These brief instructions will help you get started quickly with the theme. The other topics in this help provide additional information and detail about working with other aspects of this theme and Jekyll.

Download or clone the theme

First download or clone the theme from the Github repo. Most likely you won’t be pulling in updates once you start customizing the theme, so downloading the theme (instead of cloning it) probably makes the most sense.

Build this theme

If you’re used to running Jekyll sites, you can type the normal jekyll command, jekyll serve, to build the Jekyll theme. However, if you’re a new Jekyll user or if you run into issues, see the following two topics:

Customize the Gemfile

The Gemfile is how project dependencies are managed. This project doesn’t have any dependencies beyond core Jekyll.

Open the Gemfile (in any text editor) in the Jekyll doc theme project with the following command:

open Gemfile

The theme’s gemfile looks as follows:

# A sample Gemfile
source ""

# gem "rails"
gem 'github-pages'
gem 'jekyll'

If you’re publishing on Github Pages, leave the github-pages gem there. But if not, remove github-pages because Github sometimes has dependencies that conflict with the latest versions of the Jekyll gem and Kramdown, which can be frustrating.

Use Bundler to install all the needed Ruby gems:

bundle install

Now run Jekyll serve to build the theme:

jekyll serve

Configure the sidebar

There are several products in this theme. Each product uses a different sidebar. This is the essence of what makes this theme unique – different sidebars for different product documentation. The idea is that when users are reading documentation for a specific product, the sidebar navigation should be specific to that product. (You can read more of my thoughts on why multiple sidebars are important in this blog post.)

The top navigation remains the same, because it allows users to navigate across products. But the sidebar navigation adapts to the product.

Because each product uses a different sidebar, you’ll need to set up your sidebars. There’s a file inside _includes/custom called “sidebarconfigs.html.” This file controls which sidebar gets associated with which product. Open up this file to see its contents.

The sidebarconfigs.html file uses simple if elsif logic to set a variable that the sidebar.html file uses to read the sidebar data file. The code in sidebarconfigs.html looks like this:

{% if page.sidebar == "home_sidebar" %}
{% assign sidebar = %}

{% elsif page.sidebar == "product1_sidebar" %}
{% assign sidebar = %}

{% elsif page.sidebar == "product2_sidebar" %}
{% assign sidebar = %}

{% elsif page.sidebar == "mydoc_sidebar" %}
{% assign sidebar = %}

{% else %}
{% assign sidebar = %}
{% endif %}

In each page’s frontmatter, you must specify the sidebar you want that page to use. Here’s an example of the page frontmatter showing the sidebar property:

title: Alerts
tags: [formatting]
keywords: notes, tips, cautions, warnings, admonitions
last_updated: July 3, 2016
summary: "You can insert notes, tips, warnings, and important alerts in your content. These notes are stored as shortcodes made available through the linksrefs.hmtl include."
sidebar: mydoc_sidebar
permalink: mydoc_alerts

The sidebar: mydoc_sidebar refers to the _data/sidebars/mydoc_sidebar.yml file (meaning, the mydoc_sidebar.yml file inside the sidebars subfolder inside the \data folder).

If no sidebar assignment is found in the page frontmatter, the default sidebar (specified by the else statement) will be shown:

Note that your sidebar can only have 2 levels. Given that each product has its own sidebar, this depth should be sufficient (it’s really like 3 levels). Deeper nesting goes against usability recommendations.

For more detail on the sidebar, see Sidebar navigation.

The sidebar data file uses a specific YAML syntax that you must follow. Follow the sample pattern shown in the theme. For example:

- title: sidebar
  product: Jekyll Doc Theme
  version: 6.0

  - title: Overview
    output: web, pdf

    - title: Get started
      url: /index.html
      output: web, pdf

    - title: Introduction
      url: /mydoc_introduction.html
      output: web, pdf

    - title: Supported features
      url: /mydoc_supported_features.html
      output: web, pdf

    - title: About the theme author
      url: /mydoc_about.html
      output: web, pdf

    - title: Support
      url: /mydoc_support.html
      output: web, pdf

  - title: Release Notes
    output: web, pdf

    - title: 6.0 Release notes
      url: /mydoc_release_notes_60.html
      output: web, pdf

    - title: 5.0 Release notes
      url: /mydoc_release_notes_50.html
      output: web, pdf

Each folder or subfolder must contain a title and output property. Each folderitem or subfolderitem must contain a title, url, and output property.

The two outputs available are web and pdf. (Even if you aren’t publishing PDF, you still need to specify output: web).

The YAML syntax depends on exact spacing, so make sure you follow the pattern shown in the sample sidebars. See my YAML tutorial for more details about how YAML works.

