Lesson Title: Setup

Our lesson template is kept in the carpentries/styles repository. The styles repository is carefully curated so that changes made to it are easily mergeable by downstream lessons. The styles repository contains various bits that take Markdown files and render them as a lesson web page. For more information on how to develop lessons and maintain them, see our lesson-example. It will walk you through the basics of lesson design and how to use GitHub, Markdown and Jekyll for lesson development. Follow the instructions below to make your own empty lesson in your own GitHub account. Once you’ve done that you can just write Markdown code and have lesson web pages just like the lesson-example and all of our other lessons, but with your lesson content.


Setup for local rendering of the lessons (optional)

Though not essential, it is desirable to be able to preview changes on your own machine before pushing them to GitHub.

In order to preview changes locally, you must install the software described below.

If you don’t install bundler as indicated in this section, you will not be able to preview the lessons locally (in other words, you won’t be able to run make serve or make site). However, you can still edit the files that make up the lessons. You will only be able to see the changes once your edits have been merged in the main repository.


For Windows, there are two main ways to setup your system to be able to render the lessons.

Option 1 - Using the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL)

If your version of Windows supports it, using the WSL will make the installation of the tools needed easier. Instructions to install Linux distributions from Windows 10/Windows Server are available from the Microsoft website.

Once you have installed a Linux distribution, you can follow the installation instructions for Linux listed below. If you install a distribution other than Ubuntu, you will need to adjust the commands that install the packages.

Option 2 - Using Windows built-in applications

With the instructions below, you’ll be able to preview websites for non-R based lessons. You’ll be able to do so from the Git Bash terminal or from the “Command Prompt with Ruby” that comes with the Ruby installation. You won’t be able to use the make commands as Make isn’t available from the Git Bash terminal (see the optional section below for more info).

  1. Ruby, go to https://rubyinstaller.org/ choose Ruby+DevKit for your system (typically x64), and the most recent version available. During the installation process, choose to install the MSYS2 toolchain. On the last step of the installation screen, make sure that “Run ‘ridk install’” is checked. This will bring a terminal window with 3 options, press “Enter” (for the default installation). After this step completes, you’ll be prompted again, and press “Enter” again (for the default option). Once the installation is complete, restart your system.

  2. Navigate to the folder that contains the lesson, and you can now use bundle exec jekyll serve from your Git Bash terminal to preview the lessons.

With these instructions, you’ll be able to use the make commands and render all lessons including those that use R. However, you won’t be able to do so from the Git Bash terminal, but from the other terminals (Windows Powershell, cmd.exe, or the Command Prompt with Ruby).

  1. In the File Explorer, right-click on “This PC” icon, and click on “Properties”. Click on “Advanced System Settings”, and click on the button “Environment Variables”. Click on the variable “Path”, and then the “Edit” button. Click on the “New” button and add C:\Ruby26-x64\msys64\usr\bin (use the File Explorer to make sure this is the correct path for your Ruby and MSYS2 installation). If you’re working on R-based lessons and R isn’t already listed there, you need to add it by adding C:\Program Files\R\R-3.x.x\bin (using the correct path and R version number for your installation).

  2. Open the “Command Prompt with Ruby” (if it was open before you edited the Path, close it and re-open it).

Regardless of the option you chose, go to the section For Everyone.


  1. First make sure you have Homebrew installed by doing

To install Homebrew, open the Homebrew website and copy/paste the first command on that page into your Terminal. It will look something like:

  /usr/bin/ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)"

If you’re not sure whether you have brew installed, type

  brew help

If you have Homebrew installed, you should see something like:

  Example usage:
  brew search [TEXT|/REGEX/]
  brew info [FORMULA...]
  brew install FORMULA...
  brew update
  brew upgrade [FORMULA...]
  brew uninstall FORMULA...
  brew list [FORMULA...]

  brew config
  brew doctor
  brew install --verbose --debug FORMULA

  brew create [URL [--no-fetch]]
  brew edit [FORMULA...]

Further help:
  brew commands
  brew help [COMMAND]
  man brew
  1. Rubybrew install ruby

  2. bundlergem install bundler --user-install

  3. Go to the section For Everyone

Linux (Ubuntu)

  1. Ruby and other dependencies.

    You will need to have the following packages installed (some might already be on your system):

    sudo apt-get install ruby ruby-dev build-essential libxml2-dev
  2. bundler

     gem install bundler --user-install

    gem is the package management framework for Ruby. It was installed as part of Ruby in the step above. bundler is also a package manager but at the scale of a project instead of being system-wide. It makes it easier to manage dependencies.

For Everyone

  1. The GitHub Pages Ruby Gem

    Make sure there is a Gemfile at the root of your lesson repository. This file should only contain:

     source 'https://rubygems.org'
     gem 'github-pages', group: :jekyll_plugins

    If you don’t have it, create it and the two lines above to it.

