Eduard Szöcs

Data in Environmental Science and Eco(toxico-)logy

R, knitr and Octopress

Recently, I moved this blog from tumblr to github since I feeled I need more liberty. I have no experience with web programming, so I chose Octopress as blogging framework since it nicely integrates with github.

However after relocation my workflow for generating posts was quite laborious - it was similar to the tumblr-workflow:

  • Create an .Rmd file
  • knit the file
  • move the file to octopress/source/_posts/
  • move the figures to octopress/source/figure/
  • and so on…

This was non-satisfying and I thought that this must be automated into a smooth workflow!

Last week I took a look at the new Rcpp Gallery and noticed that this is also hosted on github. I skimmed through their code and found a lot of useful stuff. Shamelessly I copied some files from the and modified them for my octopress needs.

Basically I have now a folder for my .Rmd files (octopress/source/src). Invoking make in this folder creates the markdown-files in _posts and sets up the right figure paths (in _posts/figure). My workflow now:

  • rake new_rmd[test], this sets up an empty .Rmd file in /src, according to the octopress naming-scheme and header.
  • add my post to this .Rmd file
  • invoke make in /src, this sets up the .markdown file in _posts and figures
  • the usual rake gen_deploy

I am quite happy at the moment with this workflow. I can also use R-Studio.

Here are the changes I made to my octopress:

1) I added a new function rake new_rmd to my Rakefile. This mimics the behavior of rake new_post and creates a .Rmd-file in source/src. Simply add these lines to your Rakefile:

# usage rake new_rmd[my-new-rmd] or rake new_post['my new rmd'] or rake new_rmd (defaults to "new-rmd")
desc "Begin a new post in #{source_dir}/#{src_dir}"
task :new_rmd, :title do |t, args|
  raise "### You haven't set anything up yet. First run `rake install` to set up an Octopress theme." unless
  mkdir_p "#{source_dir}/#{src_dir}"
  args.with_defaults(:title => 'new-rmd')
  title = args.title
  filename = "#{source_dir}/#{src_dir}/#{'%Y-%m-%d')}-#{title.to_url}.#{new_src_ext}"
  if File.exist?(filename)
    abort("rake aborted!") if ask("#{filename} already exists. Do you want to overwrite?", ['y', 'n']) == 'n'
  puts "Creating new post: #{filename}"
  open(filename, 'w') do |post|
    post.puts "---"
    post.puts "layout: post"
    post.puts "title: \"#{title.gsub(/&/,'&')}\""
    post.puts "date: #{'%Y-%m-%d %H:%M')}"
    post.puts "comments: true"
    post.puts "categories: "
    post.puts "published: false"
    post.puts "---"

2) I modified and cleaned from the Rcpp Gallery for my needs. This runs knitr on the .Rmd files and saves the output to _posts. Put this file ( into source/_scripts!

#! /usr/bin/Rscript
knit <- function (inputFile, outputFile) {
  # per-document figure paths
  stem <- tools::file_path_sans_ext(inputFile)
  prefix <- paste(stem, "-", sep="")
  knitr::opts_chunk$set(fig.path=file.path('../figure', prefix))
  # configure output options
  knitr::opts_knit$set(out.format = 'markdown')
  # do the knit
  knitr::knit(input = inputFile, output = outputFile)
# adaption of knitr::render_jekyll
renderOcto <- function(extra = '') {
  # code
  hook.c = function(x, options) {
	  prefix <- sprintf("\n\n```r", options$label)
	  suffix <- "```\n\n"
	  paste(prefix, x, suffix,sep="\n")
  # output
  hook.o = function(x, options) {
	if (knitr:::output_asis(x, options))
  knitr::knit_hooks$set(source = hook.c, output = hook.o, warning = hook.o,
                        error = hook.o, message = hook.o)
# get arguments and call knit
args <- commandArgs(TRUE)
inputFile <- args[1]
outputFile <- args[2]
knit(inputFile, outputFile)

3) Modified and cleaned the Makefile from the Rcpp Gallery for my needs. This runs on the /src folder, returns the .markdown files to _posts/ and cleans up the .md and .hmtl files created by R-Studio. Put this file (Makefile) into source/src!

KNIT = ../_scripts/
POSTS_DIR = ../_posts
MD_FILES := $(patsubst %.Rmd, $(POSTS_DIR)/%.markdown, $(wildcard *.Rmd))
all: $(MD_FILES)
$(POSTS_DIR)/%.markdown: %.Rmd
  $(KNIT) $< $@
	$(RM) *.md
	$(RM) *.html

You can skim through my github-repo for this site and copy the files from there. I have not tested this very extensively - in case you find any bugs or have improvements, please let me know.

Edit 01.03.2013

I had to add this line of code

<base href="" />

to source/_includes/custom/head.html so that the figures are displayed properly, see here.

Written on March 1, 2013