How to blog with Jupyter (IPython) Notebook and Nikola

Last updated on 2015-11-16

I have thought about starting a blog for a few years now and when I recently found some amazing tools which can be used in a data science blog I got so excited that I finally had to start my blog. I have used Python and the NumPy/SciPy stack to analyze and model data for a few years now. I'm also passionate about open data and open science, so I've been excited about how Jupyter Notebooks (a.k.a. IPython Notebooks) can be used to share a mixture of reproducible code and commentation. And with Nikola, it is possible to set up a whole blogging system based on posts written as Notebooks making it possible for anyone to easily try the analysis shown in the post. I got some inspiration from Damian Avila's blog. He has written instructions on blogging with Nikola and IPython. However, the instructions are outdated so I thought I'd start my blog by giving my own tips on setting up Nikola.

Set up the environment

First, install NumPy, SciPy, Matplotlib, IPython and Jupyter (if available) by using the package manager of your system (or use, for instance, Anaconda). I recommend you use Virtualenv and Virtualenvwrapper for setting up a virtual environment for the blog. After installing the packages, run the following command and put it to your shell startup file:


Create (and activate) a virtual environment:

mkdir -p /path/to/blog
mkvirtualenv --system-site-packages -a /path/to/blog blog

Install Nikola to your virtual environment with some useful extra packages:

pip install nikola[extras]

You can leave the virtual environment with deactivate and activate it with workon blog.

Create the site

Assuming that you are in the directory of your blog project, initialize Nikola:

nikola init .

Edit and modify POSTS and PAGES as follows:

    ("posts/*.ipynb", "blog", "post.tmpl"),
    ("posts/*.md", "blog", "post.tmpl"),
    ("posts/*.rst", "blog", "post.tmpl"),
    ("posts/*.txt", "blog", "post.tmpl"),
    ("pages/*.md", "", "story.tmpl"),
    ("pages/*.ipynb", "", "story.tmpl"),
    ("pages/*.rst", "", "story.tmpl"),
    ("pages/*.txt", "", "story.tmpl"),

The first format entries are used as defaults, so with these settings blog posts would be Jupyter Notebooks and pages would be Markdown files by default if no format is specified explicitly. Also, the blog posts would be located in /blog/ and pages (e.g., /about/) in the root.

Initialize git

I recommend you use git and GitHub because it makes publishing and sharing your blog posts and notebooks easy. The repository can be initialized as:

git init
git add *
git commit -am "Initial commit"

Push your code to a GitHub repository:

git remote add origin
git push origin -u

Create content

Create your first blog post:

nikola new_post -f ipynb

Create your first page (for instance, "About"):

nikola new_page -f markdown

It isn't necessary to specify -f format if you want to use the default format. In order to edit the blog post, launch Jupyter Notebook:

jupyter notebook posts

Note that you may need to use ipython instead of jupyter if you have an old version installed. In order to see your site, use Nikola to automatically refresh your site at

nikola auto

Both of these processes will block your terminal until you stop them. Thus, I recommend opening separate dedicated terminals for the processes so they can run without blocking your working terminal.

Deploy to GitHub pages

Because the compiled website is static, there are lots of options where you can serve your website. GitHub is a convenient place to deploy, so here are basic instructions for that, but you could use any other location and define your own DEPLOY_COMMANDS (in to be used when running nikola deploy. For GitHub pages, you can use nikola github_deploy after defining a few parameters:


If you are using a custom domain name, add CNAME to files directory:

echo > files/CNAME

Deploy the static site to GitHub:

nikola github_deploy

Now your blog should be up and running.

Fine-tune the settings

You can already start blogging. The rest of this post will just provide some ideas on how to improve the settings.

