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Remote Octopress Blogging - Sync and Inotify

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Octopress is one of the most widely used static site generators, and as such attracts a large number of bloggers. With the advent of increasing smartphone and tablet based internet usage, authors in general and bloggers in particular adapt their habits to write and publish on the go. Most modern content management systems provide ample possibilities for mobile publishing - static site generators, however, typically do not.

This is a consequence of the infrastructure requirements that static site generation places on a system (in case of Octopress these being at least Ruby and a number of Ruby gems - possibly also Git), and the fact that most mobile platforms cannot yet meet them. The different paradigm of static site publishing thus also mandates a different approach to remote blogging. Here we present a 2-element (sync & inotify-triggered scripts) automatic solution for remote Octopress blogging, and a short section on remote content authoring (sans publication) via GitHub.


Sync (short for synchronization) means keeping your directories and files consistent over multiple machines, with updates spreading from the machine they were authored on to all others. There are many software solutions for syncing (commonly referred to as sync clients), with some of the more popular being: Dropbox, Google Drive, BitTorrent Sync, and Syncthing (the latter two being non-could-based, and the latter also being open source).

To set up syncing for static site generation, install a sync client of your choice on all your mobile devices plus on one (just one - in order to avoid update conflicts) machine that is neigh-continuously online. This latter machine can either be a server or simply your desktop computer (if you never turn it off). To follow this guideā€™s inotify-specific sections you should also make sure that the respective server or desktop machine runs a Linux distribution.

Once your sync network is ready, simply enable syncing for your Octopress blog root - or just for your /source or /source/_posts directory.


In spite of its shortcomings (limited storage, closed-source, cloud-based) we currently recommend Dropbox over all other alternatives for remote static site generator blogging. This is chiefly due to Dropbox being supported by all major platforms (Windows, OSX, Linux, Android, and iOS), and being well integrated with text-editors on operation systems which do not commonly allow apps to access the same files (e.g. iOS).

In Dropbox you cannot simply select what directories you want synced, but rather have (one) dedicated ~/Dropbox/ directory where you have to place all your content. You will thus need to move your blog folder from the location you may have become accustomed to. Still, this inconvenience can be mitigated by creating a symlink from your previously used path:

ln -s /Dropbox/path/to/your/blog /your/accustomed/blog/directory

Inotify-triggered Commands (via Incron)

In short, inotify allows the Linux kernel to detect changes in the filesystem. Once you have successfully set up syncing you can use this to conveniently trigger site rebuild and deployment whenever a specific event happens in your synced blog directory. Our (and advisably your) tool of choice for this task is incron.

You can configure incron via incron tables (text files that tell it where to look for what events and what to do upon the specified events occurring). These tables contain single-row instructions formatted as <path> <mask> <command>; where <path> is watched, <mask> specifies what events to look for, and <command> specifies the command to run upon occurrence of the aforementioned events. You can get a list of the incrontab mask tags (as well as a more in-depth explanation of incron tables) from the relevant man page - just run man 5 incrontab. Aditionally, incrontab also provides dollar sign wildcards which you can pass as arguments to your command of choice (read more on this in the aforementioned man page).

Two things worth an explicit mention here, however, are:

  • Incrontab commands are not fully shell-compatible, meaning that you will not be able to reliably use - among other things - the && or ; operators. This is expecially relevant to our purposes, since you want to change the directory to your blog root, and generate and deploy your blog. The issue can be circumvented by calling a script, which you can either write yourself or clone from our remote-octopress-incron utilities repo on GitHub.

  • Incrontab does not recursively monitor your directories - meaning that you will have to directly specify your ../source/_posts/ path and manually add multiple entries for all the pages (i.e. ../source/<page-title> directories).

A sample incron table for the task at hand (just monitoring your posts) would look somewhat like this:

/synced/path/to/your/blog/source/_posts IN_CREATE,IN_DELETE,IN_CLOSE_WRITE ./home/chymera/src/remote_cotopress_incron/ $@

It is however advisable to check what inotify events your specific sync agent triggers (since these triggers may vary depending on how the sync client works - as seen in the Dropbox sub-section below).


If you decide to use Dropbox due to it being the most portable choice, there will be one additional quirk to account for. Dropbox currently does not open and modify your files in place. instead it moves them to a temporary directory, modifies them there, and moves them back (as tested by us, and also documented here). It thus becomes mandatory to check for IN_MOVED_TO events rather than IN_CLOSE_WRITE:

/home/chymera/Dropbox/tutorials/source/_posts IN_CREATE,IN_DELETE,IN_MOVED_TO ./home/chymera/src/remote_cotopress_incron/ $@


There are a number of published GutHub-based remote Octopress blogging solutions (the most noteworthy documented here, by Holger Frohloff). Such solutions - though feasible - generally require a bit more trial-and-error scripting and often assume you use not only GitHub, but also GitHub-pages.

For GitHub users we, however, recommend the increasingly powerful web-interface for content creation or editing. Though it will not publish to your blog without additional scripting, it is easy to edit your content (and commit) directly via GitHub from any mobile platform which is HTML5-compatible.