Markdown: or how I stopped hating html and started liking homepage creation

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It was hate at first sight. I remember quite well my first encounter with html. It was way back in the previous century (somewhere around 1997-98) when I first saw an actual html page. It looked uglier than the DO 10 CONTINUE lines of Fortran 77 that we were forced to use as part of our B.Tech “Learn how to use a computer” course. Many of my friends considered this Fortran course as part of the “Ragging” that one has to endure to become Engineers. But I am sure when they started their webpage creating phase of life they would have come for an even bigger shock. To put it politely: html is an ugly format that has caused more miseries to humanity than all the world’s religions put together.

The popularity of html is baffling. It is not the most efficient of the formats from the rendering point of view and definitely not a format for mere mortals. The kludge called html also brought about an industry of WYSIWYG html editors which really spits venom when asked to render a Hello world page. This has lead to many “Best view by …. under 1024 x 798 resolution” pages; so much for the “portability” of html. Despite all these shortcomings html became popular. What more its “success” as a text format lead people to the creation of even uglier cousins like XML.

In this difficult world I had to make my homepage. Having a homepage is important in today’s world, they say. It is important to have your papers online, for example, in the unlikely event that some one is interested in your work. But the ugliness of html was unbearable. I searched far and low for other ways to create html including LaTeX2HTML. All had their drawbacks.

Enter Markdown. This really changed my life as far as webpage creation is concerned. Here is a format that one can easily convert to html and is as pleasing to write as an anonymous hate mail to your boss (markdown’s format is based on email conventions). To convert markdown to html one just uses the script. However my favourite converter is the swiss army knife for format conversion pandoc. Pandoc is a program that can inter convert between various text formats much like the convert for image formats. This means that if you already have an existing homepage you can use pandoc to first convert it into markdown, edit it and then reconvert to html. Pandoc also supports much needed extensions like the inline math a la LaTeX, a horror if one has to do it using MathML.

Pandoc is not just a text format converter. It comes with a supporting Haskell library which can be used to program specialised converters if needed.