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This document specified the markdown language MDSpex with default extensions. The MDSpex processor is currently developed and not done yet. The features described in this document link to github issues at . These issues may be not closed yet, meaning that the corresponding features are not implemented yet.


MDSpex is an extensible markdown language and processor written in N4JS/JavaScript. The goal of MDSpex is to provide an unicode based language which is as readable as markdown (and compatible with [|GitHub Flavored Markdown]) and powerful enough to enable writing technical specifications, in particular for software projects. If possible, extensions are to be designed compatible with [|Asciidoc] . For the target document type, it comes with a set of predefined extensions. For mathematical formulars, Tex-like syntax is supported.

The output format of MDSpex documents is created by output processors. Although different output formats may be produced by different processors, the focus is on a single output processor creating high-quality printable HTML, using CSS and JavaScript (for screen reading).

It consists of a very small core processor which can parse block structures. This processor can be extended by so called extensions. Thus there is no clearly predefined syntax. However all extensions should follow similar syntax patterns.

An important feature of documents is linking. A reference links to a named element or a target outside the document. Elements can be nested and typed and they are referred to by name or ID. MDSpex supports the notion scoping and fully (or partially) qualified names.

The following snippet shows a simple MDSpex example using pre-defined extensions and links:

# Main

## Intro
This is an example to illustrate
* basic formattings (headings, lists etc.)
* how commands can be used
* how linking is working

## More
As described in [Intro] this is an example. The main class is >Application, it contains a method
>main. The algorithm is described in [Knuth1969]. [RPRJ-123] defines a requirement.

REQ RPRJ-123 (Version 1): Some Requirement
	This is a requirement for a project. It has a defined ID (for referencing) and is related to a task
	of some task tracker [1].
	FOOTNOTE 1: That may be Github or Jira for example.

Character Codes

Similar to Tex, MDSpex is based on the notion of characters with different categories. The following character categories are the most important once:

LETTER: a-z, A-Z, umlauts etc. 
	Spec supports unicode, and all characters with a unicode >255 are interpreted as letters by default.
OTHER: Digits, punctuation and other special characters
CMD: A command is a named extension. It must consist of a sequence of LETTER characters (the name of the command), 
	followed by a colon ':' by default. Parameters may be provided inside parenthesis. 
	A command is only recognized if an extension registered the command with the given name.
CTRL: A control sequence is an extension identified by OTHER characters. Similar to commands an extension
	must register the control sequence. Its concrete syntax then depends on the extension. 	 
ESC: '^' by default is used to enforce the following character to be either a LETTER or OTHER, but not
	a command or ctrl sequence. 
EOL: End of line, '\n' by default, '\r' is ignored (but added to EOL token)
INDENT: Tabs and four spaces at beginning of line are interpreted as indents. The number of indents
	defines the indent level of a block.
SPACE: Space character including tabs if not at beginning of line, does not contain not newline characters!

The following categories are for internal or special use, these characters cannot be occur in a document directly:

IGNORE: Ignore, character 0
INVALID: Invalid character

For mathematical formulars, a subset of Tex is supported. Since this is done similar to Tex, the following categories known from Tex are used:

TEX_ESC: Tex: Escape character in Tex, '\' by default.
TEX_BEGINGROUP:Tex: Beginning of group {
TEX_ENDGROUP: Tex: End of group }
TEX_PARAM: Tex: Parameter character #
TEX_SUPER: Tex: Superscript,  '^' by default 
TEX_SUB: Tex: Subscript '_' by default

These Tex categories are only recognized in Tex blocks, though.

Syntax notation

In the following, we use an EBNF to express the syntax rules. Due to the nature of markdown, these rules are pragmatically extended to allow for defining more flexible behavior. In general, the rules are more pseudo-rules for describing the syntax, additional constraints may alter the behavior.

We write additional constraints inside guillements (french quotation marks), including pseudo code or if certain pre- or suffixes are required (but not consumed).

The result of a rule reference may be assigned to a value.

We use upper case names for terminal tokens (identified by the lexer), and lower case rules for non-terminals identified by the parser. In many cases, the number of elements is important. We use regular-expression like syntax to restrict the number of repetitions. Additionally, elements can be assigned to variables to which we refer the rule, and we use the prefix '#' to refer to the number of repetitions.

The rules use the [Character Codes] as terminal tokens, and we define the following helper rules:


For the sake if simplicity we ignore escaped characters. An escaped character is treated as LETTER unless otherwise specified.

