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A Sample Makefile for Creating Blog Articles

In October of this year, I published a blog post talking about a sample Makefile for publishing blog articles. That post focused on the use of make and a Makefile for automating the process of a publishing a blog post. This post is a companion to that post, and focuses on the use of a Makefile for automating the creation of blog posts.

Since early 2015, this site has been running as a static site with the content created using Markdown. In its first iteration as a static site, the HTML was generated using Jekyll and hosted on GitHub Pages. In the current iteration, the HTML is generated using Hugo, hosted on Amazon S3, and served via Amazon CloudFront. In both cases, the use of Markdown as the content format also required specific front-matter to instruct the static site generator how to create the HTML. For Hugo, the front-matter looks something like this (I use YAML, but other formats are supported):

author: slowe
categories: Explanation
date: 2017-11-27T12:00:00Z
- Writing
- Blogging
- Productivity
title: Sample Blog Post title
url: /2017/11/27/sample-blog-post-title/

There are obviously a lot of different ways to automate the creation of this front-matter (text expansion utilities, text editor snippets, macros, etc.). I chose to tackle this using a Makefile so that I had some level of independence from the specific editor or operating system I was using (make is easily accessible on both macOS and Linux). After some trial and error, I finally arrived at this Makefile:

POST_TEMPLATE := ~/Templates/
editor ?= /usr/local/bin/subl -n
name ?= new-blog-post
offset ?= +0d
DDATE := $(shell date -v $(offset) +%Y-%m-%d)
SDATE := $(shell date -v $(offset) +%Y/%m/%d)

    @cat $(POST_TEMPLATE) | \
    sed "s/YYYY-MM-DD/$(DDATE)/g" | \
    sed "s|YYYY/MM/DD|$(SDATE)|g" | \
    sed "s|/title|/$(name)/|g" >> $(DDATE)-$(name).md
    @$(editor) $(DDATE)-$(name).md

I’m no expert with make, so there may be ways to optimize this (feel free to hit me up on Twitter with suggestions). This Makefile leverages two user-supplied values (default values are supplied in case the user doesn’t provide these values on the command line):

  • The first is name, which is used for both the filename and in the “url” value in the front-matter
  • The second is offset, which is an offset (typically in days, like “+1d”) from the current date (more on this in a moment)

With these two values, what the “new” target in this Makefile does is this:

  1. Sends the content of the $(POST_TEMPLATE) variable to STDOUT.
  2. STDOUT is piped into the the first sed command, which replaces the templated “YYYY-MM-DD” value for the “date” YAML front-matter with the current date, adjusted by the user-supplied offset variable (which is set to “+0d” if the user doesn’t supply a value). This date value is taken from the DDATE variable defined at the top of the file.
  3. The output of the first sed command is piped into the second sed command, which performs the same date manipulation, but this time on the templated value of the “url” YAML front-matter entry. (The value is taken from the SDATE variable defined at the top of the file.)
  4. The output of the second sed command is piped into the third sed command, which replaces the final section of the templated “url” front-matter with the value of the name variable passed in by the user (or the default value, if the user doesn’t supply a value).
  5. The final content is redirected into a file whose filename is constructed from the date (taken from the DDATE variable) and the value of name.

Using this Makefile is pretty straightforward:

  • If I type make or make new (no additional values), then it will take the current date and the default value of “new-blog-post”. For example, if I typed this today (Monday, 27 November), I’d get a filename of, and the YAML front-matter would have the appropriate values inserted. (In case you weren’t aware, typing just make works because “new” is the first target.)
  • If I type make new name=specific-name-for-post, then the resulting file generated with have the current date in the content and the filename, but the rest of the filename and the “url” YAML front-matter will use the value of name as provided on the command line. If I typed this today, I’d get a filename of
  • If I type make new name=another-specific-name offset=+1d, then the generated filename will use the value of name (as will the “url” YAML front-matter entry), but the date will be one day in the future—as specified by the value of offset. If I typed this today, the file generated would be named

In all these examples, the file is immediately opened in Sublime Text, as instructed by the default value of editor. If I wanted to change that, I can just type make new name=a-third-specific-name editor=atom and it would open in Atom instead. This provides some additional flexibility if needed.

I’ll continue to refine this Makefile as I learn more, and readers are encouraged to hit me on Twitter with suggestions for improvement. I hope this information proves useful to other bloggers using static site generators.

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