There are so many existing implementations of Markdown, why yet another one? Well, after asking the OCaml community about existing ways to parse and manipulate Markdown documents, it seemed that there were no stand-alone complete Markdown parser written in OCaml, meaning that they were incomplete (i.e., not fully compatible with Markdown) or interfaces to some Markdown parsers implemented using other languages than OCaml.
Since in OCaml Labs we're working a lot with Github, and Github uses Markdown a lot (Github web pages hosting, Github issues, etc.) and other sites are also using Markdown as well, and Markdown is very popular and easy to learn, and flexible in the sense that you can always fall back to HTML when you want to express something that doesn't have a special syntax in Markdown, blah blah blah, it was - somehow - time to have a Markdown parser implemented using OCaml. And preferably OCaml alone, meaning that one that has OCaml installed should be able to use it easily without having to deal with too many dependencies. Well, there it is: OMD!
Issues... were essentially with Markdown itself
Every computer scientist knows how to write a parser for a language that is as simple as Markdown. Well, no, not every computer scientist, sadly, but at least every programmer should. Ok, sadly it isn't really the case either. Anyways.
Markdown is a rather simple language, if you look at the specs. Well, that depends on what you actuall call "specs", of course. According to Wikipedia, Markdown was invented by John Gruber, and Aaron Swartz helped him. Then the original document that describes the Markdown language is available online there: http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/syntax. And you can see that searching for "Markdown+syntax" on Google makes that page the top result (and here again, I'm kind of helping it be and stay on the top...).
Actually, Markdown is not that simple to parse. Why? Because so many things are just left to the imagination of the people who implement parsers for this language, because programs can't decide by themselves what's right to do. It's really the author(s) of the program that decides what the program does. And in Markdown, so many things are ambiguous and Gruber's document doesn't actually describe a grammar at all. It just tells you how to write this and that, but if you write it slightly differently, it doesn't tell you what the outcome would be and by just reading the document, you really can't tell what the output will be.
The one thing to have in mind is that there are no errors in Markdown. Every text file is a valid Markdown file, it might just be converted to some HTML you wouldn't expect. For instance, you may write a link using this syntax:
[blah blah blah](the-url-which-can-be-absolute-or-relative)
and it gets converted to
<p><a href="the-url-which-can-be-absolute-or-relative">blah blah blah</a></p>
But if you forget the closing parenthesis, then it becomes that instead
<p>[blah blah blah](the-url-which-can-be-absolute-or-relative</p>
precisely because nothing is wrong in Markdown.
And what if there are parentheses in your URL? What if they are unbalanced?
The following is some text that has to mean something in Markdown...
* Alice is falling in love with Bob. * Bob is secretly in love with Alice, but he's seeing Eve. * Eve is in-between, she loves both Alice and Bob, she can't help it.
So, Pandoc, which a tool that converts a document in language A to a document in language B, where A and B can be the same or different languages amongst LaTeX, HTML, Markdown and (many) others, considers that Eve is on the same level as Bob. So its HTML output is
<ul> <li>Alice is falling in love with Bob. <ul> <li>Bob is secretly in love with Alice, but he's seeing Eve.</li> </ul></li> <li>Eve is in-between, she loves both Alice and Bob, she can't help it.</li> </ul>
But if instead you add Dylan as in
* Alice is falling in love with Bob. * Dylan, a new character, is being conceived here. * Bob is secretly in love with Alice, but he's seeing Eve. * Eve is in-between, she loves both Alice and Bob, she can't help it.
then of course Eve is not on the same level as Bob anymore and goes with Dylan and Alice, Bob is on his own.
<ul> <li>Alice is falling in love with Bob.</li> <li>Dylan, a new character, is being conceived here. <ul> <li>Bob is secretly in love with Alice, but he's seeing Eve.</li> </ul></li> <li>Eve is in-between, she loves both Alice and Bob, she can't help it.</li> </ul>
This doesn't make much sense...
And Github's embedded Markdown to HTML converter chooses some similar broken semantics. If one writes bullets on different levels, it shouldn't be meaningless.
