Download your Gitbook as a PDF with open-source tools

This tutorials goes through creating PDFs from Gitbook.

Posted on Aug 08, '18

What is Gitbook?

Gitbook is an excellent opensource platform to generate awesome looking documentation and books from simple markdown files. They also have a paid version with an editor. However, the open source free version can easily be paired with Github and Travis to pretty much provide a nice workflow.

The Requirement

The book in question was hosted on Github as Markdowns organised into folders in the master branch. Travis was then configured to run a command gitpub that automatically generated the Gitbook, cleans it up and commits it to the gh-pages branch, from which the page is served. However, we also needed the master branch to have a directly downloadable PDF version of the latest Gitbook output.

The Problem

Generating a PDF with Gitbook is fairly straightforward using the gitbook pdf <gitbook-folder-location> <pdf-location>.pdf command. However, running this command inside Travis.CI throws the following Runtime Error.

File "/usr/bin/ebook-convert", line 20, in <module>
RuntimeError: X server required. If you are running on a headless machine, use xvfb

As is obvious from the error, the error comes from the ebook-convert plugin, that is required by Gitbook for the PDF generation. However, the command ebook-convert needs to have prepended with xbvf to run in a headless environment like Travis.

And …

There is no direct way to prepend the ebook-convert because that is getting called by Gitbook internally. Trying to change that, would mean modifying Gitbook for yourself.

The Solution

I found this gold nugget which didn’t work for me but definitely led me to my current solution. The workaround was to ‘wrap’ the ebook-convert command so that when Gitbook calls ebook-convert, it is actually calling the wrapper command, that calls the actual command prepended with xbvf.


  • Create a wrapper shell script in the repository (script provided below)
  • Rename the ebook-covert in your /usr/bin folder to ebook-convert2 (or something else!)
  • Move your script to the /usr/bin folder as ebook-convert
  • Allow the script to be excutable (the command will exit with an error if you don’t do this)

And that’s it! Enjoy your automatic PDFs


echo "Run xvfb-run /usr/bin/ebook-convert2 $@"
sudo xvfb-run /usr/bin/ebook-convert2 "$@"

  language: node_js
    - "6"
    - sudo apt-get install -y calibre
    - sudo apt-get install xvfb
    - npm install gitbook-cli
    - npm install gitbook-publish@latest
    - npm install ebook-convert
    - sudo mv /usr/bin/ebook-convert /usr/bin/ebook-convert2
    - sudo cp ./ /usr/bin/ebook-convert
    - sudo chmod +x /usr/bin/ebook-convert
    - git config --global ""
    - git config --global "Akshata"
    - gitbook pdf ./ ./published/urban-prototyping.pdf
    - git add ./published/urban-prototyping.pdf
    - git status
    - git commit -m"Published PDF"
    - git status
    - git push "https://{USER_NAME}:${GITHUB_TOKEN}${GITHUB_REPO}" master
    - gitpub
    - git branch
    - git remote -v
    - git push --force "https://{USER_NAME}:${GITHUB_TOKEN}${GITHUB_REPO}" gh-pages