Blogging with org-mode and ox-hugo

I’ve recently assembled a workflow for blogging with Hugo, org-mode, and Netlify via a single .org document, with live reload during writing and git push driven deployments.

Requirements

I’ve detailed my current environment in the Software/Tool Versions appendix below. Strictly speaking, the hard requirements of the ox-hugo package are:

  • Emacs 24.4+
  • org-mode 9.0+

To use the git-based publishing part of this workflow, you’ll also need:

  • A GitHub account (free or otherwise)
  • A Netlify account (free or otherwise)

Features

  • Compose and organize content in a single Org file
  • Each post automatically gets a Table of Contents if sub-headings are present
  • Preview in your local browser including live-reload behavior
  • Syntax highlighting, including custom line numbers and line highlights
  • Manage draft / publication status
  • Manage categories and tags
  • Manage post aliases
  • Manage custom front-matter
  • Publish via git push, perhaps via Magit
  • Free hosting via Netlify (dear Netlify, please let me give you money without a multi-user/Pro account!)
  • Free HTTPS via Netlify’s Lets Encrypt integration

Installation

I’ve included snippets for use-package users and Spacemacs users - others should look at the repository for the ox-hugo package for more information.

use-package Users

(use-package ox-hugo
  :after ox)

Spacemacs Users

Use SPC f e d to open ~/.spacemacs (or ~/.spacemacs/init.el) and within the dotspacemacs/layers function, add or update an entry to the dotspacemacs-configuration-layers list like so:

(org :variables
     org-enable-hugo-support t)

Restart Emacs or use SPC f e R to reload your configuration on-the-fly. If you already have an entry for the org layer, just include the variable org-enable-hugo-support with value t.

Workflow

Project Structure

I’m working within a vanilla Hugo project with the following structure, similar to what you’d see right after a hugo new site command:

$ tree -d -L 2
.
├── archetypes
├── content
│   ├── blog
│   └── pages
├── data
├── layouts
├── static
│   └── images
└── themes
    └── hugo-redlounge

My blog.org file sits at the root of my repository, but could be placed nearly anywhere within and re-targeted with the HUGO_BASE_DIR setting. Subtrees get exported to a subdirectory of content based on their EXPORT_HUGO_SECTION property.

File Structure

There are several options for organizing the .org file you store your blog posts and pages in, but here’s a single-file structure that works well for me.

Global settings and metadata

1234
#+STARTUP: content
#+AUTHOR: Shane Sveller
#+HUGO_BASE_DIR: .
#+HUGO_AUTO_SET_LASTMOD: t

Line 1 is an org-mode setting that tells Emacs that upon opening this file, default to showing all headings and subheadings but not the inner content until TAB is pressed while the pointer is on a particular heading.

Line 2 sets my global author information, which propagates into each post and page I manage with this .org file.

Line 3 tells ox-hugo that the current .org file is located in the root of the overall Hugo project, which means that exported data will be saved into the content directory and appropriate subdirectory that reside next to the .org file. Relative and absolute paths both work here.

Finally line 4 tells ox-hugo to update the lastmod property of each exported item to match the current time and date, which can be reflected on your site in various ways based on your theme and configuration.

Creating a page

567891011
* Pages
  :PROPERTIES:
  :EXPORT_HUGO_CUSTOM_FRONT_MATTER: :noauthor true :nocomment true :nodate true :nopaging true :noread true
  :EXPORT_HUGO_MENU: :menu main
  :EXPORT_HUGO_SECTION: pages
  :EXPORT_HUGO_WEIGHT: auto
  :END:

My .org file has a dedicated top-level Org heading to contain my Page content, and this heading sets a number of shared properties that are inherited by the individual sub-headings representing each page.

Line 7 includes multiple key-value pairs that get inserted as-is into the Hugo front matter. It largely disables all the “frills” one might typically associate with a regular blog post - commenting, pagination, metadata, etc.

Line 8 indicates that Hugo should include a link to this content on the main menu of my site, which is currently displayed on the left sidebar of every page.

Line 9 tells ox-hugo to export the files into the /content/pages subdirectory of my Hugo project, which has a slightly different Hugo template file than a standard blog post.