To accommodate the title page and table of contents in PDF outputs, each product sidebar must list these pages before any other:

- title:
  output: pdf
  type: frontmatter
  - title:
    url: /titlepage
    output: pdf
    type: frontmatter
  - title:
    url: /tocpage
    output: pdf
    type: frontmatter

Leave the output as output: pdf for these frontmatter pages so that they don’t appear in the web output.

For more detail on the sidebar, see Sidebar navigation and YAML tutorial.

This theme uses relative links throughout so that you can view the site offline and not worry about which server or directory you’re hosting it. It’s common with tech docs to push content to an internal server for review prior to pushing the content to an external server for publication. Because of the need for seamless transferrence from one host to another, the site has to use relative links.

To view pages locally on your machine (without the Jekyll preview server), they need to have the .html extension. The permalink property in the page’s frontmatter (without surrounding slashes) is what pushes the files into the root directory when the site builds.

Page frontmatter

When you write pages, include these same frontmatter properties with each page:

title: "Some title"
tags: [sample1, sample2]
keywords: keyword1, keyword2, keyword3
last_updated: Month day, year
summary: "optional summary here"
sidebar: sidebarname
permalink: filename.html

(You will customize the values for each of these properties, of course.)

For titles, surrounding the title in quotes is optional, but if you have a colon in the title, you must surround the title with quotation marks. If you have a quotation mark inside the title, escape it first with a backlash \.

Values for keywords get populated into the metadata of the page for SEO.

Values for tags must be defined in your _data/tags.yml list. You also need a corresponding tag file inside the tags folder that follows the same pattern as the other tag files shown in the tags folder. (Jekyll won’t auto-create these tag files.)

If you don’t want the mini-TOC to show on a page (such as for the homepage or landing pages), add toc: false in the frontmatter.

The permalink value should be the same as your filename and include the “.html” file extension.

For more detail, see Pages.

Where to store your documentation topics

You can store your files for each product inside subfolders following the pattern shown in the theme. For example, product1, product2, etc, can be stored in their own subfolders inside the _pages directory. Inside _pages, you can store your topics inside sub-subfolders or sub-sub-folders to your heart’s content. When Jekyll builds your site, it will pull the topics into the root directory and use the permalink for the URL.

Note that product1, product2, and mydoc are all just sample content to demonstrate how to add multiple products into the theme. You can freely delete that content.

For more information, see Pages and Posts.

Configure the top navigation

The top navigation bar’s menu items are set through the _data/topnav.yml file. Use the top navigation bar to provide links for navigating from one product to another, or to navigate to external resources.

For external URLs, use external_url in the item property, as shown in the example topnav.yml file. For internal links, use url the same was you do in the sidebar data files.

Note that the topnav has two sections: topnav and topnav_dropdowns. The topnav section contains single links, while the topnav_dropdowns section contains dropdown menus. The two sections are independent of each other.

Generating PDF

If you want to generate PDF, you’ll need a license for Prince XML. You will also need to install Prince. You can generate PDFs by product (but not for every product on the site combined together into one massive PDF). Prince will work even without a license, but it will imprint a small Prince image on the first page, and you’re supposed to buy the license to use it.

If you’re on Windows, install Git Bash client rather than using the default Windows command prompt.

Open up the css/printstyles.css file and customize the email address ( that is listed there. This email address appears in the bottom left footer of the PDF output. You’ll also need to create a PDF configuration file following the examples shown in the pdfconfigs folder, and also customize some build scripts following the same pattern shown in the root:

See the section on Generating PDFs for more details about setting the theme up for this output.

Blogs / News

For blog posts, create your markdown files in the _posts folder following the sample formats. Post file names always begin with the date (YYYY-MM-DD-title).

The news/news.html file displays the posts, and the news_archive.html file shows a yearly history of posts. In documentation, you might use the news to highlight product features outside of your documentation, or to provide release notes and other updates.

See Posts for more information.


This theme uses kramdown markdown. kramdown is similar to Github-flavored Markdown, except that when you have text that intercepts list items, the spacing of the intercepting text must align with the spacing of the first character after the space of a numbered list item. Basically, with your list item numbering, use two spaces after the dot in the number, like this:

1.  First item
2.  Second item
3.  Third item

When you want to insert paragraphs, notes, code snippets, or other matter in between the list items, use four spaces to indent. The four spaces will line up with the first letter of the list item (the First or Second or Third).

1.  First item


2.  Second item

    Some pig!

3.  Third item

See the topics under “Formatting” in the sidebar for more information.

If you want to use an automated system for managing links, see Automated Links. This approach automatically creates a list of Markdown references to simplify linking.

Other instructions

The content here is just a getting started guide only. For other details in working with the theme, see the various sections in the sidebar.