pandoc + styles
Latest commit a9714e7 Jan 12, 2017 Mark Sprevak doc: fix typos


panzer adds styles to pandoc. Styles provide a way to set all options for a pandoc document with one line (‘I want this document be an article/CV/notes/letter’).

You can think of styles as a level up in abstraction from a pandoc template. Styles are combinations of templates, metadata settings, pandoc command line options, and instructions to run filters, scripts and postprocessors. These settings can be customised on a per writer and per document basis. Styles can be combined and can bear inheritance relations to each other. panzer exposes a large amount of structured information to the external processes called by styles, allowing those processes to be both more powerful and themselves controllable via metadata (and hence also by styles). Styles simplify makefiles, bundling everything related to the look of the document in one place.

You can think of panzer as an exoskeleton that sits around pandoc and configures pandoc based on a single choice in your document.

To use a style, add a field with your style name to the yaml metadata block of your document:

style: Notes

Multiple styles can be supplied as a list:

    - Notes
    - BoldHeadings

Styles are defined in a yaml file (example). The style definition file, plus associated executables, are placed in the .panzer directory in the user’s home folder (example).

A style can also be defined inside the document’s metadata block:

style: Notes
                numbersections: false
                numbersections: true
                fontsize: 12pt
                columns: "`75`"
                - run:

Style settings can be overridden by adding the appropriate field outside a style definition in the document’s metadata block:

style: Notes
numbersections: true
    - run:
    - latex-engine: "`xelatex`"


pip3 install git+


To upgrade existing installation:

pip3 install --upgrade git+

On Arch Linux systems, the AUR package panzer-git can be used.


An issue has been reported using pip to install on Windows. If the method above does not work, use the alternative install method below.

    git clone
    cd panzer
    python3 install

To upgrade existing installation:

    cd /path/to/panzer/directory/cloned
    git pull
    python3 install --force


Run panzer on your document as you would pandoc. If the document lacks a style field, this is equivalent to running pandoc. If the document has a style field, panzer will invoke pandoc plus any associated scripts, filters, and populate the appropriate metadata fields.

panzer accepts the same command line options as pandoc. These options are passed to the underlying instance of pandoc. pandoc command line options can also be set via metadata.

panzer has additional command line options. These are prefixed by triple dashes (---). Run the command panzer -h to see them:

  -h, --help, ---help, ---h
                        show this help message and exit
  -v, --version, ---version, ---v
                        show program's version number and exit
  ---quiet              only print errors and warnings
  ---strict             exit on first error
  ---panzer-support PANZER_SUPPORT
                        .panzer directory
  ---debug DEBUG        filename to write .log and .json debug files

Panzer expects all input and output to be utf-8.

Style definition

A style definition may consist of:

field value value type
parent parent(s) of style MetaList or MetaInlines
metadata default metadata fields MetaMap
commandline pandoc command line options MetaMap
template pandoc template MetaInlines or MetaString
preflight run before input doc is processed MetaList
filter pandoc filters MetaList
postprocess run on pandoc’s output MetaList
postflight run after output file written MetaList
cleanup run on exit irrespective of errors MetaList

Style definitions are hierarchically structured by name and writer. Style names by convention should be MixedCase (MyNotes) to avoid confusion with other metadata fields. Writer names are the same as those of the relevant pandoc writer (e.g. latex, html, docx, etc.) A special writer, all, matches every writer.

  • parent takes a list or single style. Children inherit the properties of their parents. Children may have multiple parents.

  • metadata contains default metadata set by the style. Any metadata field that can appear in a pandoc document can appear here.

  • commandline specifies pandoc’s command line options.

  • template is a pandoc template for the style.

  • preflight lists executables run before the document is processed. These are run after panzer reads the input, but before that input is sent to pandoc.

  • filter lists pandoc json filters. Filters gain two new properties from panzer. For more info, see section on compatibility with pandoc.

  • postprocessor lists executable to pipe pandoc’s output through. Standard unix executables (sed, tr, etc.) are examples of possible use. Postprocessors are skipped if a binary writer (e.g. docx) is used.

  • postflight lists executables run after the output has been written. If output is stdout, postflight scripts are run after stdout has been flushed.

  • cleanup lists executables run before panzer exits and after postflight scripts. Cleanup scripts run irrespective of whether an error has occurred earlier.


            numbersections: false
            numbersections: true
            fontsize: 12pt
            wrap: preserve
            - run:
            - run:

If panzer were run on the following document with the latex writer selected,

title: "My document"
style: Notes

it would run pandoc with filter and command line option --wrap=preserve on the following and then execute

title: "My document"
numbersections: true
fontsize: 12pt

Style overriding

Styles may be defined:

  • ‘Globally’ in .yaml files in .panzer/styles/
  • ‘Locally’ in .yaml files in the current working directory ./styles/)
  • ‘In document’ inside a styledef field in the document’s yaml metadata block

If no .panzer/styles/ directory is found, panzer will look for global style definitions in .panzer/styles.yaml if it exists. If no ./styles/ directory is found in the current working directory, panzer will look for local style definitions in ./styles.yaml if it exists.