Also, on Github, if you write
* 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5 * 6 * 7 * 8 * 9 * 10
Then 2 and 3 are on the same level, as for 4 and 5, 6 and 7, and 8 and 9. 1 and 10 are on their own. And if you extract 2 and 3, meaning
* 2 * 3
then 2 and 3 are not on the same level anymore! See for yourself:
- raw version: https://raw.github.com/pw374/sandbox/master/mad-lists.md
- rendered-by-Github version: https://github.com/pw374/sandbox/blob/master/mad-lists.md
With OMD, hopefully, there is a deterministic meaning for each level of indentation. The list where there were Alice, Bob and Eve is converted to this to the least insane semantics I could think of.
The idea is that, since Eve is neither on the same level as Bob or Alice, Eve should be in a new list (because, obviously, she's the only one on that level anyway). So she is in a new list. And since she's not on a deeper level than Bob, she shouldn't be on a sub-list of his. But she is on a deeper level than Alice, so she has to be on a sub-list of hers. So, here is the HTML that OMD produces:
<ul> <li>Alice is falling in love with Bob. <ul> <li>Bob is secretly in love with Alice, but he's seeing Eve. </li> </ul> <ul> <li>Eve is in-between, she loves both Alice and Bob, she can't help it. </li> </ul> </li> </ul>
Oh, you might have noticed that OMD converts quotes to
because otherwise I would need to differentiate when they have to be
converted from when it's optional.
Pandoc's documentation says
In contrast to most existing tools for converting markdown to HTML, which use regex substitutions, Pandoc has a modular design: it consists of a set of readers, which parse text in a given format and produce a native representation of the document, and a set of writers, which convert this native representation into a target format. Thus, adding an input or output format requires only adding a reader or writer.
Come on, most tools are using regular expressions substitutions?! I can only imagine the nightmare that it must be to implement and debug such an implementation -- no wait, I can't because I just don't want to imagine such a nightmare.
I used functions and function calls, a lot of them are tail recursive, not all of them but then it means I don't need them to be tail recursive, and those functions basically take a list of tokens and return a new list with possibly fewer tokens and the expression to which the missing ones were converted into.
So far, in version 0.4 (which is not released yet at the time I write this), there's a little less than 8k lines of pure OCaml code. (Note that I didn't write "pure functional", I wrote "pure OCaml".)
OMD is an open-source free and libre software library that any OCaml developer can use (hopefully quite easily since it doesn't depend on anything else that the standard OCaml compiler and library). And of course, it's also a tool for any one who write Markdown and wants it to be converted (quickly) to HTML. OMD, so far, is about 10 times faster than Pandoc, and I didn't even make any efforts to make it fast.
OMD has been developed using OCaml 4.0.1, Christophe Troestler made me make it compatible with OCaml 3.12.1. Then I guess it might work with older version of OCaml but it's not certain (mainly because OCaml's standard library has slightly changed, as I think I don't use any language features that were introduced in 3.12 or 4.0).
By the way, thank you Christophe for your support, interest and contributions to OMD :-)
Future of OMD
OMD already is in OPAM. A very stable version of OMD should be released soon. As a tool, it takes Markdown as input and produces HTML as output. A Markdown backend has been freshly implemented, so you can output Markdown as well, which is quite useful for debugging or if you want to know how many iterations you need before you reach the fix point. You can also output "text", in the sense that it's basically the HTML without the HTML tags, so it's very non-formatted text. There also are options to output HTML table of contents and parametrise their depths.
OMD and OCaml.org
We are at OCaml Labs making a new website for ocaml.org. The design is being provided by onespacemedia. At the time I'm writing these lines, I'm using the HTML/CSS/JS for the upcoming OCaml.org to style my new Github-hosted website, so I can play with it more.
Most pages will be written in Markdown instead of HTML, so that people of the OCaml community may contribute to it in a more convenient way.
And of course, that means that OMD will be used for OCaml.org.
started on 2013-09-05 22:31:26+01:00, (re)generated on 2014-01-15 15:14:11+00:00