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Pretty Awesome (and Necessary) Documentation Assembly--A total documentation build system for technical writers, and those who want to be like them.
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Panda Docs

What's black and white and read all over?

Panda reading a newspaper

This is a documentation build system that takes Markdown files as sources, and produces HTML files. It runs on Node.js, and uses Jade as its templating engine.

A lot of the concepts are based on maximebf's "beautiful-docs", but there are so many differences--the most notable being that this is in Javascript, not Coffeescript--that I decided to turn it into a complete fork.



Make sure you have a recent build of Node.js (this was tested on v0.6.0). Install it using npm:

npm install panda-docs -g

Want to try a demonstration? Then clone this repository, and run

node bin/panda-docs src/manifest.json 

That'll turn this README into a better looking HTML file in the /out directory.


panda-docs </path/to/manifest.json> _[options]_ 

The manifest.json file is mandatory, and all other options are optional. The default output directory here is ./out.

If you'd like to use panda-docs in a script, you can! Simply define one like this:

var options = {
    title: "Panda (from script)"

panda.make("./src/manifest.json", options, function(err, cbReturn) {
    if (err) {

You can find out more information on options you can use below:

Manifest Files

A manifest file is a mandatory JSON file that indicates where your source files reside, as well as specifing customization options for your documentation pages.

A manifest file can have the properties listed below. All the properties are optional, with the exception of files.

  • files: An array defining the path to your files
  • resources: An array of directories to also copy into the /out directory. This is usually used for accompanying or inline images.
  • extension: The extension of your Markdown files. Some people use .md, others .markdown, and still others .text. This is optional, and defaults to .md.
  • home: The file to display as the manual homepage (this won't show up in the TOC)
  • codeHighlightTheme: The name of the highlightjs theme to use for code highlighting (defaults to 'github')

As noted above, files can either be absolute URIs, or relative to the manifest file. For example:

    "files": ["", "../../"]

Note that every file must have ONE h1 tag. This is used to generate the page's title information.


There are a number of arguments you can pass to Panda that affect the entire build. They are:

  • -h, --help` Show this help message and exit.
  • -v, --version Show program's version number and exit.
  • -o PATH, --output PATH Resulting file(s) location [out]
  • -oa PATH, --outputAssets PATH Resulting file(s) location for assets [out/assets]
  • -tSTRING,--title STRING` Title of the index page [Panda: Default Title Here]
  • --template PATH The location of your primary Jade template [./templates/default/layout.jade]
  • --assets PATH The location of your asset files (CSS, Javascript, e.t.c.) [./templates/default/assets]
  • -d, --disableTests Disables the test suite that runs at the end of an HTML build. This is NOT recommended.
  • -nr, --noRelease If set, indicates that you're not doing a release
  • --keepFirstHeader If set, keeps the first header (

    ) detected

  • --baseUrl STRING Base url of all links [./]

Jade Templates

You have to specify at least one Jade file as a template for your pages. Within your Jade template, you have access to the following variables:

  • content is the transformed HTML content of your Markdown file
  • metadata is an object containing your document-based metadata values
  • manifest is an object containing the Manifest.json properties
  • toh is an object containing the headings for each file (h1, h2, e.t.c.). See below for more information on this object.
  • headingTable is a function you can use to generate a list of your page's table of contents. See below for more information on using this
  • options is an object containing your passed in properties
  • fileName is the name of the resulting file (without the extension)
  • title is the title of the documentation
  • pageTitle is the title of the current page
  • mtime indicates the last modified time of your source file

Callback Results

The callback for panda returns a JSON with one key: files, which is a listing of all the files generated. files is an array of objects, containing the following keys:

  • filename: the filename (minus the suffix)
  • mtime: the last modified time of your source file
  • pageTitle: the title of the page (text only, meaning minus any # or <h1> indicators)

You could use this information to provide a list of Recently Updated content--which is exactly what the Cloud9 IDE User Documentation does.

Working with a Table of Contents for a Page

The toh object has the following structure:

    rank: 1,                   // the hierarchy in the toc (based on h1, h2, ..., h6)
    name: "My first header",   // the content of the header
    link: "#my-first-header",  // a direct internal url to be used
    line: 0                    // the line number in the original markdown file
    text: "# My first header"  // the actual Markdown header text
  }, {
    rank: 2,
    name: "Subtitle",
    link: "#subtitle",
    line: 4
  }, {
    rank: 4,
    name: "Minor Header",
    link: "#minor-header",
    line: 25
    rank: 2,
    name: "Another Subtitle!",
    link: "#another-subtitle",
    line: 58

Each non-h1 header is also automatically an anchor. The resulting HTML for an H2 called "Testing Your Highlighter" looks like this:

<h2 id="testing-your-highlighter">
    <a class="heading_anchor" href="#testing-your-highlighter"></a>
    <i class="headerLinkIcon"></i>
    Testing Your Highlighter

You can add an icon for headerLinkIcon to make it more discoverable, i.e. by using something from Font Awesome.

Finally, you also have access to a function, called headingTable, that automatically generates a table of contents for each page's heading. The resulting HTML produced by this function might look like this:

<ol class="tocContainer level_1">
    <li class="tocItem level_2">
        <a href="#defining-a-mode">Defining a Mode</a>
    <li class="tocItem level_2">
        <a href="#defining-syntax-highlighting-rules">Defining Syntax Highlighting Rules</a>
        <ol class="tocContainer level_2">
            <li class="tocItem level_3">
                <a href="#defining-tokens">Defining Tokens</a>
            <li class="tocItem level_3">
                <a href="#defining-regular-expressions">Defining Regular Expressions</a>
                <ol class="tocContainer level_3">
                    <li class="tocItem level_4">
                        <a href="#groupings">Groupings</a>
    <li class="tocItem level_2">
        <a href="#defining-states">Defining States</a>
    <li class="tocItem level_2">
        <a href="#code-folding">Code Folding</a>

Basically, every sub-heading is nested underneath a parent heading of larger size. In the example above, we have a page with an <h2> tag called "Defining a Mode", followed by another <h2>, "Defining Syntax Highlighting Rules", which itself is followed by two <h3> tags, "Defining Tokens" and "Defining Regular Expressions." The last <h3> has an <h4> called "Groupings." We then go back to some regular old <h2> tags.

This generated table always ignores the <h1> tag. You can customize it by by embedding the following signature into your Jade template:

headingTable(toh, maxLevel, classes)


  • toh is your page's toh object
  • maxLevel is optional, and refers to the maximum heading number you want to display; this defaults to 4. Basically, any h tag greater than this number is ignored
  • classes is optional, and it's an array of two strings. The first is a class that applies to all the <ol> tags; the second applies to the <li> tags. Every <ol> and <li> automatically gets a level_<POSITION> class that is set to the current item's position

Thus, to generate the above, your Jade template might go:

!= headingTable(toh, 5, ['tocContainer', 'tocItem'])
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