Overriding among style settings is determined by the following rules:

# overriding rule
1 Local style definitions override global style definitions
2 In document style definitions override local style definitions
3 Writer-specific settings override settings for all
4 In a list, later styles override earlier ones
5 Children override parents
6 Fields set outside a style definition override any style’s setting

For fields that pertain to scripts/filters, overriding is additive; for other fields, it is non-additive:

  • For metadata, template, and commandline, if one style overrides another (say, a parent and child set numbersections to different values), then inheritance is non-additive, and only one (the child) wins.

  • For preflight, filter, postflight and cleanup if one style overrides another, then the ‘winner’ adds its items after those of the ‘loser’. For example, if the parent adds to postflight an item -run:, and the child adds - run:, then will be run after

  • To remove an item from an additive list, add it as the value of a kill field: for example, - kill:

Arguments passed to panzer directly on the command line trump any style settings, and cannot be overridden by any metadata setting. Filters specified on the command line (via --filter) are run first, and cannot be removed. pandoc options set via panzer’s command line invocation override any set via commandline.

Multiple input files are joined according to pandoc’s rules. Metadata are merged using left-biased union. This means overriding behaviour when merging multiple input files is different from that of panzer, and always non-additive.

If fed input from stdin, panzer buffers this to a temporary file in the current working directory before proceeding. This is required to allow preflight scripts to access the data. The temporary file is removed when panzer exits.

The run list

Executables (scripts, filters, postprocessors) are specified by a list (the ‘run list’). The list determines what gets run when. Processes are executed from first to last in the run list. If an item appears as the value of a run: field, then it is added to the run list. If an item appears as the value of a kill: field, then any previous occurrence is removed from the run list. Killing an item does not prevent it from being added later. A run list can be completely emptied by adding the special item - killall: true.

Arguments can be passed to executables by listing them as the value of the args field of that item. The value of the args field is passed as the command line options to the external process. This value of args should be a quoted inline code span (e.g. "`--options`") to prevent the parser interpreting it as markdown. Note that filters always receive the writer name as their first argument.


- filter:
    - run:
      args: "`--level=2`"
- postflight:
    - kill:
- cleanup:
    - killall: true

The filter receives the writer name as its first argument and --level=2 as its second argument.

When panzer is searching for a filter, it will look for:

# look for
1 ./
2 ./filter/
3 ./filter/foo/
4 ~/.panzer/filter/
5 ~/.panzer/filter/foo/
6 in PATH defined by current environment

Similar rules apply to other executables and to templates.

The typical structure for the support directory .panzer is:


Within each directory, each executable may have a named subdirectory:


Pandoc command line options

Arbitrary pandoc command line options can be set using metadata via commandline. commandline can appear outside a style definition and in a document’s metadata block, where it overrides the settings of any style.

commandline contains one field for each pandoc command line option. The field name is the unabbreviated name of the relevant pandoc command line option (e.g. standalone).

  • For pandoc flags, the value should be boolean (true, false), e.g. smart: true.
  • For pandoc key-values, the value should be a quoted inline code span, e.g. include-in-header: "`path/to/my/header`".
  • For pandoc repeated key-values, the value should be a list of inline code spans, e.g.
        - "`file1.txt`"
        - "`file2.txt`"
        - "`file3.txt`"

Repeated key-value options in comandline are added after any provided from the command line. Overriding styles append to repeated key-value lists of the styles that they override.

false plays a special role. false means that the pandoc command line option with the field’s name, if set, should be unset. false can be used for both flags and key-value options (e.g. include-in-header: false).


    smart: true
    slide-level: "`3`"
    number-sections: false
    include-in-header: false

This passes the following options to pandoc --smart --slide-level=3 and removes any --number-sections and --include-in-header=... options.

These pandoc command line options cannot be set via commandline:

  • bash-completion
  • dump-args
  • filter
  • from
  • help
  • ignore-args
  • list-extensions
  • list-highlight-languages
  • list-highlight-styles
  • list-input-formats
  • list-output-formats
  • metadata
  • output
  • print-default-data-file
  • print-default-template
  • read
  • template
  • to
  • variable
  • version
  • write

Passing messages to external processes

External processes have just as much information as panzer does. panzer sends its information to external processes via a json message. This message is sent over stdin to scripts (preflight, postflight, cleanup scripts), and embedded in the AST for filters. Postprocessors are an exception; they do not receive a json message (if you need it, you should probably be using a filter).

