Tutorial: Writing Extensions for Python Markdown

Nebulosar edited this page Apr 25, 2018 · 13 revisions

Introduction

In addition to providing a number of built-in extensions, Python-Markdown provides an application programming interface (API) which allows anyone to write their own extensions to alter the existing behavior and/or add new behavior. As the API Documentation can be a little overwhelming when starting out, the following tutorial will step you through the process of getting a simple extension working, then adding more features to it. Various steps will be repeated in different ways to demonstrate various parts of the API.

First, we need to establish the syntax we will be implementing. Rather than re-implement any existing Markdown syntax, lets create some different syntax that is not typical of Markdown. In fact, we'll implement a subset of the inline syntax used by the txt2tags markup language. The syntax looks like this:

  • Two hyphens for strike: --del-- => <del>del</del> => del
  • Two underscores for underline: __ins__ => <ins>ins</ins> => ins
  • Two asterisks for bold: **strong** => <strong>strong</strong> => strong.
  • Two slashes for italic: //emphasis// => <em>emphasis</em> => emphasis.

Boilerplate Code

The first step is to create the boilerplate code that will be required by any Python-Markdown Extension.

Warning: This tutorial is very generic and makes no assumptions about your development environment. Some of the commands below may generate errors on some (but not all) systems unless they are run by a user who has the correct permissions. To avoid these types of issues, it is suggested that virtualenv be used for development in an environment isolated from your primary system; although doing so is certainly not required. As setting up an appropriate development environment applies to any Python development (developing Markdown extensions adds no additional requirements), it is beyond the scope of this tutorial. A basic understanding of Python development is expected.

First create a new directory to save your extension files to. From the commandline do the following:

mkdir myextension
cd myextension

Be sure to save all files within the "myextension" directory you just created. Note that we are naming the extension "myextension". You may use a different name, but be sure to use whatever name you chose consistently throughout.

Create the first Python file, name it myextension.py, and add the following boilerplate code to it:

from markdown.extensions import Extension

class MyExtension(Extension):
   def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
       # Insert code here to change markdown's behavior.
       pass

After saving that file, create a second Python file, name it setup.py, and add the following code to it:

from setuptools import setup
setup(
    name='myextension',
    version='1.0',
    py_modules=['myextension'],
    install_requires = ['markdown>=2.5'],
)

Finally, from the commandline run the following command to tell Python about your new extension:

python setup.py develop

Note that the develop subcommand was run rather than the install subcommand. As the plugin isn't finished yet, this special development mode sets up the path to run the plugin from the source file rather than Python's site-packages directory. That way, any changes made to the file will immediately take effect with no need to re-install the extension.

Also note that the setup script expects that setuptools is installed. While setuptools is not necessary (just do from distutils.core import setup instead), we only get the develop subcommand if we use setuptools. Any system which has pip and/or virtualenv installed (both recommended) will also have setuptools installed.

To ensure that everything is working correctly, try passing the extension to Markdown. Open a python interpreter and try the following:

>>> import markdown
>>> from myextension import MyExtension
>>> markdown.markdown('foo bar', extensions=[MyExtension()])
'<p>foo bar</p>'

Obviously, the extension doesn't do anything useful, but now that we have it in place with no errors, we can actually start implementing our new syntax.

Using Generic Patterns

To start, let's implement the one part of that syntax that doesn't overlap with Markdown's standard syntax; the --del-- syntax, which will wrap the text in <del> tags.

The first step is to write a regular expression to match the del syntax.

DEL_RE = r'(--)(.*?)--'

Note that the first set of hyphens ((--)) are grouped in parentheses. This is because we will be using a generic pattern class provided by Python-Markdown. Specifically, the SimpleTextPattern which expects the text content to be found in group(3) of the regular expression. As the entire text (including markup) will be in group(1), we add the extra group to force the content we want intogroup(3).

Also note that the content is matched using a non-greedy match (.*?). Otherwise, everything between the first occurrence and the last would all be placed inside one <del> tag, which we do not want.

