Installing Node.js using NVM and Jekyll using rbenv on (X)ubuntu 14.04

Posted by Janne Cederberg on November 25, 2015
Category: system configuration
Tags: node, ruby, jekyll

Disclaimer: This post is primarily self-documentational. It’s probably not entertaining (at least for the majority of people :)


My laptop has been working great for over three years running Windows 7 and (X)ubuntu side-by-side. In the past few weeks though it’s been freezing kinda frequently. I ran system diagnostics tests and the hard drive failed a few tests. So I thought the problems must trace back to the hard drive; so I got a new one, a 500GB SSD drive. And as a sidenote it’s pretty fast: booting Xubuntu 14.04 from power button to ready in 13 seconds.

Anyway, so on the old hard drive I had Windows 7 and Xubuntu 14.04 side-by-side. I had more space allocated for the Windows partition than I now wanted and as a result had been thinking of reinstalling everything for several months already. So when I installed the new hard drive, I didn’t opt for cloning the old one but installing everything afresh.

Installing Node using Node.js Version Manager (NVM)

Old way using apt-get

Though I mostly don’t code for/with Node.js, there are a few toolchain reasons why I need Node.js. I could simply use sudo apt-get install nodejs npm (like I had done when installing it on the previous hard drive) but the repository packages tend to be old in terms of how quickly Node.js development is moving.

New way using NVM

So after a bit of research I figured using Node Version Manager would probably be the best route. So this is what I did:

Install NVM

wget -qO- | bash

This will install NVM in your home directory (~/.nvm) and add a few NVM-related initialization lines in your ~/.bashrc.

Install Node and NPM

Next, select and install the version of Node.js that you want to install. You can install multiple versions. You can list all the available versions with nvm ls-remote. Initially I went with

nvm install 5.1.0

for installing the newest version that was available at the time.

Success…and not

After installation was done I ran node -v and npm -v to make sure everything seemed to be working correctly; and both worked ok…except when I started a new console window and tried again with node -v and npm -v they both reported the required commands were not found.

Fixing ‘No command found’

Initially I simply opted for adding the following to the end of my ~/.bashrc after the few lines that were added by the NVM installation: export PATH="$NVM_DIR/versions/node/v5.1.0/bin:$PATH. This essentially permanently adds the Node path to the beginning of the PATH variable.

Later I realized that a better solution for the same problem is:

nvm alias default node

This approach doesn’t modify the ~/.bashrc file but uses the NVM related stuff that’s already there. This is the correct way of approaching the issue.

But why did Node.js go from 0.12.x to 4.0.0 ?

As a side-note, in case you’re wondering why Node.js versioning jumped from 0.12.x to 4.0, read the background.

Installing Ruby and Jekyll using rbenv

Another tool I need is Jekyll, which I use for example for authoring this blog. Jekyll is a Ruby gem so I’ll be needing Ruby as well.

When I initially started using Jekyll a few years ago it was a bit of a pain getting it set up. I was kinda fearing it might be a pain now as well. And I was right.

apt-get vs. rbenv vs. rvm

Earlier I had installed Ruby 1.9.3-dev using sudo apt-get install ruby1.9.3-dev or something along those lines. I remember it was a pain with all the dependency problems due to compiling. I didn’t wanna use apt-get again for this even though I normally like it.

So my choices are rbenv and rvm. After doing some reading I came to the conclusion that of the two, rbenv is a more light-weight and less intrusive approach so I opted for that. In addition to the official documentation, DigitalOcean’s tutorial proved to be great.

Installing dependencies

So short-n-sweet, this is what I did:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install git-core curl zlib1g-dev build-essential libssl-dev libreadline-dev libyaml-dev libsqlite3-dev sqlite3 libxml2-dev libxslt1-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev python-software-properties libffi-dev

as suggested by the above mentioned DigitalOcean tutorial. Actually I had already installed git, curl and build-essential earlier so I left them out.

Installing rbenv

The following will first clone rbenv in your home directory under the .rbenv subdirectory. After that it was add initialization code to your ~/.bashrc:

git clone git:// ~/.rbenv
echo 'export PATH="$HOME/.rbenv/bin:$PATH"' >> ~/.bashrc
echo 'eval "$(rbenv init -)"' >> ~/.bashrc

Preparing to install Ruby

The following will clone the required stuff to make installing Ruby quick-n-easy. Without the following you won’t have rbenv install available to you:

git clone git:// ~/.rbenv/plugins/ruby-build
echo 'export PATH="$HOME/.rbenv/plugins/ruby-build/bin:$PATH"' >> ~/.bashrc
source ~/.bashrc

Finally installing Ruby

Once you’re this far you’re now ready to install Ruby. To list the available version, run rbenv install --list. Once you’ve selected the version to use (like here I opted to use version 2.2.3), you can run the installation:

rbenv install -v 2.2.3
rbenv global 2.2.3

Notice that the -v flag is actually not referring to version in this case (as you might think) but is a flag to turn the verbose installation mode on. More info about install flags: rbenv help install.

Installing Jekyll

The newest version of Jekyll is now v3.0.1. I tried this first but some of my sites broke on so I went to v2.5.3. Here’s a list of the available Jekyll versions. Installing it goes as follows:

gem install jekyll -v 2.5.3

Almost done…

Initially it turned out Jekyll 2.5.3 didn’t seem to work at all but was giving me a major crash every time. The crash was relating to execjs not being able to run. After a while of trying I realized the problem was that I had not done nvm alias default node as explained earlier in this article. Node.js was not in PATH and as a result Jekyll didn’t run.


After a fair amount of frustration, nvm, node, npm, rbenv, ruby (2.2.3) and jekyll (v2.5.3) now work correctly, yey!

Another approach would be to automate this using Ansible for example. But as

  1. I need to do this only once every few years and
  2. things change rapidly in the tech field,

the automation solution I would create might become obsolete before I’d ever need to use it again.

Deriving from xkcd’s excellent break-down, if doing something once every two years and being able to save 2 hours by automation, I shouldn’t be using more than 5 hours on optimizing the process. And the gain from optimization is tallied across a five year time in xkcd’s calculation. In five years things change A LOT. So basically, it’s very iffy whether it’s worth automating setting up your own workstation…unfortunately…

Unless I’ve completely missed something essential :)

XKCD: Is it worth the time?