Document Structure

A MDSpex document consists of a elements. An element has a name and may has attributes and may contain other elements. We call the contained elements children and the container parent. Attributes have a name and a value.

Blocks are elements usually separated by empty lines. Actually it is the output processor that defined which element is rendered as a block or not, but usually this difference is already reflected in the MDSpex source code. Children are usually visualized by indentation.

The core processor creates only two kind of elements:

Paragraphs: Paragraphs have the same indentation level as their parent, separated by empty lines.
Code Blocks: Code blocks have a greater indention level as their parent, they are also separated by empty lines.
	Inside code blocks, extensions and further formatting is disabled except for certain features described below.   

Other kind of elements are created by extensions. Note that neither the name of the element nor the name of the attributes (or its values) have to explicitly exist in the source code. Instead extensions may derive these values from special syntax or the context in general.

The default document structure can be defined as follows:

REQ SPEX-101: Core document structure TASK: #1, #13 EBNF: document creates root element "mdspex": blocks«indent=0»; blocks«indent»: EMPTYLINE* block«indent» (EMPTYLINE+ block«indent»)* EMPTYLINE*; block«indent»: paragraph«indent» | codeblock«indent» | extBlock«indent»; paragraph«indent» creates "p": INDENT{indent} content (EOL INDENT{indent} content); codeblock«indent»: «disable most extensions» INDENT{indent} INDENT content (EOL+ INDENT{indent+1} content);

	content:		(extInline|NONSPACE) ( extInline|NONEOL )*;

In these rules we introduces two non-terminals: extBlockand extInline. This refers to extensions in general as specified in the next section.


Extensions are additions to the MDSpex system, written in JavaScript (or N4JS). The need to implement the interface [src:Extension].

Extensions identified by [Character Codes/LETTER] tokens are called commands and the lexer produces [Character Codes/CMD] tokens.

Extensions started by a [Character Codes/OTHER] tokens are called controls and the lexer produces [Character Codes/CTRL] tokens. Although these extensions must start with a OTHER character, the extension may use arbitrary patterns to identify the start of the extension. The sequence of characters identified by the extension is called the control sequence, and this is the token recognized by the lexer and returned as value of the CTRL token.

When an extension is registered, is must have a name even if it is a control. We use these names to identify the extension in this specification. The name of the element the extension creates is usually but necessarily similar to its name.

Besides the syntax pattern, extension can define arbitrary constraints.

SAMPLE: The heading extension is a control which implicitly defined the heading level as follows:

	heading«indent»: «indent=0» level=#('='+) SPACE title=NONEOL* EOL;
Besides the dynamic control sequence, it is restricted to indent level 0 and it ends with a single EOL.	

Due to this flexible definition of extensions it is impossible to define general EBNF rules. We will discuss extensions and the default syntax of extensions in the following.

An extensions defining a special block are called block extensions. It must start at the beginning of the line after the indentation. There may be block commands or block controls. Extensions decorating characters or appearing inline otherwise are called inline extensions. There may be inline commands or inline controls.

The following rules summarize these different kind of extension elements:

REQ SPEX-201: Basic Extension Syntax TASK:#1 EBNF: extBlock«indent»: cmdBlock«indent» | ctrlBlock«indent»; cmdBlock«indent»: «INDENT» name=LETTER* «extension specific content» ':' «extension specific content» ctrlBlock«indent» «INDENT» control=(OTHER «extension specific characters») «extension specific content»

	extInline:	cmdInline | ctrlInline;
	cmdInline:	name=LETTER* «extension specific content» ':' «extension specific content»
	cmdInline:	control=(OTHER «extension specific characters») «extension specific content»

Standard Attribute Definitions

It is recommended to use the following rules for attributes in general:

EBNF: attributes: '(' (attribute (',' attribute)* )* ')'; attribute: (name=LETTER* '='?)? value=value; value: (LETTER|OTHER) | '"' [^"]* '"';

The name of attributes is optional, quite often extensions do have only one or two attributes and in these case the position should be sufficient.

Quite often, an extension defines a special attribute id used for linking. The following rules are predefined for id attribute values:

EBNF: idvalue: digitid | prefixid | otherid; digitid: [0-9]; prefixid: LETTER+ '-' [0-9]; otherid: value

Digit or prefixed ids are recognized by the linking extension and enable very short references.