So, let's incorporate our regular expression into Markdown:

from markdown.extensions import Extension
from markdown.inlinepatterns import SimpleTagPattern

DEL_RE = r'(--)(.*?)--'
    
class MyExtension(Extension):
    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        # Create the del pattern
        del_tag = SimpleTagPattern(DEL_RE, 'del')
        # Insert del pattern into markdown parser
        md.inlinePatterns.add('del', del_tag, '>not_strong')

If you noticed, we added two lines. The first line creates an instance of a markdown.inlinepatterns.SimpleTagPattern. This generic pattern class takes two arguments; the regular expression to match against (in this case DEL_RE), and the name of the tag to insert the text of group(3) into ('del').

The second line adds our new pattern to the Markdown parser. In the event that it is not obvious, the extendMarkdown method of any markdown.Extension class is passed two arguments; "md" and "md_globals". "md" is the instance of the Markdown class we want to modify. In this case, we are inserting a new inline pattern named 'del', using our pattern instance del_tag after the pattern named "not_strong" (thus the '>not_strong').

Now let's test our new extension. Open a python interpreter and try the following:

>>> import markdown
>>> from myextension import MyExtension
>>> markdown.markdown('foo --deleted-- bar', extensions=[MyExtension()])
'<p>foo <del>deleted</del> bar</p>'

Notice that we imported the MyExtension class from the 'myextension' module. We then passed an instance of that class to the extensions keyword of markdown.markdown. We can also see the HTML returned, which would display in the browser as:

foo deleted bar

Let's add our syntax for __ins__, which will use the <ins> tag.

DEL_RE = r'(--)(.*?)--'
INS_RE = r'(__)(.*?)__'
    
class MyExtension(Extension):
    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        del_tag = SimpleTagPattern(DEL_RE, 'del')
        md.inlinePatterns.add('del', del_tag, '>not_strong')
        ins_tag = SimpleTagPattern(INS_RE, 'ins')
        md.inlinePatterns.add('ins', ins_tag, '>del')

That should be self explanatory. We simply created a new pattern which matches our 'ins' syntax and added it after the 'del' pattern.

We could be done with the 'ins' syntax, except that we now have two possible results defined for text surrounded by double underscores. Recall that Markdown's existing bold syntax (__bold__) is still defined in the parser. However, as our new insert syntax was inserted in the inlinePatterns before the bold pattern, the insert pattern runs first and consumes the double underscore markup before the bold pattern ever has a chance to find it. Even so, the existing bold pattern is still being run against the text and slowing down the parser unnecessarily. Therefore, it is always good practice to remove any parts that are no longer needed.

However, as we will be defining our own new bold syntax, we can actually override or replace the old pattern with our new one. The same applies to our emphasis pattern.

First, we need to define our new regular expressions. We can use the same expressions from last time with a few modifications.

STRONG_RE = r'(\*\*)(.*?)\*\*'
EMPH_RE = r'(\/\/)(.*?)\/\/'

Now we need to insert these into the markdown parser. However, unlike with insert and delete, we need to override the existing inline patterns. Markdown's strong and emphasis syntax is currently implemented with five inline patterns; 'strong', 'emphasis', 'emphasis2', 'strong_em', and 'em_strong'.

Let's override 'strong' first.

class MyExtension(Extension):
    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        ...
        # Create new strong pattern
        strong_tag = SimpleTagPattern(STRONG_RE, 'strong')
        # Override existing strong pattern
        md.inlinePatterns['strong'] = strong_tag

Notice that rather than "add"ing a new pattern before or after an existing pattern, we simple reassigned the value of a pattern named 'strong'. This is because the old pattern named 'strong' already existed and we don't need to change its location in the parser. So we simply assign a new pattern instance to it.

We can do the same for 'emphasis':

class MyExtension(Extension):
    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        ...
        emph_tag = SimpleTagPattern(EMPH_RE, 'emphasis')
        md.inlinePatterns['emphasis'] = emph_tag

Now we have three old patterns left, 'emphasis2', 'strong_em' and 'em_strong'. The 'Emphasis2' pattern was just a special case so that under_scored_words were not mistaken for emphasis, but as our new syntax requires double underscores, it's not needed any more. Therefore, we can delete it. The same applies for 'strong_em' and 'em_strong'. With the Markdown syntax, due to both strong and emphasis using the same characters, special cases were needed to match the two nested together (i.e.: ***like this*** or ***like*this**). Again this isn't needed for our new syntax. We can delete the three in the same way we would delete dict items:

class MyExtension(markdown.Extension):
    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        ...
        del md.inlinePatterns['strong_em']
        del md.inlinePatterns['em_strong']
        del md.inlinePatterns['emphasis2']

