Robert Myles McDonnell

4 minute read

I had some problems setting up my website to work properly with blogdown and Netlify (draft posts kept getting built), so in the process of learning how to do it properly (and repeatedly badgering Yihui haha – sorry, Yihui!), I realised plenty of others are having the same problem. It seems to be one of those things that is super simple, but just causes problems for whatever reason. Anyway, here’s how to set up a website with blogdown and Netlify. Instructions are for use with git bash in the terminal. You can download this for Windows here (I’m using Mac).

The blogdown book really is the best place to go for all of this, but if you’re still having problems, maybe this post can help. Blogdown is also a work in progress, it should be remembered. It causes my R session to hang from time to time in the most recent version (I’m using 0.4), so I’m sure we’ll see some future changes.

Step 1 - Initial Setup

You’ll need a GitHub account. Set one up and create a new repository. You can include a, we’ll delete it in a moment. I call this repo ‘website’, but it’s not important what you call it. In the examples below, I’ll use the name ‘website’. On the terminal/command line, type git clone plus the name of the repo address (i.e. git clone MyName/website.git) to clone the repository and cd to the new folder. You can delete the file, we won’t need it. Once you’re in the website folder, type git status. It should show us that we have no commits.

Step 2 - RStudio & Blogdown

Open RStudio and setwd() to your new folder. Install the blogdown package if you haven’t already. Once you load it with library(), then it’s simply a case of new_site() to create your site (first install Hugo with install_hugo, or see here if you want to install Hugo separately). If you don’t like the theme, choose one of the themes from here. The theme you like can be included in the parameters to new_site(), using theme = USERNAME/THEME, where USERNAME and THEME are the GitHub homepage details of the theme.

Step 3 - Serving the site

You can create blog posts with new_post(), or you can just use the demo post for the moment. Then you run build_site(). You only need to do this once, in the future, you can run serve_site() and it will build the site.

Step 4 - Using Git

In the terminal, type git status. It should show you something like this:

$ git status
On branch master

No commits yet

Untracked files:
  (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)


nothing added to commit but untracked files present (use "git add" to track)

We can add the files we’ll track with git add. We can add all of these except the ‘public’ folder (i.e. git add content/). Let’s also create a .gitignore file, which can be done on the command line with touch .gitignore. Open this with any text editor and type public (this will tell git to ignore these files) and save it. Then type git add .gitignore to add this file to our git setup.

Step 5 - committing to GitHub

If you’re happy with what you have, type git commit -m 'MESSAGE' on the command line (where MESSAGE is some type of message to yourself about this commit). Then git push origin master, which will send all our new files up to GitHub.

Step 6 - Netlify

At this point, you can set up a Netlify account (it’s free). Netlify will use the ‘public’ folder to serve your website (which will be This part is very easy and requires you only to drag the public folder to the ‘Deployment’ field n the Netlify website. You may have to specify your Hugo version in the Environmental Variables section. Yihui & company’s excellent guide to Netlify (and all of blogdown) has more details on this point. Netlify will show you the status of the build: if it says ‘PUBLISHED’, your new website will be availabe at the … web address that you have.

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