Line 10 tells ox-hugo to manage the weight property of the Hugo front matter data. It will calculate the appropriate relative numbers to fill in during the export process.

121314151617
** Page Title
   :PROPERTIES:
   :EXPORT_FILE_NAME: page-title
   :END:

   Page content

To create a new page on my Hugo site, I insert a new sub-heading under the Pages heading from the snippet just above. That heading’s title is somewhat arbitrary, but this sub-heading will directly inform the title of the exported content.

Line 14 demonstrates the first truly required property, EXPORT_FILE_NAME, with tells ox-hugo what filename under /content/pages to export this sub-tree to. Under my current settings this also directly determines the actual path portion of the resulting URL. For example, this one would be visible at /pages/page-title/.

Pages can include fairly arbitrary content below the sub-heading, including further sub-headings to break up a longer page or post. You can include links, images, and formatting, all using standard Org syntax.

Creating posts

19202122
* Posts
  :PROPERTIES:
  :EXPORT_HUGO_SECTION: blog
  :END:

As with Pages above, I create a top-level Org heading to contain my standard blog posts.

Line 20 configures ox-hugo to export any sub-headings to /content/blog in my Hugo project, versus pages above.

23
** Topic                                                             :@topic:

I sort my posts into categories by topic and create sub-headings for each topic, and assign Org tags to each sub-heading that are prefixed with @. Org tags on a post that have an @ prefix will generate a category entry in the exported front matter, which is one of the default taxonomies built into a new Hugo project. Org tags are inherited from parent headings by sub-headings, so all further subheadings under this subheading will include the @topic tag.

242526272829
*** DONE Post Title                                               :post:tags:
    CLOSED: [2017-12-19 Tue 17:00]
    :PROPERTIES:
    :EXPORT_DATE: 2017-12-19
    :EXPORT_FILE_NAME: post-title-in-slug-form
    :END:

This sub-heading begins a new post, and is marked as DONE in Org syntax with a CLOSED timestamp. It also has Org tags named post and tags which will be inserted into the exported front matter as tags. It includes an EXPORT_DATE property, which would be used as the post’s publication date in the absense of the CLOSED timestamp on line 25. Finally it includes the same EXPORT_FILE_NAME property as mentioned above under Page management.

313233343536373839
Content

More content

#+BEGIN_SRC bash -l 7 :hl_lines 8
  echo 'Some source code content'
  echo 'This line will be highlighted'
  echo "This one won't"
#+END_SRC

This snippet demonstrates the syntax needed to include a syntax-highlighted code snippet within a post. You can quickly start a code block with < s TAB .

If you append a valid language to #+BEGIN_SRC, and your copy of Emacs has an associated major mode that is named $language-mode, you’ll get automatic syntax highlighting while composing the post, and the exported markdown will include either the highlight shortcode or Markdown “code fences”. As an added bonus, you can use org-edit-special ( , ‘ for Spacemacs or C-c ‘ for vanilla Emacs) to open a new popover window that lets you edit that code snippet in a separate Emacs buffer. This will behave nearly identically to editing a standalone file with that major mode, including any extra behavior like auto-complete, linting, etc.

Excluding/heading sub-headings from export

On some posts I like to create a private space to jot down ad hoc notes, research and reference links, unrefined code snippets, etc. that shouldn’t appear in the final product but are useful to me during the writing process. By configuring the org-export-exclude-tags variable, or an EXCLUDE_TAGS file variable, then inserting a matching Org tag on a sub-heading, that content will not appear in the exported Markdown or in the published post, but will remain intact in the original .org file. In my case, it’s a :noexport: tag.

Automatic export on save

The ox-hugo site includes great documentation for adding a local variable to your .org file to enable automatic “what I mean” export whenever you save the file.