That implements all of our new syntax. For completeness, the entire extension should look like this:

from markdown.extensions import Extension
from markdown.inlinepatterns import SimpleTagPattern

DEL_RE = r'(--)(.*?)--'
INS_RE = r'(__)(.*?)__'
STRONG_RE = r'(\*\*)(.*?)\*\*'
EMPH_RE = r'(\/\/)(.*?)\/\/'

class MyExtension(Extension):
    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        del_tag = SimpleTagPattern(DEL_RE, 'del')
        md.inlinePatterns.add('del', del_tag, '>not_strong')
        ins_tag = SimpleTagPattern(INS_RE, 'ins')
        md.inlinePatterns.add('ins', ins_tag, '>del')
        strong_tag = SimpleTagPattern(STRONG_RE, 'strong')
        md.inlinePatterns['strong'] = strong_tag
        emph_tag = SimpleTagPattern(EMPH_RE, 'emphasis')
        md.inlinePatterns['emphasis'] = emph_tag
        del md.inlinePatterns['strong_em']
        del md.inlinePatterns['em_strong']
        del md.inlinePatterns['emphasis2']

And to make sure it is working properly, run the following from the Python interpreter:

>>> import markdown
>>> from myextension import MyExtension
>>> txt = """
... Some __underline__
... Some --strike--
... Some **bold**
... Some //italics//
... """
... 
>>> markdown.markdown(txt, extensions=[MyExtension()])
"<p>Some <ins>underline</ins>\nSome <del>strike</del>\nSome <strong>bold</strong>\nSome <em>italics</em>"

Creating your own Pattern Class

However, you may notice that there is a lot of repetition in that code. In fact, all four of our new regular expressions could easily be condensed into one regular expression. And having only one pattern to run would be more performant that four.

Let's refactor our four regular expressions into one new expression:

MULTI_RE = r'([*/_-]{2})(.*?)\2'

As no generic pattern class exists that will be able to use that regular expression, we will need to define our own. All pattern classes should inherit from the markdown.inlinpatterns.Pattern base class. At the very least, our subclass should define a handleMatch method which accepts a regex MatchObject and returns an ElementTree Element.

from markdown.inlinepatterns import Pattern
from markdown util import etree

class MultiPattern(Pattern):
    def handleMatch(self, m):
        if m.group(2) == '**':
            # Bold
            tag = 'strong'
        elif m.group(2) == '//':
            # Italics
            tag = 'em'
        elif m.group(2) == '__':
            # Underline
            tag = 'ins'
        elif m.group(2) == '--':
            # Strike
            tag = 'del'
        # Create the Element
        el = etree.Element(tag)
        el.text = m.group(3)
        return el

Now we need to tell Markdown about our new pattern and delete the now unnecessary existing patterns:

class MultiExtension(Extension):
    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        # Delete the old patterns
        del md.inlinePatterns['strong']
        del md.inlinePatterns['em']
        del md.inlinePatterns['strong_em']
        del md.inlinePatterns['em_strong']
        del md.inlinePatterns['emphasis2']
        del md.inlinePatterns['not_strong']
        # Add our new MultiPattern
		multi = MultiPattern(MULTI_RE)
        md.inlinePatterns['multi'] = multi

For completeness, the newly added code should look like this:

from markdown.inlinepatterns import Pattern
from markdown.util import etree

MULTI_RE = r'([*/_-]{2})(.*?)\2'

class MultiPattern(Pattern):
    def handleMatch(self, m):
        if m.group(2) == '**':
            # Bold
            tag = 'strong'
        elif m.group(2) == '//':
            # Italics
            tag = 'em'
        elif m.group(2) == '__':
            # Underline
            tag = 'ins'
        elif m.group(2) == '--':
            # Strike
            tag = 'del'
        # Create the Element
        el = etree.Element(tag)
        el.text = m.group(3)
        return el

class MultiExtension(Extension):
    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        # Delete the old patterns
        del md.inlinePatterns['strong']
        del md.inlinePatterns['emphasis']
        del md.inlinePatterns['strong_em']
        del md.inlinePatterns['em_strong']
        del md.inlinePatterns['emphasis2']
        del md.inlinePatterns['not_strong']
        # Add our new MultiPattern
        multi = MultiPattern(MULTI_RE)
        md.inlinePatterns['multi'] = multi

