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The following is a **rough description* of the current Mint design, along with my future plans for the library and tool. When I have time, I'll move this into official documentation. The templates are not finished, and I haven't finished the plugin system. That said, I'm excited about where this library is going to go.*

Mint requires Ruby 1.9.

If I believed in slogans...

Mint is a publishing platform for people who want to store their documents as plain text without giving up proper layout or the ability to share with friends.

I don't actually believe in tag lines, but if Mint were to have one, it might be one of these:

  • Value your words. Leave the formatting up to us.
  • Reuse your ideas. Reuse your formats. Keep them Mint fresh.
  • Mint once, remix as needed.

Introduction

Mint is an agile, lightweight solution for your documents.

Mint manages your documents in a decentralized but consistent way. It frees you from bloated word processors. Mint brings together standards and common templating languages for a clean, agile approach to documents. It uses HTML outside of the web. Leverages text for loads of different views. Keeps your data and formatting separate. In a word: simplifies. In a couple of words: kicks ass.

In a few more: Mint processes words so you don't have to.

Use cases

  1. Jake has text files formatted as Markdown-style text. He has traditionally published these as blog entries, which works well because his webserver takes care of processing the Markdown, generating HTML, and styling it with his static CSS. Jake has no way of visualizing his documents without a webserver running. He likes the convenience of centralized CSS styles that he can update once and cascade everywhere. He does not like depending on a webserver for static pages, i.e., his local documents. Jake wants a document management system where source files are written in Markdown but are "printed" into HTML and styled with centralized sheets he creates himself. In some cases, he merely wants to tweak the typography settings of a solid existing style. Above all, he wants simplicity: he does not want to have to put his documents into a certain structure in order for them to be rendered. And he wants default styles so that he doesn't have to create them on his own.

  2. Donna has traditionally used a WYSIWYG word processor to create, edit, version, and present ideas in her personal and school life (not work). She wants her documents to exist forever without breaking standards: she wants them to be completely future-proof. Therefore, she wants to migrate away from her proprietary word processor. (Even non-proprietary word processors are really too heavyweight for her text-centered documents.) She wants a migration tool to make the initial conversion. Interoperability with other people is not required. As long as she can view and print formatted documents, keeping source files as plain text, she is happy.

  3. Marina wants to convert all her proprietary processed documents to Markdown for future compatibility, but wants to share these documents with friends at work. Interoperability is important here. The friends should be able to easily view and edit and annotate all documents. Marina will be happiest if she has a simple GUI that can export documents to an open-source document format that's interoperable with word processors.

  4. Santosh stores his blog entries in Markdown and wants to see how they look using his blog engine's stylesheet. He doesn't want to upload his entry until he's finished with it, but he wants to preview it with that stylesheet along the way.

The Mint library

This section discusses the Mint library API. This library encapsulates the idea of a styled document, which is composed of a stylesheet, a layout and content. Mint makes combining those seemless. See The mint command for more information on an easy-to-use binary.

A basic Mint document

Mint is loaded with smart defaults, so if you don't want to configure something--say, the basic HTML skeleton of your document or the output directory--you don't have to. You'll probably be surprised at how easy it is to use out of the box, and how configurable it is.

document = Document.new 'Minimalism.md'
document.publish!

And voilà, Minimalism.html will show up next to Minimalism.md.

Opening Minimalism.html with your favorite web browser--Firefox is best for typography, but Webkit-based browsers (Chrome, Safari) work, too--will show what looks like a word-processed document, complete with big bold headers, italic emphasis, automatically indented and numbered lists, and bullets. If you're in a modern browser, you'll even see ligatures and proper kerning. The page will be on a white canvas that looks like a page, even though you are in a browser.

Sending that page to a printer is as easy as clicking "Print" from your browser. What comes out of your printer will have a 12 pt base font, normal margins, and a not-too-cramped baseline. (Ah the wonder of print stylesheets.)

If you want to customize your document, though--and that's why I built this library--Mint makes that easy.

Customizing Mint

To understand how the library works, with and without configuration, it is helpful to look at the options you can pass to the library and what their defaults are.

You can change a document by passing it one of several options.

Layout and style

:layout and :style are names of templates or file names. They can be overridden by :template, which sets both to the same name.