The resulting syntax after following these instructions is:

515253545556
* Footnotes
* COMMENT Local Variables                                           :ARCHIVE:
# Local Variables:
# eval: (add-hook 'after-save-hook #'org-hugo-export-wim-to-md-after-save :append :local)
# eval: (auto-fill-mode 1)
# End:

Full Sample

 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 91011121314151617181920212223242526272829303132333435363738394041424344454647484950515253545556
#+STARTUP: content
#+AUTHOR: Shane Sveller
#+HUGO_BASE_DIR: .
#+HUGO_AUTO_SET_LASTMOD: t
* Pages
  :PROPERTIES:
  :EXPORT_HUGO_CUSTOM_FRONT_MATTER: :noauthor true :nocomment true :nodate true :nopaging true :noread true
  :EXPORT_HUGO_MENU: :menu main
  :EXPORT_HUGO_SECTION: pages
  :EXPORT_HUGO_WEIGHT: auto
  :END:
** Page Title
   :PROPERTIES:
   :EXPORT_FILE_NAME: page-title
   :END:

   Page content

* Posts
  :PROPERTIES:
  :EXPORT_HUGO_SECTION: blog
  :END:
** Topic                                                             :@topic:
*** DONE Post Title                                               :post:tags:
    CLOSED: [2017-12-19 Tue 17:00]
    :PROPERTIES:
    :EXPORT_DATE: 2017-12-19
    :EXPORT_FILE_NAME: post-title-in-slug-form
    :END:

    Content

    More Content

    #+BEGIN_SRC bash -l 7 :hl_lines 8
      echo 'Some source code content'
      echo 'This line will be highlighted'
      echo "This one won't"
    #+END_SRC

**** Post Sub-Heading
     This is another section within the post.

*** TODO Draft Post Title
    :PROPERTIES:
    :EXPORT_FILE_NAME: draft-post-title
    :END:

    This article *will* be exported but will be marked ~draft = true~ in the front matter.

* Footnotes
* COMMENT Local Variables                                           :ARCHIVE:
# Local Variables:
# eval: (add-hook 'after-save-hook #'org-hugo-export-wim-to-md-after-save :append :local)
# eval: (auto-fill-mode 1)
# End:

Marking a post as a Draft

To create a new draft post, add a new heading or subheading, and set it to TODO status, perhaps via M-x org-todo or C-c C-t .

TODO status ensures that the post will be rendered to Markdown with draft = true in its frontmatter, which configures Hugo itself to prevent a premature publish of the article to your live site unless specifically instructed to include draft content.

A heading without TODO or DONE is not considered a draft.

Publishing a Draft

To publish a draft post, toggle its TODO state to DONE. If you have org-log-done set to 'time, toggling to DONE automatically adds a CLOSED: timestamp that will be respected in favor of EXPORT_DATE property for setting the date in the rendered post’s front matter.

Optional: Live reload without a separate shell tab

If you enable the prodigy layer in Spacemacs, or install the Prodigy package manually, you can define a process in your dotspacemacs/user-config function like so:

12345678
(prodigy-define-service
  :name "Hugo Personal Blog"
  :command "/usr/local/bin/hugo"
  :args '("server" "-D" "--navigateToChanged" "-t" "hugo-redlounge")
  :cwd "~/src/shanesveller-dot-com"
  :tags '(personal)
  :stop-signal 'sigkill
  :kill-process-buffer-on-stop t)

Then, to manage the process while editing with Emacs, I use SPC a S to open the Prodigy buffer, highlight the service entry, and use s to start the process, S to stop the service, and $ to view process output. q will back out of any Prodigy-generated buffers.

Software/Tool Versions

Software Version
Emacs 25.3.1
Spacemacs 0.300.0
Org 9.1.2
Hugo 0.31.1
ox-hugo 20171026.1402
prodigy 20170816.1114

Emacs Lisp Snippets

Here’s a snippet that can build off of the Prodigy service snippet to automatically visit your local Hugo server in a browser once it’s running.

I’m still learning emacs-lisp, and will probably find in the future that this style doesn’t suit me, particularly the trailing parentheses.

I’d also like to investigate defcustom to allow these default values to be more configurable.

(defun browse-hugo-maybe ()
  (interactive)
  (let ((hugo-service-name "Hugo Personal Blog")
        (hugo-service-port "1313"))
    (if (prodigy-service-started-p (prodigy-find-service hugo-service-name))
        (progn
          (message "Hugo detected, launching browser...")
          (browse-url (concat "http://localhost:" hugo-service-port))))))

Credits

Thank you to Justin Nauman for great feedback on an early version of this article. Any remaining flaws are my own.

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