How to deploy a static website to Github Pages using CircleCI

Since I created my blog with a static pages generator, I've been using TravisCI to automate the pages build and deployment. My desire to learn something new (we are using CircleCI at work, but I never configured it from scratch) and the recent news about TravisCI acquisition and employees layoff, led me to think about moving to a different service.

Github Pages

Every account on Github can use a special repository to publish static pages. In my case, since I have github.com/andreagrandi, my special repository is named github.com/andreagrandi.github.io. Once I publish my pages there, they will be accessible from https://andreagrandi.github.io.

You will need to use the master branch of the special repository directly and not the gh-pages branch which is available to each repository.

CircleCI

CircleCI is a very flexible and powerful continuous integration tool, which is also free for open source projects. As long as your static website is located on a public repository on Github, you won't have to pay anything to use it. In my case, the surce code of this website is available at https://github.com/andreagrandi/andreagrandi.it

Configuration

You can find the complete configuration at this address. The only value you won't find is GH_TOKEN. You need to generate this token on Github, at this address: https://github.com/settings/tokens. Give it a nice description like "CircleCI deployment token", select repo scope and finally click Generate token button. This token will be used to git push... your pages once they are built. Please remember to keep this token secret and not to publish it anywhere.

In my configuration you may notice that I'm using Pelican static websites generator, but apart from a few changes, the structure of the configuration should be very similar even if you use Jekill, Hugo etc... it doesn't really matter how you generate the pages, the deployment phase will be the same.

Deployment script

You will notice that there is a complete bash script embedded in the CircleCI configuration. This script configures git, fetches the existing andreagrandi.github.io repository, and sync the built pages with the existing ones (this avoid creating a commit which contains all the pages so it will contain just the added content). Once the commit is made, the script will finally push the changes to the repository.

Please note: regardless of CircleCI settings, the deployment will only happens if we are pushing (or merging a pull request) to master (if [ "${CIRCLE_BRANCH}" = "master" ]; then) and it will actually commit and push pages only if there is something new to commit (if git commit -m "CircleCI build $CIRCLE_BUILD_NUM pushed to Github Pages" ; then). For example if I'm just updating something in the CircleCI configuration, which doesn't change anything in the content, the pages won't be deployed again.

Conclusion

My first impression of CircleCI is that is faster than TravisCI and this means that I can publish my content more quickly. The possibility of using Docker containers as base image is really powerful and in more complex scenarios we can reproduce the building environment locally on our machine. If you have any advices about how to improve my build script, feel free to leave a comment here.

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