Defaults:

:template => 'default'

Notes:

  1. If you specify a template name here, Mint will search its paths in order (see The Mint Path for more details) for a template with that name. A template file looks like the following:

    MINT_PATH/templates/template_name/style.css MINT_PATH/templates/template_name/layout.haml

  2. If you specify a template name that is also the name of an existing file in your working directory, Mint will use the file and not look for a template. (It is unlikely you'll have an extension-less file named 'normal' or 'default' in your working directory, so don't worry about this edge case.) If you do specify an existing file, the path/file will be resolved from the directory where you're calling Mint (the 'working directory'). To use Mint this way (and I don't see this as more than a temporary solution) you'll probably want to call Mint from within your source's directory. Alternatively, you can use Dir.chdir for the same effect.

Destination

:destination lets you organize your output. It directs Mint to write the template or document to one of root's subdirectories. There is an option to specify a separate :style_destination, which is resolved relative to :destination.

Defaults:

:destination => nil
:style_destination => nil

Notes:

  1. :destination must refer to a directory (existing or not) and not a file.

  2. :style_destination is resolved relative to :destination so that packaging styles inside document directories is easy. (This supports the common case where you will want a subdirectory called 'styles' to hold your style files.) When :style_destination is nil (default), the stylesheet will not be copied anywhere. Instead, your document will link to the rendered stylesheet in place. If it needs to be rendered, it will be rendered into a subdirectory called 'css' so that the rendered document isn't picked up the next time you specify the same style.

Examples

At this point, a couple of examples may be useful.

The following are possible:

include Mint
content = 'Minimalism.md'

Document.new content
Document.new content, :destination => 'output', 
  :style => 'serif-pro'
Document.new content, :style => Style.new(:normal)

Style.new 'normal'
Style.new :normal
Style.new '~/Sites/Common Styles/normal.css', 
  :destination => 'styles'
Style.new '~/Sites/Common Styles/normal.css', 
  :style_destination => 'inline'
Style.new 'Common Styles/normal.css'

If block-style initiation is your thing:

Document.new content do |d|
  d.destination = 'final'
  d.template = 'resume'
end

Block-style indentation passes the block to you after initializing the document with default values. So you do not need to worry about specifying each argument. Anything you specify will override what is already there.

Designing a template

Templates can be written in any format accepted by the Tilt template interface library. (See the Tilt TEMPLATES file for more information.)

Templates are rendered in the context of the document they are "about", so Mint documents give you convenience methods you can easily use in your templates.

Place your content, point to your styles

In Mint layouts, Ruby calls are sparse but necessary.

If you're designing a layout, you need to indicate where Mint should place your content. For that simple reason, raw HTML files cannot be layouts. Instead, if you want to use HTML templates, you should use the ERB format. These files are essentially HTML with the possibility for Ruby calls. You can even use the .html extension for your files. Just code the dynamic portion using ERB syntax.

Inside your template, use the content method to place your source's content.

You will want to point to your document's stylesheet (via a relative URL) from within your layout, usually in the <head/> element. Use the stylesheet method.

So if you're writing your layout using ERB, the template might look like this:

<!doctype html>
<html>
  <head>
    <link rel='stylesheet' href='<%= stylesheet %>' />
  </head>

  <body>
    <div id='container'>
      <%= content %>
    </div>
  </body>
</html>

The same layout in Haml would be:

!!!
%html
  %head
    %link(rel='stylesheet' href=stylesheet)

  %body
    #container= content

Style your content

You can build stylesheets using CSS, SASS/SCSS or Less. They will always be compiled. They will only be copied, though, if you specify a style destination.

Mint comes preloaded with several styles and layouts.

  1. Default
  2. Zen
  3. Resume*
  4. Protocol
  5. Protocol Flow* - requires Javascript and jQuery

Note: Starred entries are not yet implemented. If you have a killer template you think should be included, send it my way. I'll check it out and see if it should be part of the standard template library. (Of course, you'll get all the credit.)

I've included a base stylesheet that is useful for setting sensible typographic defaults.

The Mint path

Mint's path tells the library where to search for named templates. It can be useful for other things, too, especially for extensions and tools that use the library (for example, for storing config files for the mint command). The Mint path is flexible and something that you can modify, even from the command line. (Just export MINT_PATH=your:colon-separated-paths:here. Just make sure to specify higher-priority paths before lower-priority ones.)

So here's the rundown.

When you name a layout or style with a string or symbol, Mint will first search the current directory for that file or file path. If that file does not exist, Mint will search its path in order until it finds the appropriate template. If no template is found, it will fall back to the default template.

