The simple macro processor
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logo logo by Silvia Polverini

© 2002–2016 Reuben Thomas

Nancy is a simple macro processor that fills in a template from other files and the output of programs. It has just one non-trivial construct: context-dependent file inclusion. A file can either be included literally, or run as a command and its output included.

Nancy was originally designed to build simple static web sites, but can be used for all sorts of other tasks, similar to more complicated systems like AutoGen and TXR.

Nancy is free software, licensed under the GNU GPL version 3 (or, at your option, any later version), and written in Perl.

See the Cookbook for instructions and examples.

Please send questions, comments, and bug reports to the maintainer, or report them on the project’s web page (see above for addresses).


Download the latest release from ​

Nancy is written in Perl, and requires version 5.10 or later, and the File::Slurp and File::Which modules, which can be installed with the following commands, assuming you have Perl:

cpan File::Slurp File::Which

(Many GNU/Linux systems package these modules natively.)

To install Nancy, unpack the distribution archive and copy the nancy script to a directory on your path.


Nancy takes two arguments:


where TEMPLATE is name of the template file, and PATH is the path of the file or directory to build. There is nothing special about the template file, it is just the source file with which Nancy starts.

The following command-line OPTIONs may be given:

  • --output FILE Set the name of the output file (the default is standard output).
  • --root DIRECTORY Set the root source directory (the default is the current directory). This is the directory that Nancy will search for source files.
  • --verbose Print to standard error the name of the file being generated, and the files used to make it.
  • --version Show the version number of Nancy.
  • --help Show help on how to run Nancy.

The options may be abbreviated to any unambiguous prefix.


Nancy builds a path given a template as follows:

  1. Set the initial text to $include{TEMPLATE}, unless TEMPLATE is -, in which case set the initial text to the contents of standard input.
  2. Scan the text for commands. Expand any arguments to the command, run each command, and replace the command by the result.
  3. Output the resultant text, eliding any final newline. (This last part may look tricky, but it almost always does what you want, and makes $include behave better in various contexts.)

A command takes the form $COMMAND or $COMMAND{ARGUMENT, ...}. To prevent a comma from being interpreted as an argument separator, put a backslash in front of it:

$include{cat,I\,Robot.txt,3 Rules of Robotics.txt}

This will run the command as if it had been typed:

cat "I, Robot.txt" "3 Rules of Robotics.txt"

Similarly, a command can be treated as literal text by putting a backslash in front of it:

Now I can talk about \$paste.

This will output:

Now I can talk about $paste.

Nancy recognises these commands:

  • $include{FILE} Look up the given source file; read its contents, then expand them (that is, execute any commands found therein) and return the result.
  • $paste{FILE} Like $include, but does not expand its result before returning it.
  • $path Return the PATH argument.
  • $root Return the root directory.
  • $template Return the TEMPLATE argument.

The last three commands are mostly useful as arguments to $include and $paste.

To find the source file FILE specified by a $include{FILE} command, Nancy proceeds thus:

  1. See whether ROOT/PATH/FILE is a file (or a symbolic link to a file). If so, return the file path.
  2. If not, remove the last directory from PATH and try again, until PATH is empty.
  3. Try looking for ROOT/FILE.

If no file is found, Nancy stops with an error message.

For example, if the root directory is /dir, PATH is foo/bar/baz, and Nancy is trying to find file.html, it will try the following files, in order:

  1. /dir/foo/bar/baz/file.html
  2. /dir/foo/bar/file.html
  3. /dir/foo/file.html
  4. /dir/file.html

There is one exception to this rule: if the file being searched for has the same name as the file currently being expanded, then the search starts at the next directory up. This avoids an endless loop, and can also be useful.

See the website example in the Cookbook for a worked example.

Running other programs

In addition to the rules given above, Nancy also allows $include and $paste to take their input from programs. This can be useful in a variety of ways: to insert the current date or time, to make a calculation, or to convert a file to a different format.

Nancy can run a program in two ways:

  1. If a file found by an $include or $paste command has the “execute” permission, it is run.

  2. If no file of the given name can be found using the rules in the previous section, Nancy looks for an executable file on the user’s PATH (the list of directories specified by the PATH environment variable), as if with the which command. If one is found, it is run. (This possibility was not mentioned in the example above, but it is not very likely that Nancy will find a file called file.html somewhere on the user’s PATH, since executables don’t normally end in .html.)

In either case, arguments may be passed to the program: use $include{FILE, ARGUMENT_1, ARGUMENT_2, …}, or the equivalent for $paste.

For example, to insert the current date:


See the date example in the Cookbook for more detail.

When commands that run programs are nested inside each other, the order in which they are run may matter. Nancy only guarantees that if one command is nested inside another, the inner command will be processed first. There is no guarantee of the order in which commands at the same nesting level are run.


Check out the git repository with:

git clone --recursive

After checkout, run ./setup-git-config to wire up writing version numbers into scripts.

To build Nancy and run its tests:

make check

To make releases, zip and woger are needed.