    At the root of your repository type

     bundle update

    If you haven’t used bundler yet for your project, this command will install all the needed dependencies. Otherwise, it will update them to match the current versions used by GitHub Pages.

  2. Generate the lesson

    Now you are ready to run jekyll to build your website and run a local server. To do this run:

     make serve

    There will be several lines of output after this. If there were errors or warnings you can use them to fix your lesson and run again if it failed. If it was successful the last few lines will include Server address: and Server running... press ctrl-c to stop. You can see your rendered site by pointing your browser to the address shown.

For R-based lessons

You will need a recent version of R (>= 3.5.0). Installation instructions are available from the CRAN website.

We use the knitr, and remotes to format lessons written in R Markdown and figure out needed packages to execute the code in the lesson. You will need to install the remotes package to build R lessons (and this example lesson), the other packages will be installed automatically during the rendering of the lesson. You can install this package by opening an R terminal and typing:

install.packages('remotes', repos = 'https://cran.rstudio.com')


  1. Check your version of Ruby:

    ruby -v

    You need Ruby 2.1.0 or later (currently GitHub pages uses Ruby 2.5.8). If you have an older version of Ruby, if possible upgrade your operating system to a more recent version. If it’s not possible, consider using rbenv.

     rbenv install 2.5.8

    And then instructing rbenv to use it in your lesson development process by executing the following command from your lesson directory:

     rbenv local 2.5.8
  2. RubyGems is a tool which manages Ruby packages. It should have been installed along with Ruby and you can test your installation by running

    gem --version
  3. If you want to run bin/lesson_check.py (which is invoked by make lesson-check) you will need the PyYAML module for Python 3.

Creating a New Lesson

We will assume that your user ID is timtomch and the name of your new lesson is data-cleanup.

  1. We’ll use the GitHub’s importer to make a copy of this repo in your own GitHub account. (Note: This is like a GitHub Fork, but not connected to the upstream changes)

  2. Put the URL of the styles repository, that is https://github.com/carpentries/styles in the “Your old repository’s clone URL” box. Do not use the URL of this repository, as that will bring in a lot of example files you don’t actually want.

  3. Select the owner for your new repository. In our example this is timtomch, but it may instead be an organization you belong to.

  4. Choose a name for your lesson repository. In our example, this is data-cleanup.

  5. Make sure the repository is public.

  6. At this point, you should have a page like this:

    You can now click “Begin Import”. When the process is done, you can click “Continue to repository” to visit your newly-created repository.

    Through the Github interface you can begin to edit and

  7. If you want to work on the lesson from your local machine, you can now clone your newly-created repository to your computer:

    $ git clone -b gh-pages https://github.com/timtomch/data-cleanup.git

    Note that the URL for your lesson will have your username and chosen repository name.

  8. Go into that directory using:

    $ cd data-cleanup

    Note that the name of your directory should be what you named your lesson on the example this is data-cleanup.

  9. To be able to pull upstream style changes, you should manually add the styles repository as a remote called template:

     $ git remote add template https://github.com/carpentries/styles.git

    This will allow you to pull in changes made to the template, such as improvements to our CSS style files. (Note that the user name above is carpentries, not timtomch, since you are adding the master copy of the template as a remote.)

  10. Configure the template remote to not download tags:

    $ git config --local remote.template.tagOpt --no-tags
  11. Make sure you are using the gh-pages branch of the lesson template:

    $ git checkout gh-pages

    This will ensure that you are using the most “stable” version of the template repository. Since it’s being actively maintained by the Software Carpentry community, you could end up using a development branch that contains experimental (and potentially not working) features without necessarily realising it. Switching to the gh-branch ensures you are using the “stable” version of the template.

  12. Run bin/lesson_initialize.py to create all of the boilerplate files that cannot be put into the styles repository (because they would trigger repeated merge conflicts).

  13. Create and edit files as explained further in the episodes of this lesson.

  14. (requires Jekyll Setup from below) Preview the HTML pages for your lesson:

    $ make serve

    Alternatively, you can try using Docker:

    $ make docker-serve
  15. Commit your changes and push to the gh-pages branch of your repository:

    $ cd data-cleanup
    $ git add changed-file.md
    $ git commit -m "Explanatory message"
    $ git push origin gh-pages
  16. Tell us where your lesson is so that we can add it to the appropriate index page(s).


  1. SSH cloning (rather than the HTTPS cloning used above) will also work for those who have set up SSH keys with GitHub.

  2. Once a lesson has been created, please submit changes for review as pull requests that contain Markdown files only.

  3. Some people have had intermittent errors during the import process, possibly because of the network timing out. If you experience a problem, please re-try; if the problem persists, please get in touch.

Setup Instructions for a specific existing lesson

  1. Installation instructions for core lessons are included in the workshop template’s home page, so that they are all in one place. The setup.md files of core lessons link to the appropriate sections of the workshop template page.

  2. Other lessons’ setup.md include full installation instructions organized by OS (following the model of the workshop template home page).