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Sunday·10·March·2013

Rendering Markdown, Asciidoc and Friends automatically while Editing //at 15:41 //by abe

from the also-small-tools-can-make-people-happy dept.

Partially because of Markdown being Github’s markup format of choice, I enjoy writing documents in simple markup formats more and more.

There’s though one common annoyance with these formats compared to writing plain HTML

The Annoyance

They need to be rendered (i.e. more or less compiled) before you can view your outpourings rendered, e.g. in the web browser. So the workflow usually is:

  1. Saving the current file in your favourite editor
  2. Switch to terminal with commandline
  3. Cursor up, Enter
  4. Switch to your favourite web browser
  5. Hit the reload button

Using a Specialized Editor with Live Preview

One choice would be to use a specific editor with live rendering. The one I know in Debian (from Wheezy on) is ReText (Debian package retext). It supports Markdown and reStructuredText.

But as with most simple GUI editors, I miss there many of the advanced editing commands possible with Emacs.

Using Emacs’ Markdown Mode

Then there is the Markdown Mode for Emacs (part of Debian’s emacs-goodies-el package), where you can get a “preview” by pressing C-c C-c p. But for some reason this takes several seconds, opens a new buffer and window with the rendered HTML code and then starts (hardcoded) Firefox (which is not my preferred web browser). And if you do that a second time without closing Firefox first, it won’t just reload the file but will open a new tab. You might think that just hitting reload should suffice. But no, the new tab has a different file name, so reload doesn’t help. Additionally it may not use my preferred Markdown implementation. Meh.

Well, I probably could fix all those issues with Markdown Mode, it’s only Emacs Lisp. Heck, the called command is even configurable. But fixing at least four issues to fix one workflow annoyance? Maybe some other time, but not as long there are other nice choices…

Using inotifywait to Render on Write

So everytime you save the currently edited file, you immediately want to rerender the same HTML file from it. This can be easily automated by using Linux’ inotify kernel subsystem which notices changes to the filesystem, and reports those to applications which ask for it.

One such tool is inotifywait which can either output all or just specific events, or just exit if the first requested event occurs. With the latter it’s easy to write a while loop on the commandline which regenerates a file after every write access. I use either Pandoc or Asciidoc for that since both generate full HTML pages including header and footer, but you can use that also with Markdown to render just the HTML body. Most browsers render it correctly anyway:

while inotifywait -q -e modify index.md; do pandoc -s -f markdown -t html -o index.html index.md; done
while inotifywait -q -e modify index.txt; do asciidoc index.txt; done
while inotifywait -q -e modify index.md; do markdown index.md > index.html; done

This solution is even editor- and build-system-agnostic (But not operating-system-agnostic.)

inotifywait is part of inotify-tools, a useful set of commandline tools to interface with inotify. They’re packaged in Debian as inotify-tools, too.

Using mdpress for Markdown plus Impress.js based Slides

The ruby-written mdpress is a special case of the previous case. It’s a commandline tool to convert Markdown into Impress.js based slide shows and it has an option named --automatic which causes it to keep running and automatically update the presentation as soon as changes are made to the Markdown file.

mdpress is not yet in Debian, but there’s an ITP for it and Impress.js itself recently entered Debian as libjs-impress. Nevertheless, two dependencies (highlight.js, ITP‘ed, ruby-launchy, ITP‘ed) are still missing in Debian.

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This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the IT Support Group (ISG) of the Departement of Physics at ETH Zurich.

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