Community Group for Markdown Standardization

Fletcher Penney fletcher at
Tue Nov 20 09:57:04 EST 2012

(Since my opinion was asked for... ;)

One of the last times this issue came up, I contacted the developers of a couple of other implementations off list to gauge their interest for such an undertaking. The reception was luke warm at best.

This would be a fairly big project, if done properly. If done improperly, it's simply a waste of time. Some of the big issues/questions:

1. Is Gruber in or out? He made his first contribution to the list in years to basically say that he is out.

2. If that is true, is everyone else willing to "move past" Markdown and into something new. Even if it's Markdown-like, it will probably have to use a different name, unless Gruber likes what he sees and changes his mind on the back end. Even in that case, I think we would all be shocked if he modified to be compliant (since it hasn't seen a change in years.) Which brings us back to the beginning of how important is the Markdown "identity." Would it still be Markdown if the original code is non compliant? This is a philosophical discussion that has real-world implications.

3. Similarly, you now have to "herd cats" and convince the developers (and users) of various implementations that it's worth the days (weeks?) of effort it might take to bring their own code into compliance. And at the end, what do they have to show for it? Old documents that no longer work as expected?

4. I don't agree with the command line switch approach that has been discussed. If something like this is going to work, I think everyone needs to jump in with both feet. Keep old code around for older documents (it doesn't stop working, after all). But trying to maintain two separate behaviors is going to be more challenging -- new versions should use the new behavior.

5. The biggest danger, IMHO, is that someone puts all the time and effort into developing a standard, but that standard has serious conflicts with the needs of each Markdown-variant developer. For example, I wrote MultiMarkdown to fit my needs (footnotes, tables, LaTeX, etc). If the new standard doesn't work for me, why would I go through the effort to standardize? Now repeat this discussion for each variant you're trying to bring into line.

6. I think we all agree that standardization, in theory, is a "good thing." The details will be critical in determining whether it works.

7. As for XML, LaTeX, PDF, etc --- I would suggest standardizing the plain text input and HTML output first. If there is a need to standardize more than that, it can be handled down the road. These are probably not worth worrying about now.

As for "owning" my own implementation of MD --- MultiMarkdown was originally a modified version of Gruber's perl script. MMD v3 is derived from John MacFarlane's excellent work on peg-markdown. Many people have submitted bug reports, code patches, and suggestions that have continued to improve MMD over the years. I don't know whether I "own" an implementation or not --- MMD represents efforts of a lot of people. But maintaining code compatibility with peg-markdown may be a higher priority for me than standardization. I hope not to end up in a situation where I would have to choose one over the other.

To more concisely answer your question:

* I think standardized behavior across Markdown implementations would be good for everyone
* I am worried about the potential time/effort required to develop a worthwhile standard, and then to implement that standard
* If there was significant buy-in from the community at large, I would probably join in
* The new standard can't completely contradict my own goals/needs for MMD


On Nov 20, 2012, at 8:59 AM, Sherwood Botsford wrote:

> Every MD implementation would have to have two behaviours, set either

> by a command line flag, a configuration file, or a preference if used

> with a GUI. One behaviour would be the individual behavior so that

> the followers of that implementation wouldn't be left in the lurch.

> One would be the standard behavior.


> In addition some versions may have additional modes to support PDF, or

> XML or LaTeX output.


> But this is NOt going to work unless you get the implementors online.

> Who, besides Mr. Fletcher owns an implementation of MD.


> Fletcher, are YOU in?

Fletcher T. Penney
fletcher at

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