JSON_MESSAGE = [{'metadata':    METADATA,
                 'template':    TEMPLATE,
                 'style':       STYLE,
                 'stylefull':   STYLEFULL,
                 'styledef':    STYLEDEF,
                 'runlist':     RUNLIST,
                 'options':     OPTIONS}]
  • METADATA is a copy of the metadata branch of the document’s AST (useful for scripts, not useful for filters)

  • TEMPLATE is a string with path to the current template

  • STYLE is a list of current style(s)

  • STYLEFULL is a list of current style(s) including all parents, grandparents, etc. in order of application

  • STYLEDEF is a copy of all style definitions employed in document

  • RUNLIST is a list of processes in the run list; it has the following structure:

    RUNLIST = [{'kind':      'preflight'|'filter'|'postprocess'|'postflight'|'cleanup',
                'command':   'my command',
                'arguments': ['argument1', 'argument2', ...],
                'status':    'queued'|'running'|'failed'|'done'
  • OPTIONS is a dictionary containing panzer’s and pandoc’s command line options:

    OPTIONS = {
        'panzer': {
            'panzer_support':  const.DEFAULT_SUPPORT_DIR,
            'debug':           str(),
            'quiet':           False,
            'strict':          False,
            'stdin_temp_file': str()   # tempfile used to buffer stdin
        'pandoc': {
            'input':      list(),      # list of input files
            'output':     '-',         # output file; '-' is stdout
            'pdf_output': False,       # if pandoc will write a .pdf
            'read':       str(),       # reader
            'write':      str(),       # writer
            'options':    {'r': dict(), 'w': dict()}

    options contains the command line options with which pandoc is called. It consists of two separate dictionaries. The dictionary under the 'r' key contains all pandoc options pertaining to reading the source documents to the AST. The dictionary under the 'w' key contains all pandoc options pertaining to writing the AST to the output document.

Scripts read the json message above by deserialising json input on stdin.

Filters can read the json message by reading the metadata field, panzer_reserved, in the AST:

    json_message: |
        ``` {.json}

this is visible to filters as the following json entity:

  "panzer_reserved": {
    "t": "MetaMap",
    "c": {
      "json_message": {
        "t": "MetaBlocks",
        "c": [
            "t": "CodeBlock",
            "c": [ [ "", [ "json" ], [] ], "JSON_MESSAGE" ]

Receiving messages from external processes

panzer captures stderr output from all executables. This is for pretty printing of info and errors. Scripts and filters should send json messages to panzer via stderr. If a message is sent to stderr that is not correctly formatted, panzer will print it verbatim prefixed by a ‘!’.

The json message that panzer expects is a newline-separated sequence of utf-8 encoded json dictionaries, each with the following structure:

{ 'level': LEVEL, 'message': MESSAGE }
  • LEVEL is a string that sets the error level; it can take one of the following values:

  • MESSAGE is a string with your message


panzer accepts pandoc filters. panzer allows filters to behave in two new ways:

  1. Filters can take more than one command line argument (first argument still reserved for the writer).
  2. A panzer_reserved field is added to the AST metadata branch with goodies for filters to mine.

The follow pandoc command line options cannot be used with panzer:

  • --bash-completion
  • --dump-args
  • --ignore-args
  • --list-extensions
  • --list-highlight-languages
  • --list-highlight-styles
  • --list-input-formats
  • --list-output-formats
  • --print-default-template, -D
  • --print-default-data-file
  • --version, -v
  • --help, -h

The following metadata fields are reserved for use by panzer:

  • styledef
  • style
  • template
  • preflight
  • filter
  • postflight
  • postprocess
  • cleanup
  • commandline
  • panzer_reserved
  • read

The writer name all is also occupied.

Known issues

Pull requests welcome:

  • Slower than I would like (calls to subprocess slow in Python)
  • Calls to subprocesses (scripts, filters, etc.) block ui
  • No Python 2 support
  • Possible issue under Windows, so far reported by only one user. A leading dot plus slash is required on filter filenames. Rather than having - run:, on Windows one needs to have - run: ./ More information on this is welcome. I am happy to fix compatibility problems under Windows.


  1. Why do I get the error [Errno 13] Permission denied? Filters and scripts must be executable. Vanilla pandoc allows filters to be run without their executable permission set. panzer does not allow this. The solution: set the executable permission of your filter or script, chmod +x For more, see here.

  2. Does panzer expand ~ or * inside field of a style definition? panzer does not do any shell expansion/globbing inside a style definition. The reason is described here. TL;DR: expansion and globbing are messy and not something that panzer is in a position to do correctly or predictably inside a style definition. You need to use the full path to reference your home directory inside a style definition.


Release notes

  • 1.2 (12 January 2017):
    • fixed issue introduced by breaking change in panzer 1.1 #27. Added panzer compatibility mode for pandoc versions <1.18. All version of pandoc >1.12.1 should work with panzer now.
  • 1.1 (27 October 2016):
    • breaking change: support pandoc 1.18’s new api; earlier versions of pandoc will not work
  • 1.0 (21 July 2015):
    • new: ---strict panzer command line option: #10
    • new: commandline allows repeated options using lists: #3
    • new: commandline lists behave as additive in style inheritance: #6
    • new: support multiple yaml style definition files: #4
    • new: support local yaml style definition files: #4
    • new: simplify format for panzer’s json message: ce2a12
    • new: reproduce pandoc’s reader depending on writer settings: #1, #7
    • fix: refactor commandline implementation: #1
    • fix: improve documentation: #2
    • fix: unicode error in #12
    • fix: support yaml style definition files without closing empty line: #13
    • fix: add .gitignore files to repository: PR#1
  • 1.0b2 (23 May 2015):
    • new: commandline - set arbitrary pandoc command line options via metadata
  • 1.0b1 (14 May 2015):
    • initial release