Standard Command Format

Standard block commands use a fixed syntax pattern as follows:

REQ SPEX-1201 Standard Block Command TASK:#12

	stdBlock«indent» creates name-element: 	
			«if supportsID» idvalue? «endif» 
			«if hasAttributes» attributes «endif»
			«if hasTitle» 
				^EOL «creates P» 
					(EOL INDENT{indent+1} content)*

This standard block command starts with the optional id and attributes, followed by the name of the extension in upper case letters and a colon. If the block has a title, then this is the text in following the colon. Otherwise, the text after the colon is the first paragraph of the element.

SAMPLE: The following snippet shows a requirement block with an prefix id, a version and a title:

This is normal text.

REQ SPEX-123 (version 1): Some Requirement
	This is a paragraph of a requirement.
	Second requirement paragraph

This is normal text.

Extensions may change this default behavior, e.g., modifies the indent level of the block.


Macros are similar to extensions except that they are written using the MDSpex extension block SPEX_MACRO.

TODO: Specify macros, possible macros: alias, rename, block


Linking consists of two parts: an anchor and a link. Anchors are implicitly defined by certain elements, they have a name (which is an ID, a title or is by derived from other values depending on the extension creating an anchor). For linking it makes no difference how the anchor is defined. The extension creating the anchor also defines the type of an anchor.

Anchors, Links and Scopes

Unless otherwise defined by an extension, anchors are scoped. Certain elements may define a scope, either for its children or for its succeeding siblings. The name of the scope simply is the name of the anchor of the element defining the scope. Links to scopes either reference the simple name, the fully qualified name, or are partially qualified. For linking we say that an anchor has a name. If a name contains non-letter characters, it is to be surrounded by quotes in the link. The fully qualified name (FQN) of an anchor is the concatenation of the type and the names of all containing scopes of the anchor. The type of the anchor is separated by colon from the scope segments; the scope segments are separated by a forward slash, a dot, or hash character. Also the first segment has to be preceded by a segment separator. A partially qualified name (PQN) is a name of an anchor, preceded by names of its containing scopes. Syntactically the simple name is a PQN, so we only refer to PQs in the following. It is also possible to use relative names. A relative name may specify the offset defining a sibling before (+) or after (-) the current scope.

The syntax of the links is defined as follows

	name: LETTER|DIGIT (LETTER|' '|OTHER «but not '"' or SEP)* | '"' [^"]+ '"';
	simpleName: LETTER (LETTER|DIGIT|'_')+
	fqn: type ':' (SEP name)+;
	pqn: [type ':'] (name (SEP name)*))? | [type ':'] relname (SEP name)?;
	relname: sn | '+'|'-' DIGIT+
	SEP: '.' | '/' | '#';

If an anchor is not referenced by the FQN, which needs to be unique, the anchor which is "closest" to the reference is selected.

SAMPLE 1: Given the following snippet: # Big Equations ## Pythagoras EQ 1: $a^2 + b^2 = c^2$ Formular [1] is known from geometry. ## Einstein EQ 1: $e = m * c^2$ Formular [eq:1] is known from physics. It also contains a $c^2$ as [-1/1] It is now possible to link to the first equation via the FQN "eq:/Big Equations/Pythagoras/1 and the second one via eq:/Big Equations/Einstein/1. The links are scoped, thus the first reference links to the equations in the same section. Note that the second reference has the type specified but the first hasn't. Since there are not other elements with id "1" in the scope, both links are valid. More about references see below.

Since anchors are scopes it is usually not required for anchor names to be globally unique. However certain extensions may add this constraint for enabling indexes.

References are created by extension, see below for details.

Dictionaries and External Links

So far all anchors were defined in MDSpex documents directly. Often it is required to link to elements "outside" the document.

The most obvious case is to link to arbitrary URLs. This is simply possible by using generic referenes and "http" (or "https") as element type.

These links directly link to the URL defined by the reference. In other words: The reference needs to be fully qualified.

In many cases it is convenient to use PQNs for linking. This is true in particular for source code elements. MDSpex supports dictionaries for enabling PQNs to arbitrary elements outside the MDSpex document.

In case of internal links, a link as a single purpose: The reader of the documents wants to navigate to the element defining the anchor. Thus, most internal links simply navigate to the anchor.

In case of external links, there may be multiple targets: In the case of source code elements for instance one may want to navigate to the source code located in a code repository, to the API documentation of an element, or to the local source code location (e.g., to be shown in an IDE).