Choose a theme

You can easily customize the look of your blog by creating a new theme. Bootswatch offers free themes which can be easily used in your Nikola project. After choosing the Bootswatch theme, create your custom theme:

nikola bootswatch_theme -n YOUR_THEME_NAME -s BOOTSWATCH_THEME_NAME -p bootstrap3-jinja

I recommend using bootstrap3-jinja theme as the parent theme but you can choose any other Nikola theme. But don't use ipython theme, that's not supported (thanks to Chris Warrick for pointing this out). Now modify your to use the new custom theme:


Add social media links

If you want to use social media icons from Font Awesome, add the following definition to

EXTRA_HEAD_DATA = '<link rel="stylesheet" href="">'

Then you can add some social media icons and links, for instance, to the footer by adding the following lines to

<div class="text-center">
<span class="fa-stack fa-2x">
  <a href="/rss.xml">
    <i class="fa fa-circle fa-stack-2x"></i>
    <i class="fa fa-rss fa-inverse fa-stack-1x"></i>
<span class="fa-stack fa-2x">
  <a href="">
    <i class="fa fa-circle fa-stack-2x"></i>
    <i class="fa fa-twitter fa-inverse fa-stack-1x"></i>
<span class="fa-stack fa-2x">
  <a href="">
    <i class="fa fa-circle fa-stack-2x"></i>
    <i class="fa fa-github fa-inverse fa-stack-1x"></i>
<span class="fa-stack fa-2x">
  <a href="">
    <i class="fa fa-circle fa-stack-2x"></i>
    <i class="fa fa-linkedin fa-inverse fa-stack-1x"></i>
<span class="fa-stack fa-2x">
  <a href="mailto:{email}">
    <i class="fa fa-circle fa-stack-2x"></i>
    <i class="fa fa-envelope fa-inverse fa-stack-1x"></i>
  Contents &copy; {date}  <a href="mailto:{email}">{author}</a>
  Powered by <a href="" rel="nofollow">Nikola</a>

Just remember to change the usernames in each of the social media links.

Write math

You can write math in your blog either inline as \\( X \sim N(\mu, \sigma) \\) which looks like \( X \sim N(\mu, \sigma) \) or in display mode as

N(x|\mu, \sigma) = \frac{1}{\sigma\sqrt{2\pi}} e^{-\frac{(x-\mu)^2}{2\sigma^2}}

which looks like

\[ N(x|\mu, \sigma) = \frac{1}{\sigma\sqrt{2\pi}} e^{-\frac{(x-\mu)^2}{2\sigma^2}} \]

By default, MathJax is used but there is also support for a very promising fast math renderer called KaTeX. In order to use KaTeX, use the following settings:

... (possibly other links here too, for instance, Font Awesome) ...
<link rel="stylesheet" href="//">

If math doesn't render correctly (or at all) with KaTeX, you might be using some LaTeX commands that KaTeX doesn't (yet) support. Also, note that you need to add mathjax tag to your post to get the math rendered - even if you're using KaTeX.

Add a license

You can also add a license for your content:

<a rel="license" href="">
  <img alt="Creative Commons License BY-SA"
       style="border-width:0; margin-bottom:12px;"

Remove .html suffix from archive.html

This is just a small annoyance, but by default, the archive is located in /archive.html. If you want it to be in /archive/, add the following lines to your

ARCHIVE_PATH = "archive"
ARCHIVE_FILENAME = "index.html"

Remember to also fix the navigation links:

        ("/archive/", "Archive"),
        ("/categories/", "Tags"),
        ("/rss.xml", "RSS feed"),
        ("/about/", "About"),

Miscellaneous settings

Here are some other configuration suggestions for you to consider. If you want the archive to show all your blog posts as a single list instead of a year and month based hierarchy, use the following setting:


To show only short teasers instead of full posts on index pages:


Remember to mark the teasers in your blog posts with <!-- TEASER_END --> in Markdown.


That's it, I hope this was useful. Of course, there are lots of configuration options you can modify, so I recommend you read the brief Nikola handbook to get an overview. You can also take a look at my in GitHub. And if you have ideas on how to improve the setup for a blog, please comment below.

And yes, I know, this blog post isn't a notebook. But the next one will be and in that post I'll share one amazing tool that I just discovered a few days ago related to sharing notebooks.


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