The default Mint path (in order) is:

  • the current working directory
  • ${HOME}/.mint
  • /usr/share/mint (or whatever your system uses for system-wide configuration - Mint will make a smart guess)
  • the Mint gem directory (which holds the Mint-approved templates)

Templates should be in a directory named templates. Inside this directory, there should be a subdirectory for each template:

  • MINT_PATH/templates/normal/style.sass
  • MINT_PATH/templates/normal/layout.haml

Normally a style will go best with its layout complement. However, layouts and styles can be mixed and matched at your discretion. This is especially true where you are primarily customizing DOM elements with your stylesheet instead of targeting specific IDs or classes you're expecting to find. (In other words, this works best when your stylesheet focuses on modifying typography and not page layout.)

The mint command

The basic mint command

The easiest Mint command doesn't require configuration. It will transform the specified document into HTML and link it to the default stylesheet.

mint publish Minimalism.md

You can throw as many files as you'd like in. Any commandline argument not preceded by an option (e.g., --template) or in the mint command vocabulary (more on that in a minute) will be interpreted as a file name:

mint publish Minimalism.md Proposal.md Protocol.md

This command can be tweaked with options and arguments to be more flexible:

mint Minimalism.md --template resume  # specifies a style template
mint Minimalism.md --destination final --style-destination=styles

Mint options & shortcuts

The following correspond to the parameters you can pass to Mint::Document.new, as described in The Mint library:

  • --template, -t
  • --layout, -l
  • --style, -s
  • --destination, -d
  • --style-destination, -n

There are also scoping options, both for the set and edit commands:

  • --global, -G
  • --user, -U
  • --local, -L

If you've used MINT_PATH to set up Mint, then you should be aware that --local refers to the first element, --user refers to the second, and --global refers to the third.

Other options have nothing to do with document configuration but are there for convenience:

  • --verbose, -v - will output all rendering results
  • --simulation, -s - will not actually render any files

mint command vocabulary

Not all commandline arguments will be read as files. mint has a certain vocabulary that you can use, for example, to manipulate configuration options or edit layout files.

Currently, the mint vocabulary consists of set, edit, and config. (Coming soon: install and package.)

mint configuration

mint is capable of using config files to harness the power of convention without sacrificing the flexibility of configuration. You can configure mint on a global, user-wide, or local (directory-specific) scale to avoid passing commandline options every time you call mint.

To set a local (directory-specific) configuration option, call mint set:

mint set [--local] template=serif-professional

This will create (or update) a config file: ./.mint/config.yml

It will contain:

template: serif-professional

From now on, calling mint in this directory will automatically draw on this option. (Commandline options will override any file-based options.)

You can also set user-wide options:

mint set --user template=professional

Doing so will create the same style config file, but in your system's user-wide configuration location:

  • In Linux and other FHS-compliant systems, and on Mac OS X this will be in ~/.mint/config.yaml
  • In Windows, this will be (somewhere dumb...)

Finally, you can set global options for all users:

mint set --global template=normal

This configuration affects all users and will be put somewhere appropriate:

  • In Linux and on other FHS-compliant systems, this will be in /usr/share/mint
  • On Mac OS X, this is going to land somewhere yet to be determined, possibly inside of /Library/Application Support/Mint or /usr/share/mint -- I haven't decided
  • On Windows, this will end up (somewhere dumber than before)

These options give you the power to unify a directory or user or all users under a certain default layout and style. These options are all overridden via commandline options and only provide defaults so that you can save typing common commands. mint selects the most specific option possible, starting with the commandline, then checking local the config file, and finally moving to the user-wide and global config files.

If configuration options get complicated, it may be useful to list all active defaults, with more specific options replacing more general ones per above:

mint config

Editing files in a project

Inside of a directory, you can edit any stylesheet or document template that would normally be used in your current context without delving into the Mint templates directories, except of course the default templates provided with Mint.

# Selects the first template in your path with the appropriate name:
mint edit --layout my-fun-layout
mint edit --style snazzy-styles

# Selects the template from a specified context
mint edit user --layout my-fun-layout

Mint will open the appropriate file in the editor specified by EDITOR. The same short forms listed earlier apply here:

mint edit -l normal
mint edit -s normal

The future of Mint

This section documents features that do not yet exist, but that I would like to have in future versions of Mint.

Composed styles

Not everyone wants to code an entire stylesheet every time he wants a new look. In fact, the most common use case for stylesheets is probably tweaking typography. For this reason (and to make this tool as accessible as possible), I want to implement a feature where you can select one stylesheet as a base and implement tweaks on top of that file, using a Yaml-based DSL. Of course CSS makes this easy enough, but I want to implement this feature in such a way that it is easy and intuitive for everyone.

Packages

Sometimes, it may be useful to "finalize" the design of a document, for example, with publications. The best way I can think of to do this is to package the document's output file with its style inline. To do so, simply add the package option:

# Note: I haven't implemented this yet 
mint package document.md
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