Time for a Change

For the past few years, I've served my static site with GitHub pages and generated the source with Hakyll. Since it's time for a redesign, why not change the static generator as well?

This post will walk through setting up a new Zola site with a pre-configured theme and deploying it via GitHub Pages, the same way my Hakyll site was deployed.

The old design is a bit long-in-the-tooth.

Hakyll generated site we'll be replacing

The rest of this article will walk through the steps I used to create this site.

Getting Started with Zola

The Bare Necessities

First, install Zola on your local machine. I'm running elementary OS so I used the snap package snap install --edge zola. Now create a fresh Zola installation with zola init <website-name> and answer the basic questions, if you're not sure just hit Enter to take the default configuration option, it's easy to change later! If you're porting over an existing site, don't worry, we'll cover that once we get the basic structure set up.

Before we go any further, let's ensure our project is set up correctly. Switch to the project directory with cd <website-name> and run zola serve. Navigate to the provided URL, I got and you should see a Welcome to Zola! message asking you to set up an index.html file or install a theme.

Choosing a Theme

We're going to install a theme, but you can follow the Zola docs to set up a custom site as well. There a couple different themes to choose from and you can find many more on GitHub. For my personal website, I will be writing short tutorials and medium length blog posts. I choose Even, a simple theme that doesn't distract from the content based on a Hugo theme of the same name.

Now follow the installation instructions from Even. You should create a new file content/_index.md that matches the installation instructions and your config.toml should now look like:

# The URL the site will be built for
base_url = "https://example.com"

# --snip--

theme = "even"

taxonomies = [
  # You can enable/disable RSS
  {name = "categories", rss = true},
  {name = "tags", rss = true},

# Put all your custom variables here

# The site title show in the header
even_title = "Example Site"

# This is the default menu
even_menu = [
    {url = "$BASE_URL", name = "Home"},
    {url = "$BASE_URL/categories", name = "Categories"},
    {url = "$BASE_URL/tags", name = "Tags"},
    {url = "$BASE_URL/about", name = "About"},

Now we've got our theme up and running! Try it out with zola serve

Example site with a working theme

Make a Post

Now all that's left is to share our work with the world! Let's update content/first_post.md to contain the following:

title = "My first post"
date = 1970-01-01

This is my first post.

Try zola serve one more time and you should see

Example site with a single post

Copy an Existing Site

If you have an existing static site that you want to preserve, one easy way of doing so is to keep it under version control. I checked out my old site from my git repository to a directory called cbzehner_hakyll.

❯ exa -T -L 2 -a
├── cbzehner
│  ├── config.toml
│  ├── content
│  ├── public
│  ├── sass
│  ├── static
│  ├── templates
│  └── themes
├── cbzehner_hakyll
│  ├── .git
│  ├── .gitignore
│  ├── cbzehner-github-io.cabal
│  ├── docs
│  ├── README.md
│  ├── site.hs
│  ├── src
│  ├── stack.yaml
│  └── stack.yaml.lock

Copy the .git/ directory from the old repository to the current project with copy -r ../cbzehner_hakyll .. This will preserve the history of the previous static site inside this repository. Update the .gitignore file to exclude the public/ directory where Zola places the build output:

# Exclude the build directory from version control

Now we want to make sure we properly track our theme, which we added as a git submodule. Running git add . will generate a warning letting us know to run git submodule add [email protected]:getzola/even.git themes/even which tracks this module as a seperate repository.

Now we need to move the content over from our previous static site generator to Zola. This may take a while, but I'll wait, I'm not in any rush...

All done? Great! Finally, set up all our files to be tracked with git add . and then commit this using git commit -m 'refactor: migrate to Zola'!

We're nearly done. Wouldn't it be nice if changes to our GitHub repository were automatically deployed to our website? That's next!

Deploy to GitHub

The last step now that we have our site up-and-running is to deploy it to GitHub Pages when we push a change to the master branch. I already have a custom domain set up. So all I need to do is copy my previous CNAME file into static/CNAME so that Zola picks it up at build-time.

We will deploy our changes with GitHub Actions, the Zola Deploy to Pages action will check out the newly changed master branch and build Zola on a gh-pages branch. To set this up we'll need to add GitHub Actions to our repository and set a private access token for the action to use.

To run this GitHub Action we first need to create a new directory with mkdir -p .github/workflows. The workflows/ directory stores all GitHub Workflows. Inside this directory create a new file deploy.yml which configures the action.

name: Deploy static site
on: push
    name: Build site with Zola and deploy
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
    - uses: actions/[email protected]
    - name: Zola Deploy Action by @shalzz
      uses: shalzz/[email protected]
        PAGES_BRANCH: gh-pages
        TOKEN: ${{ secrets.TOKEN }}

We're not quite ready to run it yet, we need to set up a personal access token for "Zola Deploy to Pages" to use.

Since this repository is public I can create an access token with the public_repo scope. If the repository is private, you may need the full repo scope, which differs from this screenshot.

Generate a personal access token with public_repo scope

Now take the generated token and add it to your repo under /settings/secrets/new as TOKEN so it matches the configuration in the deploy.yml file.

Add TOKEN secret to repository settings

With all of this done we can push these changes up to GitHub. After this lands, the next changes we make will automatically deploy our code to the gh-pages branch. Once that happens, we need to go into our repository settings and change the "Source" for "GitHub Pages" to be gh-pages branch.

Finish Line

🎉 That's everything! Your site is built with Zola and deployed via GitHub Actions & GitHub Pages. Go check it out!