After adding that code to the myextension.py file, open the Python interpreter:

>>> import markdown
>>> from myextension import MultiExtension
>>> txt = """
... Some __underline__
... Some --strike--
... Some **bold**
... Some //italics//
... """
... 
>>> markdown.markdown(txt, extensions=[MultiExtension()])
"<p>Some <ins>underline</ins>\nSome <del>strike</del>\nSome <strong>bold</strong>\nSome <em>italics</em>"

Adding Config Options

Now suppose that we want to offer some configuration options to our extension. Perhaps we want to only offer the insert and delete syntax as an option which the user can turn on and off.

To start, let's break our regular expression into two:

STRONG_EM_RE = r'([*/]{2})(.*?)\2'
INS_DEL_RE = r'([_-]{2})(.*?)\2'

Then, we need to define our config options on our new Extension subclass:

class ConfigExtension(Extension):
    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        # Define config options and defaults
        self.config = {
            'ins_del': [False, 'Enable Insert and Delete syntax.']
        }
        # Call the parent class's __init__ method to configure options
        super(ConfigExtension, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)

First, we defined our config options as a dict. The keys are the names of each option. Each value is a two item list (we can't use tuples as they are immutable and config options need to be mutable). The first item in the list is the value of the option, and the second item is a description used for documentation purposes.

Finally, refactor the extendMarkdown method to account for the config option:

    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        ...
        # Add STRONG_EM pattern
        strong_em = MultiPattern(STRONG_EM_RE)
        md.inlinePatterns['strong_em'] = strong_em
        # Add INS_DEL pattern if active
        if self.getConfig('ins_del'):
            ins_del = MultiPattern(INS_DEL_RE)
            md.inlinePatterns['ins_del'] = ins_del

We simply created one instance of our MultiPattern class for strong and emphasis, and if the 'ins_del' config option is True, we create a second instance of the MultiPattern class.

For completeness, all of the newly added code should look like this:

STRONG_EM_RE = r'([*/]{2})(.*?)\2'
INS_DEL_RE = r'([_-]{2})(.*?)\2'

class ConfigExtension(Extension):
    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        # Define config options and defaults
        self.config = {
            'ins_del': [False, 'Enable Insert and Delete syntax.']
        }
        # Call the parent class's __init__ method to configure options
        super(ConfigExtension, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)
        
    def extendMarkdown(self, md, md_globals):
        # Delete the old patterns
        del md.inlinePatterns['strong']
        del md.inlinePatterns['emphasis']
        del md.inlinePatterns['strong_em']
        del md.inlinePatterns['em_strong']
        del md.inlinePatterns['emphasis2']
        del md.inlinePatterns['not_strong']
        # Add STRONG_EM pattern
        strong_em = MultiPattern(STRONG_EM_RE)
        md.inlinePatterns['strong_em'] = strong_em
        # Add INS_DEL pattern if active
        if self.getConfig('ins_del'):
            ins_del = MultiPattern(INS_DEL_RE)
            md.inlinePatterns['ins_del'] = ins_del

After saving your changes, open the Python interpreter:

>>> import markdown
>>> from multiextension import MultiExtension
>>> txt = """
... Some __underline__
... Some --strike--
... Some **bold**
... Some //italics//
... """
... 
>>> # First try it with ins_del set to True
>>> markdown.markdown(txt, extensions=[MultiExtension(ins_del=True)])
"<p>Some <ins>underline</ins>\nSome <del>strike</del>\nSome <strong>bold</strong>\nSome <em>italics</em>"
>>> # Now try it with ins_del defaulting to False
>>> markdown.markdown(txt, extensions=[MultiExtension()])
"<p>Some __underline__\nSome --strike--\nSome <strong>bold</strong>\nSome <em>italics</em>"

Supporting Extension Names (as strings)

You may have noted that each time we tested our extension, we had to import the extension and pass in an instance of the Extension subclass. While this is the prefered way to call extensions, at times a user may need to call Markdown from the command line or a templating system, and may only be able to pass in strings.