TODO: Dictionaries similar to AsciiSpec linking


MDSpex supports counters. A counter is a named integer variable. An extension may assign the current value of a named counter to an element's attribute, incrementing the counter automatically or reset a counter. The value of the counter can be used to compute numbers of list items, headings, or to make unique IDs (or names) of elements. The counters are used by the extensions internally, see API for details.


MDSpex focuses on high-quality HTML output (with JavaScript for screen and special formatting for print). The parser initially creates a simple tree with elements named according to the names of the extensions (or the elements created as specified). Unless specified otherwise, these elements are all converted to HTML div elements with the element type as class name. If the element defines an ID explicitly, it is set as ID. Otherwise an ID is computed from the title.

TODO: how to compute titles.

Built-In Extensions


MDSpex supports so-called ATX headings, using '#' as control sequence. The number of '#' characters defines the level of the heading.

REQ SPEX-601: ATX Headings TASK:#6

EBNF: ATX-Heading Extension
	headingATX := ^ level=#'#' space title EOL


There are three kind of lists supported by default: unordered lists, ordered list and description lists.

The unordered list extension uses '*' or '-' as control sequences. It detects list items via that pattern and automatically creates surrounding list elements:

REQ SPEX-701: Unordered Lists TASK:#7

EBNF: Unordered List
	unorderedListItem«indent» creates unordered list if first item: 	
			CTRL='*'|'-' SPACE+ 
				(^EOL «creates P» content (EOL INDENT{indent+1} content)*)

The ordered list extensions uses '.' or ')' as control sequence. If this sequene is found, it examines the preceeding element. If this is content which matches a numeration type, and if no space is preceeding, it transform this preceeding element into the number item type.

REQ SPEX-801: Ordered Lists TASK:#8

	orderedListItem«indent» creates ordered list if first item:
		«INDENT» numerationType CTRL=('.'|')' SPACE+ 
				(^EOL «creates P» content (EOL INDENT{indent+1} content)*)
	numerationType: DIGIT+ | 'a'-'z';

The description list extensions uses ':' as control sequence. If this sequene is found, it examines the preceeding element. If this is content with only letters or spaces, it transform this preceeding element into the description title.

REQ SPEX-901: Description Lists TASK:#9

EBNF: Description List
	descriptionListItem«indent» creates description list if first item:
		«INDENT» descriptionTitle CTRL=':' SPACE+ 
				(^EOL «creates P» content (EOL INDENT{indent+1} content)*)
	descriptionTitle: LETTER+ (SPACE LETTER+)*

Generic References

MDSpex comes with a built-in extension enabling generic references. These references are placed in square brackets and enable linking via FQN or PQN. The output of the link is defined by the extension defining the anchor type. The example [sample:-1] shows this kind of references.

REQ SPEX-1001: TASK:#10

	genericReference: '[' refTarget  ']' | '<' refTarget  '>';
	refTarget: (PQN | FQN) ['|' title]

The generic reference may define an optional title which is used to create the link text. How the title is used depends on the extension defining the type, however.

HTTP References

REQ SPEX-1002: TASK:#10

The following anchor types are predefined: "http", "https". They simply create links to URLs, optionally using the title specified in the
generic link format.


Images are included by the image extension. It follows the [Standard Command Format] with id and attributes:

REQ SPEX-1101 TASK:#11

EBNF: Image Extension
	image: 'IMAGE' idvalue? attributes ':' «path to image»

Todo Blocks

Todo blocks are standard command blocks. They are visually marked as "to do".

REQ SPEX-1202 Todo Extension TASK:#12

The Todo extension adds a standard block command `TODO` without title and without attributes.		 

Task References

Task references are references to tasks (or issues) managed by an external task tracking system such as Jira or GitHub.

TODO: Describe task references as used in this document, e.g. TASK: #1, #13

Source References

TODO: For links to source code, a typed reference extension is provided. It assumes that source code element names contain no spaces or other "problematic" characters. Thus it allows linking with only a prefix.

	srcRef: '>' PQN | FQN «simpleNames only»

For elements defining anchors with name according to prefix identifiers (see [Standard Attribute Definitions]), the extension defining the prefix identifier
may enable automatic-linking simply by recognition of the prefix identifier.


TODO: describe tables


TODO: E.g. use case, properties etc.


Math and Tex Support

TODO: $some_1 math$

Tagged Blocks



TODO: MDSpex support splitting up a document into modules and combining these modules via the "include" extension. This extension simply includes the referenced document into the current one. It follows the [Standard Command Format] without id or attributes.

	include: 'INCLUDE' ':' «path to included document»
Instead of creating output, the included file is expanded at the current location.