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A website about programming, technology, and life.

New Theme!

by Aaron Crowder on in Site Updates

I recently started using Pelican static site generator for this blog. I was drawn to it for a few reasons:

  1. It uses Jinja2 for templates, which I love.
  2. It written in python
  3. It reminds me a lot of Flask (this might be because of using Jinja2…)

I’ve done a few interesting things with this site though. I’m hosting the repo that contains the source content, configuration, etc. on Gitlab. I initially thought I’d host this site using Gitlab’s new “Pages” feature, but it wasn’t quite up to snuff yet. For one, the “build” process was REALLY slow. For two, you couldn’t use a custom domain.

Instead, I decided to host the site out of a Github repository. Github Pages deploy in seconds and they allow me to use a custom domain for my site. I actually use Make to build the site locally during testing as well as “publishing” it to my Github repository. This means that the site and it’s content are replicated to two different locations on two different services so my data and content are as safe as possible (from things like accidental deletions, services shutting down and the like).

Custom Theme

I wanted to build my own theme for Pelican rather than using one from their Theme Repository. I felt like I could build something in a fairly short amount of time that would best match my tastes and how I wanted my site and content to come across.

It took me a few days working here and there, but what you’re looking at now is my new custom theme!


Building a Pelican theme was actually a fairly straightforward process. Especially compared to some of the CMSs I’ve built themes for in the past (cough WordPress cough). Their guide gives you a list of files you’ll need, along with all the different variables and configuration options available to you.

As I mentioned before, Pelican uses Jinja2. All the template files are written using it. The theme documentation gives you an idea of what each theme file should contain or look like. In a few cases I looked at what some other themes where doing from the Theme Repo. Those two resources combined gave me the tools I needed to get building.


This theme, lovingly called “PersonalSite-theme” (or coldly, can never remember which it is), uses a couple of fun technologies to improve the development process.

NPM I’m using NPM to install various JavaScript packages. A lot of folks combine NPM and Bower, using NPM for cli tools, and Bower for client-side JavaScript Libraries (like jQuery, Bootstrap, etc). I decided to just use NPM, as they’ve fixed a lot of the issues that made using Bower a requirement.

I use NPM to install:

  • Gulp, a task runner.
  • Gulp-Sass, a tool that let’s me compile Sass using Gulp.
  • Bootstrap, a client-side UI framework. Provides CSS styles and JavaScript UI components that make building a clean / beautiful UI somewhat trivial.
  • jQuery, we all know it. Some of us love it, some hate it. I needed it.
  • Font Awesome, a font icon library.

Gulp Gulp is a really important tool that I used in my workflow for developing this theme. After using NPM to install packages I then used Gulp to to move things from the node_modules directory that they’re downloaded to into the static folder of the theme. Gulp was also responsible for watching my *.sass file for changes and running the compiler.

These tools combined really streamlined my workflow and made development a breeze. Before this project I had used NPM, but not Gulp. I had used another task runner, but Gulp was by far the best one I’ve used.


So, you want to use this theme for your own Pelican site? Well, it’s REALLY easy. You must first have NodeJS installed, which comes with npm, a package management tool. Once you have that you can clone the repository to where ever you keep your Pelican themes (I personally put them as submodules of my Pelican sites repo, but that’s a topic for another post) and run npm install && gulp at the root of the theme repo.

Wrapping up

I hope you enjoyed this post and learning more about Pelican and my sites theme in general. If you have any specific questions about this theme or it’s usage let me know in the comments or on Twitter.