Build FSFE websites locally

Note: This guide is also available in FSFE’s wiki now, and it will be the only version maintained. So please head over to the wiki if you’re planning to follow this guide.

Those who create, edit, and translate FSFE websites already know that the source files are XHTML files which are build with a XSLT processor, including a lot of custom stuff. One of the huge advantages from that is that we don’t have to rely on dynamic website processors and databases, on the other hand there are a few drawbacks as well: websites need a few minutes to be generated by the central build system, and it’s quite easy to mess up with the XML syntax. Now if an editor wants to create or edit a page, she needs to wait a few minutes until the build system has finished everytime she wants to test how the website looks like. So in this guide I will show how to build single websites on your own computer in a fraction of the FSFE’s system build time, so you’ll only need to commit your changes as soon as the file looks as you want it. All you need is a bit hard disk space and around one hour time to set up everything.

The whole idea is based on what FSFE’s webmaster Paul Hänsch has coded and written. On his blog he explains the new build script. He explains how to build files locally, too. However, this guide aims to make it a bit easier and more verbose.

Before we’re getting started, let me shortly explain the concept of what we’ll be doing. Basically, we’ll have three directories: trunk, status, and Most likely you already have trunk, it’s a clone of the FSFE’s main SVN repository, and the source of all operations. All those files in there have to be compiled to generate the final HTML files we can browse. The location of these finished files will be status, the third directory, contains error messages and temporary files.

After we (1) created these directories, partly by downloading a repository with some useful scripts and configuration files, we’ll (2) build the whole FSFE website on our own computer. In the next step, we’ll (3) set up a local webserver so you can actually browse these files. And lastly we’ll (4) set up a small script which you can use to quickly build single XHTML files. Last but not least I’ll give some real-world examples.

1. Clone helper repository

Firstly, clone a git repository which will give you most needed files and directories for the further operations. It has been created by me and contains configuration files and the script that will make building of single files easier. Of course, you can also do everything manually.

In general, this is the directory structure I propose. In the following I’ll stick to this scheme. Please adapt all changes if your folder tree looks differently.

trunk (~700 MB):      ~/subversion/fsfe/fsfe-web/trunk/
status (~150 MB):     ~/subversion/fsfe/local-build/status/ (~1000 MB):  ~/subversion/fsfe/local-build/

(For those not so familiar with the GNU/Linux terminal: ~ is the short version of your home directory, so for example /home/user. ~/subversion is the same as /home/USER/subversion, given that your username is USER)

To continue, you have to have git installed on your computer (sudo apt-get install git). Then, please execute via terminal following command. It will copy the files from my git repository to your computer and already contains the folders status and

git clone ~/subversion/fsfe/local-build

Now we take care of trunk. In case you already have a copy of trunk on your computer, you can use this location, but please do a svn up beforehand and be sure that the output of svn status is empty (so no new or modified files on your side). If you don’t have trunk yet, download the repository to the proposed location:

svn --username $YourFSFEUsername co ~/subversion/fsfe/fsfe-web/trunk

2. Build full website

Now we have to build the whole FSFE website locally. This will take a longer time but we’ll only have to do it once. Later, you’ll just build single files and not >14000 as we do now.

But first, we have to install a few applications which are needed by the build script (Warning: it’s possible your system lacks some other required applications which were already installed on mine. If you encounter any command not found errors, please report them in the comments or by mail). So let’s install them via the terminal:

sudo apt-get install make libxslt

Note: libxslt may have a different name in your distribution, e.g. libxslt1.1 or libxslt2.

Now we can start building.The full website build can be started with

~/subversion/fsfe/fsfe-web/trunk/build/ --statusdir ~/subversion/fsfe/local-build/status/ build_into ~/subversion/fsfe/local-build/

See? We use the build routine from trunk to launch building trunk. All status messages are written to status, and the final website will reside in Mind differing directory names if you have another structure than I do. This process will take a long time, depending on your CPU power. Don’t be afraid of strange messages and massive walls of text ;-)

After the long process has finished, navigate to the trunk directory and execute svn status. You may see a few files which are new:

max@bistromath ~/s/f/f/trunk> svn status
?       about/printable/archive/printable.en.xml
?       d_day.en.xml
?       d_month.en.xml
?       d_year.en.xml
?       localmenuinfo.en.xml

These are leftover from the full website build. Because trunk is supposed to be your productive source directory where you also make commits to the FSFE SVN, let’s delete these files. You won’t need them anymore.

rm about/printable/archive/printable.en.xml d_day.en.xml d_month.en.xml d_year.en.xml localmenuinfo.en.xml
rm tools/tagmaps/*.map

Afterwards, the output of svn status should be empty again. It is? Fine, let’s go on! If not, please also remove those files (and tell me which files were missing).

