I use GitHub Pages to display Markdown files a lot. I use it for notes, game tracking, YouTube tracking, and plenty of other projects. Seemingly at random, some of these projects have an open source footer at the bottom. What is it, what controls it, and how can it be removed?

Since there’s multiple people asking the same questions as me, explaining it in a short article seemed sensible!

What is it

Obviously, it’s a way to encourage visitors to improve your open source projects!

Clicking the “Improve this page” link opens up the current page directly on GitHub, letting any changes be suggested. For example, on forza.jakelee.co.uk the link goes to https://github.com/JakeSteam/ForzaUpdate/edit/master/README.md.

This URL cleverly includes the repository (JakeSteam/ForzaUpdate), the current branch (/master/), and the current file (README.md)!

What controls it

Okay, so the link can be helpful, but… what makes it appear?

Jekyll & Primer

When simple Markdown files are served via GitHub Pages, the “Primer” Jekyll theme (official example site) is automatically used. This is what causes the Markdown to be converted into HTML, although both remain accessible.

For example, my Markdown file tech.md gets rendered as tech.html by Jekyll using Primer.

The footer’s logic

OK, so our Markdown file is displayed using Primer. That doesn’t explain where the footer comes from!

As Primer is open source, we can look at the source code for default.html, used to display the files. At lines 20-24, it all becomes clear:

      {% if site.github.private != true and site.github.license %}
      <div class="footer border-top border-gray-light mt-5 pt-3 text-right text-gray">
        This site is open source. {% github_edit_link "Improve this page" %}.
      {% endif %}

The footer shows if:

  1. The GitHub repo is not private (site.github.private != true).
  2. The GitHub repo has a license set (site.github.license).

How can it be removed

The easiest solution, if your site does not actually need a license, is to just delete the LICENSE file you may have accidentally created when starting the repository. This is what I did for my Notes repository.

However, if you do need to keep your license, we can easily remove the footer by overriding the Jekyll layout. To do that we:

  1. Create /_layouts/default.html inside the repository. This can be done via the “Add file” dialog on GitHub.com by just typing the folder name too.
  2. Copy across the contents of Primer’s default.html.
  3. Remove (or customise) the footer (lines 20-24).
  4. Save your new file, GitHub pages will redeploy your site, and the footer will be gone!


I initially thought the “This site is open source. Improve this page.” footer was essentially an advert, letting any visitors know the site was being hosted via GitHub, and encouraging them to sign up.

However, looking into the logic behind it and finding it only applies to repositories with a license set makes me suspect it’s primarily trying to help open source projects find contributors. Excellent!

I was also very surprised that even basic Markdown file hosting uses the Jekyll build system. I use Jekyll daily (e.g. for this site!) and never considered that it was responsible for all my simple sites too. This is definitely a nice surprise, since it means I already know how to customise it extensively if I ever need to, since all the same techniques work.

Hopefully that helps anyone wanting to customise the basic GitHub Pages Markdown hosting, at the very least it taught me a few new things!