A new Jekyll site out of the box uses a default gem-based theme called Minima. However you can choose from one of many custom themes supported by GitHub Pages: official Jekyll themes, as well as open source Jekyll themes hosted on GitHub.

I was recently switching a theme for my blog from Minima to Cayman and found it not very obvious. Although there are a lot of instructions available on the Internet, I spent a couple of hours dealing with various errors during the switch. Thus I decided to write a post about switching Jekyll theme, hope it will help you to save some time.


Make sure you have Jekyll installed (if not, follow the installation instructions). As we are going to use GitHub Pages, make sure you have created a GitHub repository with a name username.github.io. For example, my repository is sergodeeva.github.io.

Update gems

Navigate to Gemfile in the root directory of your Jekyll site, remove gem jekyll and add github-pages gem:

# gem "jekyll", "~> 3.6.2"
gem "github-pages", group: :jekyll_plugins

Run bundle update command in Terminal to update all gems.

Create layouts

Default Jekyll theme Minima has 4 layouts that are used on different pages of your blog:

  • default.html - The base layout that lays the foundation for subsequent layouts.
  • home.html — The layout for your home-page.
  • page.html — The layout for pages such as About, Contacts etc.
  • post.html — The layout for your blog posts.

Whenever you switch to a new theme, the new theme might have a different set of layouts. For example, Cayman theme that I switched to only had default.html layout. That is why after a switch from Minima to Cayman there was a blank page instead of my blog’s homepage (because home.html layout was missing).

To solve issue with missing layouts, in your blog’s root directory create a _layouts folder, and inside that folder create 4 layout files. Here is an example of my layouts.

Create includes

If you have some code snippets that you want to include in multiple layouts of your site, save the snippets as include files and insert them where required, by using the include tag. Using includes also improves the readability of your layouts’ code.

Create _includes folder in the root directory of your site, and place includes files inside. For example, I created the following includes: head.html, header.html, footer.html. Here is an example of my includes.

Update _config.yml

Now you need to change theme in the _config.yml file:

theme: jekyll-theme-cayman

Apart of that you might also need to add some additional settings to the _config.yml file - settings, that used by the new theme that you are switching to. For example, for Cayman theme I needed to add repository: sergodeeva/sergodeeva.github.io to my _config.yml.

Customize CSS styles

Once you done with updating layouts, includes and _config.yml, run a development server on your local machine:

bundle exec jekyll serve

Now you should be able to browse your blog at http://localhost:4000/.

After you see the blog, you will probably be tempted to modify some colors, fonts or other CSS properties. By default Jekyll is looking up at theme gem’s CSS files. However you can easily override them by creating a file assets/css/style.scss in the root directory of your site.

In the top of the file, add the following content:


@import "jekyll-theme-cayman";

After that you can add any custom CSS (or Sass, including imports) immediately after the @import line.

Alternatively, you can copy scss files from the theme’s GitHub repository and place them in the _sass folder of your site. Here is an example of my scss files. You can beautify your site by modifying these scss files.

Wrap up

This post was about getting you started with Jekyll themes, but there’s a lot that you can do if you are willing to spend some time to learn. Take a look at the official Jekyll documentation for more information.

I hope you found this article useful. If you are trying to switch Jekyll theme using the steps mentioned above and get stuck anywhere, please ask a question in the comments below.