When making (visual) changes on my blog, I used to make a commit and wait until GitHub pages rebuilt and published the site again, before I could verify that I liked the change or if I should modify it further. A single iteration often took several minutes. It worked, but requires a lot of waiting and iterations to reach satisfactory results. At some point, I just googled how to run jekyll locally (on NixOS).

In this post, I will give you some resources and ideas how to run jekyll . Feel free to follow what works, and ignore what does not. You don’t need to be on NixOS – all you need is nix, and I’ll show you how.


Originally, I started out with the approach described in this blog post I found. As the exact way didn’t work, I did some troubleshooting and fixed all issues that popped up.

In preparation for this post, I tried to retrace these steps, and I spectacularly failed rebuilding it (nokogiri, a dependency of the github-pages-gem has a different hash than expected. I figured out a way to solve it originally, but I gave up on it. Don’t fret, I found a better solution).

The goal is to run jekyll serve --watch --incremental in a nix-shell environment, so that I don’t need to have anything installed locally.

I’ll explain the original way with my adaptations (which is potentially more flexible), as well as my newfound setup – which is a lot faster!

Package Manager nix

In case of unfamiliarity with nix, you can learn more about it on their website, read about how nix works or one of the many blogposts about what nix is (Also check out my thoughts on nix here).

The official way to install nix is (yes I know …):

$ curl -L https://nixos.org/nix/install | sh

This will install nix and its related binaries. In particular, we will be using nix-shell, which provides a local virtual environment with certain (additional) packages available. You probably need to add a [channel][nix-channel] for a fresh install.

This is going to be the fastest way with the least amount of pain, if you don’t have have ruby and bundle set up. Either way, you might still want to take a look at GitHub’s site on testing locally this is fundamentally based on.

Original way

I’ll tell you about my original setup, how to replicate it, and what I changed. As mentioned earlier, it is mostly a copy from this blog post. It doesn’t build at the time of writing, but might very well do so again in the future, or if you can resolve the dependency issue in some way.

Feel free to skip ahead to the newfound way directly – the original way didn’t end up working again, after all.

First, some explanations.


A Gemfile specifies the source of ruby (a programming language) package dependencies (gems). You probably have a Gemfile with dependencies (e.g. your theme) for your page in your repository.

Turns out there exists a single package with everything needed to build github-pages locally, so we’re going to use it. The Gemfile for it would look like this:

# file: Gemfile
source 'https://rubygems.org'
gem 'github-pages'

As it is different from the Gemfile of my github pages site, I temporarily replaced it (ensure that you don’t commit that change), and later saved this one as Gemfile-nix-shell – I’ll tell you when to do that.

Packaging and Building

The Gemfile specifies our top-level dependencies, but github-pages has dependencies itself. We will use bundler to determine and resolve them. Then, bundix will take the Gemfile.lock and convert it to a nix expression – which we can then use in our shell.nix-expression later. For that:

$ nix-shell -p bundler bundix  # enter environment with `bundler` and `bundix` available
$ bundler package --no-install --path vendor  # execute bundler packaging, this creates e.g. Gemfile.lock
$ bundix  # run bundix
$ rm -rf .bundle vendor  # remove bundler artifacts
$ exit  # leave nix-shell environment


The nix-shell provides us with an environment of packages we can specify. We can also use a shell.nix-file to provide them in a more deterministic way. When we build a shell.nix, we can import the gemset.nix expression based on the Gemfile.lock lockfile. At this point, I renamed my Gemfile to Gemfile-nix-shell, to be able to have it and the original Gemfile in the repository - GitHub pages will not build with the modified Gemfile for shell-nix.

# file: shell.nix
with import <nixpkgs> { };

let jekyll_env = bundlerEnv {
    name = "jekyll_env";
    ruby = ruby_2_6;
    gemfile = ./Gemfile-nix-shell;
    lockfile = ./Gemfile.lock;
    gemset = ./gemset.nix;
  stdenv.mkDerivation rec {
    name = "jekyll_env";
    buildInputs = [ jekyll_env ];

    shellHook = ''
      exec ${jekyll_env}/bin/jekyll serve --watch --incremental

With that, we can then finally run it:

$ nix-shell # building and starting local jekyll server

Usually, nix-shell just provides a shell with the requested packages additionally in context. Using the shellHook we can instead directly execute a command, in our case the one to run jekyll.

Fixing gemset.nix and Gemfile.lock

If nix-shell succeeds – lucky you! The issue I had got fixed.

If not – you should see something similar to this:

error: hash mismatch in fixed-output derivation '/nix/store/pdnlvva6xrzs5m4g8s81xx4bizsvrb8l-nokogiri-1.13.3.gem.drv':
         specified: sha256-P2NAZhwqKDszfSJ+oiT4WWI3dbL1wJpr8Ze3hlY5WN8=
            got:    sha256-vxsbzv+RCrsLetglU1lREBoDYbhZwq0b4VXAEAgey9w=
error: 1 dependencies of derivation '/nix/store/dfvq6ppw9i7xf869z68vcx9j7lvmvbw6-ruby2.7.5-nokogiri-1.13.3.drv' failed to build
error: 1 dependencies of derivation '/nix/store/4ybs0rncdzn2z8dgc6bfd2ifsy3zfbvr-jekyll_env.drv' failed to build

gemset.nix is a nix-transformed version of the Gemfile.lock, which locks ruby dependencies at a given point in time. They are not intended to be edited manually, but I remember succeeding by doing so. It was more complicated than doing just that, but it wasn’t that much more complicated.

I’m sorry, I couldn’t reconstruct what I did. At this point you’re on your own.

But you don’t have to. You can just do what I’m doing now instead.

A Better Way

Since my original setup didn’t work anymore – and I’m only using the jekyll-paginate plugin – it should be possible to use fully packaged jekyll directly. And indeed, doing this just works:

$ nix-shell -p jekyll rubyPackages.jekyll-paginate
$ jekyll serve --watch --incremental

Which, when transformed in a shell.nix looks like this:


# file: shell.nix
with import <nixpkgs> { };

mkShell {
  buildInputs = [
  shellHook = ''
      exec jekyll serve --watch --incremental

Not only does this automatically exit the environment when stopping it (e.g. via CTRL+C), but it also rebuilds sites faster on all my machines. With our shell.nix written, we can just run nix-shell instead.

(If you want to try and compare both approaches, you can rename either shell.nix to something other than shell.nix and specify the filename later with nix-shell <filename>. shell.nix is just the default.)


You hopefully learned a bit about the different parts necessary to build github pages locally, even if they are mostly abstracted away. Tell me if you find something even better!

Don’t use this for production deployment though! I use the official jekyll/jekyll docker image on my server (blog.fkarg.de) behind traefik.

Tips and Tricks

  • When you have your shell.nix, you can run the shell by executing $ nix-shell in the same directory, and end it with STRG+C.
  • When you make changes to your _config.yml, you need to stop the nix-shell and remove the _site directory before you can see the changes when restarting nix-shell again.
    • This is also true when you create or remove a file in _posts. Updating works fine
  • Within the _config.yml you can exclude paths and specific files from triggering a page rebuild or being available on navigation. I exclude e.g. the README.md or a drafts/ folder.
  • If you’re confused about nix-shell, see this introduction to nix-shell.
  • Even with the jekyll server runnig locally, this doesn’t mean all of your resources are local and available offline. My site used to have many external javascript and css dependencies, which aren’t available without internet, making it look very weird and mostly unfunctional when offline.