point the danoc.me DocumentRoot to /var/www/danoc.me/current/_site/. This path is always the location of the Jekyll build from the most recent deploy.

Two things to note: Capistrano is able to run sudo bundle install without password prompts because of passwordless sudo. Also, the bundle and npm tasks each have their own depencies and must be installed on the server.

Files to .gitignore

This complex build system creates many files and directories that should be ignored in Git.

These are some of the types of files and directories I ignore:

  • Complied “dist” files — This includes the _site/ directory Jekyll generates and any CSS, JavaScript, or image files that gulp produces. This is a good practice because these compiled files clutter the repository, can lead to complicated merge conflicts, and are not necessary since we run gulp on the server.
  • Dependencies — I install dependencies with NPM, Bower, and Bundler on both the client and server so there is no need to check in these dependencies.
  • System and editor files such as the infamous .DS_Store.

Most of my .gitignore comes from gitignore.io, a website that creates customized .gitignore files.


This system is terribly complicated and over-engineered for a blog and portfolio that get nearly no traffic.

That said, configuring a seamless build system and development environment can be a great learning experience and incredibly rewarding.

Want to do this at a larger scale? Optimizely is always hiring!

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