Michael Whelan

behaviour driven blog

Deploying Sandra.Snow to GitHub Pages with Gulp

When I was planning a git work flow for my Sandra.Snow blog, which is hosted on GitHub Pages, I expected that I would store the project files in the master branch, then publish the site to the gh-pages branch. The point I overlooked is that this is the work flow for project sites, but user and organisation sites, like my blog, work slightly differently. With user and organisation sites you publish the website content to the master branch of your GitHub repository. This was far from ideal, as it meant that my content was mixed with the generated output. Even the slightest tweak to a post would lead to the whole site being generated, meaning monster commits and hiding the changes to the content. I suspect Sandra.Snow has a few solutions to this problem, but here is the solution I came up with.

Orphan Branch

The first step was to separate out the markdown blog posts and snow templates from the generated static website files. To do this, I created an orphan branch in the repository named "posts" and moved the markdown blog posts and Sandra.Snow templates and generators into it:

git checkout --orphan posts


The next step was to automate the deployment to my remote master branch. To do that, I thought I would use Gulp, a useful tool I've been using recently while learning AngularJS. Gulp is a relatively new front-end build system, which makes it easy to automate common tasks in the development of a website. It's built on Node.js and is extremely fast, as it uses node.js streams rather than writing temporary files to disk. It promotes the idea of code over configuration - the code being JavaScript.

To install Gulp, you need to have Node installed. Then you can install gulp globally by running:

npm install -g gulp

You then need to install it locally into your project. From the command line, navigate to your project root, and run:

npm install --save-dev gulp

This installs gulp locally in the node_modules folder and saves it to the package.json file that holds the node configuration. (If you don't have a package.json file you can type npm init to generate one before this step).

Like I said, I want to keep any generated files out of the repo, so I added the dist folder (where I have Sandra.Snow generate the static pages to) and the node_modules folder (where node stores all of the plugins) to the .gitignore file.


If I clone a fresh copy of the repo, I just need to open a command prompt at the project root and type npm update to reinstall all the plugins listed in the node package.json file to the node_modules folder.


Gulp-gh-pages is a gulp plugin to publish to GitHub Pages. Its default use case is to deploy to a project site's gh-pages branch, but you can configure it to deploy to the master branch instead. To install into the project, execute:

npm install --save-dev gulp-gh-pages

You configure gulp-plugins using JavaScript in a gulpfile.js file. To configure gulp-gh-pages to deploy the dist folder (the output folder that Snow generates the website to) to the master branch of my mwhelan.github.io user site repository, I just need to define a deploy task:

var deploy = require("gulp-gh-pages");
var options = { 
    remoteUrl: "https://github.com/mwhelan/mwhelan.github.io.git",
    branch: "master"};
gulp.task('deploy', function () {

Now if I want to deploy my site, I just need to navigate to the root of the project via the command line and execute that task:

gulp deploy

The whole workflow

When I've created a new blog post, I use Snow to generate the static site and then view it in a browser to make sure everything is OK:

gulp build

The build task deletes the output folder, shells out to Snow to re-generate the static site, creates a web server to host the static files, then opens the browser to display the site. (Snow already does some of these things, but I did them here to add to my learning about gulp)!

To have these steps happen in that order, I use the run-sequence plugin. By default, node would run the tasks asynchronously. Once everything looks OK, I can run the deploy task to publish to GitHub.

In case it is useful, here is the whole gulp configuration file.

var gulp = require("gulp");
var runSequence = require("run-sequence");
var clean = require('gulp-rimraf');
var shell = require('gulp-shell');
var connect = require('gulp-connect');
var open = require('gulp-open');
var deploy = require("gulp-gh-pages");

gulp.task('clean', function () {
    return gulp.src('dist', {read:false})

gulp.task('snow', shell.task('.\\Snow\\_compiler\\Snow.exe config=.\\Snow\\'));

gulp.task('connect', function() {
        root: 'dist/',
        port: '8123'

gulp.task("open", function(){
  var options = {
    url: "http://localhost:8123"
  .pipe(open("", options));

// generate website to 'dist' folder and then open site in browser
gulp.task('build', function(callback) {
    runSequence('clean', 'snow', 'connect', 'open');

// deploy 'dist' folder to mwhelan.github.io github repo, master branch
var options = { 
    remoteUrl: "https://github.com/mwhelan/mwhelan.github.io.git",
    branch: "master"};
gulp.task('deploy', function () {

Like I say, I am pretty new to all this front-end build stuff. I suspect I will find better ways of doing things as my experience with gulp increases. I could also add some other tasks in here, such as minifying the CSS/JavaScript, and using uncss to delete all the redundant CSS. (I am using Twitter Bootstrap to style my site and I already know that I can delete 90% of my styles)!

About Michael Whelan

Michael Whelan is a Technical Lead with over 20 years’ experience in building (and testing!) applications on the Microsoft stack. He is passionate about applying agile development practices, such as BDD and continuous delivery, to agile processes. These days his primary focus is ASP.Net MVC Core and Azure. He contributes to a number of open source frameworks through TestStack.

comments powered by Disqus