3. Set up local webserver

After the full build is completed, you can install a local webserver. This is necessary to actually display the locally built files in your browser. In this example, I assume you don’t already have a webserver installed, and that you’re using a Debian-based operating system. So let’s install lighttpd which is a thin and fast webserver, plus gamin which lighttpd needs in some setups:

sudo apt-get install lighttpd gamin

To make Lighttpd running properly we need a configuration file. This has to point the webserver to show files in the directory. You already downloaded my recommended config file (lighttpd-fsfe.conf.sample) by cloning the git repository. But you’ll have to modify the path accordingly and rename it. So rename the file to lighttpd-fsfe.conf, open it and change following line to match the actual and absolute path of the directory (~ does not work here):

server.document-root = "/home/USER/subversion/fsfe/local-build/"

Now you can test whether the webserver is correctly configured. To start a temporary webserver process, execute the next command in the terminal:

lighttpd -Df ~/subversion/fsfe/local-build/lighttpd-fsfe.conf

Until you press Ctrl+C, you should be able to open your local FSFE website in any browser using the URL http://localhost:5080. For example, open the URL http://localhost:5080/contribute/contribute.en.html in your browser. You should see basically the same website as the original website. If not, double-check the paths, if the lighttpd process is still running, or if the full website build is already finished.

4. Single page build script

Until now, you didn’t see much more than you can see on the original website. But in this step, we’ll configure and start using a Bash script ( I’ve written to make a preview of a locally edited XHTML file as comfortable as possible. You already downloaded it by cloning the repository.

First, rename and edit the script’s configuration file config.cfg.sample. Rename it to config.cfg and open it. The file contains all paths we already used here, so please adapt them to your structure if necessary. Normally, it should be sufficient to modify the values for LOC_trunk (trunk directory) and LOC_out ( directory), the rest can be left with the default values.

Another feature of the fsfe-preview is to automatically check the XML syntax of the files. For this, libxml2-utils has to be installed which contains xmllint. Please execute:

sudo apt-get install libxml2-utils

Now let’s make the script easy to access via the terminal for future usage. For this, we’ll create a short link to the script from one of the binary path directories. Type in the terminal:

sudo ln -s ~/subversion/fsfe/local-build/ /usr/bin/fsfe-preview

From this moment on, you should be able to call fsfe-preview from anywhere in your terminal. Let’s make a test run. Modify the XHTML source file contribute/contribute.en.xhtml and edit some obvious text or alter the title. Now do:

As output, you should see something like:

[INFO] Using file /home/max/subversion/fsfe/fsfe-web/trunk/contribute/contribute.en.xhtml as source...
[INFO] XHTML file detected. Going to build into /home/max/subversion/fsfe/local-build/ ...
[INFO] Starting webserver

[SUCCESS] Finished. File can be viewed at http://localhost:5080/contribute/contribute.en.html

Now open the mentioned URL http://localhost:5080/contribute/contribute.en.html and take a look whether your changes had an effect.

In this section I’ll present a few of the cases you might face and how to solve them with the script. I presume you have your terminal opened in the trunk directory.

Preview a single file

To preview a single file before uploading it, just edit it locally. The file has to be located in the trunk directory, so I suggest to only use one SVN trunk on your computer. It makes almost no sense to store your edited files in different folders. To preview it, just give the path to the edited file as argument for fsfe-preview, just as we did in the preceding step:

fsfe-preview activities/radiodirective/statement.en.xhtml

The script detects whether the file has to be built with the XSLT processor (.xhtml files), or if it just can be copied to the website without any modification (e.g. images).

Copy many files at once

Beware that all files you added in your session have to be processed with the script. For example, if you create a report with many images included and want to preview it, you will have to copy all these images to the output directory as well, and not only the XHTML file. For this, there is the -copy argument. This circumvents the whole XSLT build process and just plainly copies the given files (or folders). In this example, the workflow could look like the following: The first line copies some images, the second builds the corresponding XHTML file which makes use of these images:

fsfe-preview --copy news/2016/graphics/report1.png news/2016/graphics/report2.jpg
fsfe-preview news/2016/news-20161231-01.en.xhtml
Syntax check

In general, it’s good to check the XHTML syntax before editing and commiting files to the SVN. The script fsfe-preview already contains these checks but it’s good to be able to use it anyway. If you didn’t already do it before, install libxml2-utils on your computer. It contains xmllint, a syntax checker for XML files. You can use it like this:

xmllint --noout work.en.xhtml

If there’s no output (–noout), the file has a correct syntax and you’re ready to continue. But you may also see something like

work.en.xhtml:55: parser error : Opening and ending tag mismatch: p line 41 and li

In this case, this means that the <p> tag starting in line 41 isn’t closed properly.


The presented process and script has a few drawbacks. For example you aren’t able to preview certain very dynamic pages or parts of pages, or those depending on CGI scripts. In most cases you’ll never encounter these, but if you’re getting active with the FSFE’s webmaster team it may happen that you’ll have to fall back on the standard central build system.

Any other issues? Feel free to report them as they will help to improve FSFE’s editors to work more efficiently :-)


29 November 2016: Jonas has pointed out a few bugs and issues with a different GNU/Linux distribution. Should be resolved.