Easy ebook packaging with Ruby
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Bindery Build Status

Bindery is a Ruby library for packaging ebooks.

Electronic book formats are typically rather simple. An EPUB book, for example, is just HTML, CSS, and some image files packed into a single zip file along with various bits of metadata. But there are numerous tricky details, and a lot of redundancy in the metadata. Bindery aims to simplify the process, while stopping short of being a full ebook authoring system.

To use Bindery, you write a simple Ruby program that describes the book's structure and important metadata. This program is also responsible for identifying the HTML files that correspond to the book's chapters; those files might already exist, but the program can generate them on the fly as well. Then, you simply run that program to generate the book.

Initially, Bindery will support generating the EPUB format. I'll work to add support for other formats when EPUB support is working well.


Here is a quick example of a Bindery program.

require 'bindery'
require 'active_support'
require 'maruku'

Bindery.book do |b|
  b.output 'anthology'
  b.format :epub
  b.title "The Great Elbonian Novel"
  b.language 'en'
  b.url 'http://glv.github.com/bindery/books/example'
  b.author 'Glenn Vanderburg'
  b.frontmatter 'Preface', 'pref.xhtml'
  b.chapter 'Introduction', 'intro.xhtml' 
  # process a collection of files called "chapter_1.md"
  Dir['*.md'].sort.each do |file_name|
    stem = file_name.sub(/\.md$/, '')
    output_file_name = "#{stem}.xhtml_gen"
    system %{markdown <#{file_name} >#{output_file_name}}
    b.chapter stem.humanize, output_file_name
  # an alternative way to process chapters, assuming the chapters use
  # Maruku's metadata support and contain the chapter title.  (Maruku
  # is a Ruby Markdown library that supports numerous common extensions
  # to the basic Markdown syntax.)
  Dir['*.maruku'].sort.each do |file_name|
    output_file_name = file_name.sub(/\.maruku$/, '.xhtml_gen')
    doc = Maruku.new(IO.read(file_name))
    open(output_file_name, "w") {|os| os.write(doc.to_html)}
    b.chapter doc.attributes[:title], output_file_name
  b.backmatter 'Colophon' # filename assumed to be colophon.xhtml


Bindery is currently limited to generating EPUB books.

It is also in a very early stage. It's capable of generating very simple books, but many features (including the frontmatter and backmatter methods in the example above) do not work yet. But the basics are there, and contributions are welcome.

Generated EPUB books will be valid according to epubcheck except perhaps for chapter content. EPUB places some additional restrictions on XHTML and CSS, and if the supplied chapter content violates those restrictions then the EPUB file will be invalid. Most EPUB readers are fairly permissive about such things, but some are more particular. I plan to build support for tidying up the XHTML and CSS and eliminating invalid constructs, but at the moment that's a low priority.

Planned features include:

  • options for sections (with and without section title pages) rather than just a flat chapter structure.
  • additional metadata including all of Dublin Core.
  • title and cover pages
  • support for multiple stylesheets
  • support for generating Mobipocket books

When to use Bindery

There are other systems for generating ebooks; git-scribe is one of the best. However most ebook generation systems prescribe a particular authoring format or tool. For example, git-scribe assumes you will be using AsciiDoc and Git, and is additionally optimized for use on GitHub. Other systems are designed to work with proprietary tools such as Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign. Each such format or tool has strengths and weaknesses. For example, while AsciiDoc is an excellent tool for writing technical books, it's less well suited for novels, memoirs, or poetry. For such tasks (and depending on your personal preferences) it may be better to write in Markdown or Textile.

More importantly, requiring a specific format makes an ebook system difficult to use for a book that includes existing material being republished or repurposed.

Imagine that, like Joel Spolsky, you want to publish an anthology of your best blog posts, or a collection of the best software writing from around the web. Or, like Steven Johnson, you write carefully researched books that weave together threads from many fields and disciplines, so you write and collect research in a sophisticated research management tool like DEVONthink (Johnson has written two articles describing his research and writing methods). Or perhaps you simply want to read through the SproutCore Guides, but your spare time is fragmented (and usually occurs when you're on an airplane) so you want to convert them to an ebook format so they're always available and your ebook reader will keep track of how far you've read. (For that matter, if you're part of an effort like SproutCore and have great online material like that, Bindery might be the easiest way to package it up into a handy offline format.)

In any of those cases, the writing will exist in a format that probably doesn't match what existing ebook generation systems expect, and in some cases it will already be in the HTML format that all popular ebook formats are based on.

Bindery is designed to support those use cases, not just brand new books written with a particular toolchain in mind. If you want to publish in both electronic and paper formats, Bindery is probably not for you. Bindery is targeted at electronic books only.


In February 2013, about a year and a half after initially writing Bindery, I discovered the Python Epub Builder, written by (apparently) Bin Tan. It was more complete than Bindery was at the time, and it inspired me to work on Bindery again, and gave me some valuable ideas.