I admit it, I got stung by the urge of not having to maintain my own servers anymore. For simple websites like this one, it’s become a dreadful task.

This site is built using Jekyll, I started using it very early on, even had my custom fork with some fixes and improvements. That part started to get annoying. My fork was very outdated, and I really just had a couple of patches around that, in the meantime and in one way or the other, had made it into Jekyll’s releases.

So I decided to take the plunge and stop hosting this site myself and put it on S3. Why Mathias, you’ll ask, why didn’t you just use GitHub Pages?

I have some custom plugins and custom patches in place, for instance to create pages for single tags, and I didn’t want to rip out all that. GitHub Pages unfortunately doesn’t allow you to install custom plugin, which is of course understandable from a security perspective. wordpress.com imposes the same restriction on you.

Another option is to deploy generated content to GitHub Pages by adding and committing to git, but I haven’t been happy with the increasing delays imposed by the CDN in front of GitHub Pages lately.

So I turned to my old friend S3. It’s gotten some neat features to simplify using it as a hosting platform over the years, like root document support, redirects, built-in content delivery network, lots of good stuff.

Local host is local most?

One options is to deploy directly from my own machine, but that’d deploy all the local changes I have (and I do have some occasionally), so it’d never really be a clean slate.

Travis CI to the rescue! This little feat also makes me eat my own dog food, working on Travis CI myself.

Even with a Jekyll site, deploying the content follows the simple pattern of installing dependencies and building the site.

With the code always coming from GitHub, I could be sure that the deployed state would always correspond to what’s currently checked in.

First order of business: activate the repository on Travis CI, login required.

Go to your profile, and turn on the repository. This enables the service hook on GitHub, and all subsequent commits will be sent to Travis CI for instant building.

Continuous Synchronization

To deploy your site, you’ll need a few libraries, most importantly, jekyll. There’s a nice little tool called “s3_website”, which synchronizes a static site with S3. It even supports Jekyll and its static content in the _site directory, neat!

Here’s the Gemfile:

source "https://rubygems.org"

gem 'jekyll'
gem 's3_website'
gem 'redcarpet'

I’ve added Redcarpet too, as it’s currently the best Markdown engine available for Ruby. It’s been serving me well for the Riak Handbook too!

s3_website needs a configuration file. You can create a default using s3_website cfg create.

Here’s the one I use to deploy this very site:

s3_id: <%= ENV['S3_ACCESS_KEY_ID'] %>
s3_secret: <%= ENV['S3_SECRET_KEY'] %>
s3_bucket: www.paperplanes.de

  "public/*": 6000
  "*": 300

s3_endpoint: us-east-1
s3_reduced_redundancy: true

concurrency_level: 100

Note that the bucket needs to exist before you’re getting started. I recommend naming it after your website, based on the domain people use to access it.

As you can then configure CNAME entries for site that points it to the bucket, and S3 does automatic resolution of the right bucket for you.

The build and deployment process

The .travis.yml required to tell Travis CI is succinct and simple:

language: ruby
  - 1.9.3
script: bundle exec jekyll build
install: bundle install
after_success: bundle exec s3_website push --headless

The language used is Ruby, and we’re sticking to 1.9.3.

The script section defines the command to run to build the code, in this case jekyll build which builds the site and generates the static result in the _site folder.

The install section is customized to prevent Bundler from running with the --deployment flag, which is the default for projects with a Gemfile.lock. Unfortunately it leads to strange errors generating the site.

The last and most important bit is the code that ships the site to S3. s3_website push synchronizes the static output with S3, only uploading files that have changed. This last bit is very neat, as it keeps the whole sync process nice and short.

Secure credentials

The last puzzle piece is the question of how to get those S3 credentials securely into Travis CI without exposing them to the public.

The access keys are defined as environment variables in the configuration, so we just need a way to have them set up for our build on Travis CI.

For this bit, you need the travis gem installed. Best to add it to your Gemfile. Travis CI has a feature called “secure environment variables”, that allow you to encrypt sensitive data in your .travis.yml to avoid exposing it to the public.

I’d recommend creating a separate user on Amazon IAM for this purpose, with restricted permissions only for the bucket you’re deploying too. You’ll need most permissions available, including listing, fetching and deleting objects.

When you have the credentials, run the following commands in your project’s directory. The travis tool will automatically look up the encryption keys for you on Travis CI.

$ travis encrypt S3_ACCESS_KEY_ID=ASASK... --add env.global
$ travis encrypt S3_SECRET_KEY=sshhhhh... --add env.global

These commands add the environment variables to your .travis.yml. Add the file to git, and push the changes to GitHub.

Now watch your blog be automatically deployed while also making sure the content builds correctly.


This article about deploying your Jekyll site to S3 with Travis CI was automatically deployed to S3 with Travis CI. Did that just blow your mind?