This feature is built-in for free. However, your users will need to know and use the import path (Python dot notation) of the Extension class you defined. For example, each of the three classes we defined above would be called like this:

>>> markdown.markdown(txt, extensions=['myextension:MyExtension'])
>>> markdown.markdown(txt, extensions=['myextension:MultiExtension'])
>>> markdown.markdown(txt, extensions=['myextension:ConfigExtension'])

Note that a colon (:) must be used between the path and the Class. Whereas a dot (.) must be used for the rest of the path. Think of it as replacing the import part of the "from" import statement with the colon. For example, if you had an extension class, FooExtension, defined in the file somepackage/extensions/foo.py, then the import statement would be from somepackage.extensions.foo import FooExtension and the string based name would be 'somepackage.extensions.foo:FooExtension'.

In fact, if you created a new class in each of the steps above rather than refactoring the previous one, all three extensions could live within the same module and still all be called separately. This works great when you have built a number of extensions as part of a larger project (perhaps a CMS, a static blog generator, etc) that will only be used internally.

However, if you intend to distribute your extension as a standalone module for others to incorporate into their projects, you may want to enable support for a shorter name. No doubt, 'myextension' is easier for your users to type (and you to document) than 'myextension:MyExtension'. And as all of the built-in extensions that ship with Python-Markdown work this way, users will likely expect the same. To enable this feature, add the following to the bottom of your extension:

def makeExtension(*args, **kwargs):
    return ConfigExtension(*args, **kwargs)

Note that this module level function simply returns an instance of your Extension subclass. When Markdown is provided with a string, it expects that string to use Python's dot notation pointing to the importable path of the module. Then if no colon is found in the string, it calls the makeExtension function found in that module.

Let's test our extension by opening the python interpreter again:

>>> import markdown
>>> txt = """
... Some __underline__
... Some --strike--
... Some **bold**
... Some //italics//
... """
... 
>>> markdown.markdown(txt, extensions=['myextension'])
"<p>Some __underline__\nSome --strike--\nSome <strong>bold</strong>\nSome <em>italics</em>"

As we used the ConfigExtension above, let's pass some config options to the extension:

>>> markdown.markdown(
... 	txt, 
... 	extensions=['myextension'],
... 	extension_configs = {
... 		'myextension': {'ins_del': True}
... 	}
...	)
"<p>Some <ins>underline</ins>\nSome <del>strike</del>\nSome <strong>bold</strong>\nSome <em>italics</em>"

Notice that we got support for the extension_configs keyword with no extra work. See the documentation for a full explanation of the extension_configs keyword.

Preparing for Distribution

As a setup.py script has already been created, the most important part of preparing an extension for distribution is completed. However, the setup script was pretty basic. It is recommended that a little more metadata be included, in particular the developer's name, email address and a URL for the project (see the section Writing the Setup Script of the Python documentation for an example). It is also suggested that at a minimum README and LICENCE files be included in the directory.

At this point, you could commit your code to a version control system (such as Git, Mercurial, Subversion or Bazaar) and upload it to a host which supports your system of choice. Then your users can easily use a pip command to download and install your extension.

Or, for an even simpler command, you could upload your project to the Python Package Index. Alternatively, you could use some of the subcommands (such as sdist) available on the setup.py script to create a file (such as a zip or tar file) to provide for your users to download. While the specifics are beyond the scope of this tutorial, the Python documentation on Distributing Python Modules and the Setuptools Documentation on Building and Distributing Packages both offer explanations of the options available.

Conclusion

While this tutorial only demonstrated use of Inline Patterns, the extension API also includes support for Preprocessors, Blockprocessors, Treeprocessors and Postprocessors. Even though each type of processor serves a different purpose---running at a different stage in the parsing process---the same basic principles apply to each type of processor. In fact, a single extension can alter multiple different types of processors.

Reviewing the API Documentation and the source code of the various built-in extensions should provide you with enough information to build you own great extensions. Of course, if you would like assistance, feel free to ask for help on the mailing list. And please, don't forget to list your extensions on the wiki so other people can find them.

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