An implementation of markdown for Cocoa, using a PEG grammar
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What is this?

This is an implementation of John Gruber's markdown for Cocoa. It uses a parsing expression grammar (PEG) to define the syntax. This should allow easy modification and extension. It currently supports output in HTML, LaTeX, or groff_mm formats, and adding new formats is relatively easy.

It is pretty fast. A 179K text file that takes 5.7 seconds for (v. 1.0.1) to parse takes less than 0.2 seconds for this markdown. It does, however, use a lot of memory (up to 4M of heap space while parsing the 179K file, and up to 80K for a 4K file). (Note that the memory leaks in earlier versions of this program have now been plugged.)

Both a library and a standalone program are provided.

peg-markdown is written and maintained by John MacFarlane (jgm on github), with significant contributions by Ryan Tomayko (rtomayko). It is released under both the GPL and the MIT license; see LICENSE for details. peg-markdown was adapted for Cocoa by David Whetstone.



peg-markdown supports extensions to standard markdown syntax. These can be turned on using the command line flag -x or --extensions. -x by itself turns on all extensions. Extensions can also be turned on selectively, using individual command-line options. To see the available extensions:

./markdown --help-extensions

The --smart extension provides "smart quotes", dashes, and ellipses.

The --notes extension provides a footnote syntax like that of Pandoc or PHP Markdown Extra.

Using the library

The library exports two functions:

NSString * markdown_to_nsstring(NSString *text, int extensions, int output_format);
char * markdown_to_string(NSString *text, int extensions, int output_format);

The only difference between these is that markdown_to_nsstring returns an autoreleased NSString (Cocoa's string class), while markdown_to_string returns a regular character pointer. The memory allocated for the latter is good until the enclosing pool is drained.

text is the markdown-formatted text to be converted. Note that tabs will be converted to spaces, using a four-space tab stop. Character encodings are ignored.

extensions is a bit-field specifying which syntax extensions should be used. If extensions is 0, no extensions will be used. If it is 0xFFFFFF, all extensions will be used. To set extensions selectively, use the bitwise & operator and the following constants:

  • EXT_SMART turns on smart quotes, dashes, and ellipses.
  • EXT_NOTES turns on footnote syntax. Pandoc's footnote syntax is used here.
  • EXT_FILTER_HTML filters out raw HTML (except for styles).
  • EXT_FILTER_STYLES filters out styles in HTML.

output_format is either HTML_FORMAT, LATEX_FORMAT, or GROFF_MM_FORMAT.

To use the library, include markdown_lib.h. See markdown.m for an example.


It should be pretty easy to modify the program to produce other formats than HTML or LaTeX, and to parse syntax extensions. A quick guide:

  • markdown_parser.leg contains the grammar itself.

  • markdown_output.m contains functions for printing the Element structure in various output formats.

  • To add an output format, add the format to markdown_formats in markdown_lib.h. Then modify print_element in markdown_output.m, and add functions print_XXXX_string, print_XXXX_element, and print_XXXX_element_list. Also add an option in the main program that selects the new format. Don't forget to add it to the list of formats in the usage message.

  • To add syntax extensions, define them in the PEG grammar (markdown_parser.leg), using existing extensions as a guide. New inline elements will need to be added to Inline =; new block elements will need to be added to Block =. (Note: the order of the alternatives does matter in PEG grammars.)

  • If you need to add new types of elements, modify the keys enum in markdown_peg.h.

  • By using &{ } rules one can selectively disable extensions depending on command-line options. For example, &{ extension(EXT_SMART) } succeeds only if the EXT_SMART bit of the global syntax_extensions is set. Add your option to markdown_extensions in markdown_lib.h, and add an option in markdown.m to turn on your extension.

  • Note: Avoid using [^abc] character classes in the grammar, because they cause problems with non-ascii input. Instead, use: ( !'a' !'b' !'c' . )