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Wunderbar: Easy HTML5 applications

Wunderbar makes it easy to produce valid HTML5, wellformed XHTML, Unicode (utf-8), consistently indented, readable applications.

Wunderbar was inspired by Jim Weirich's Builder, and provides the element id and class id syntax and based on the implementation from Markaby.

Wunderbar's JSON support is inspired by David Heinemeier Hansson's jbuilder.

A tutorial is under development.

Additional functionality is provided by extensions.

Build Status


The premise of Wunderbar is that output of various types are typically formed by appending either a series of key/value pairs or simple values, and those operations should be optimized for. Appending a key/value pair is done via:

_key value

... and appending a simple value is done thus:

_ value

For HTML, key/value is used for element nodes, and simple values are used for text nodes. For JSON, key/value is used for Hashes and simple values are used for arrays. For text, simple values are output via puts, and key/value pairs are not used.

Nesting is performed using blocks.

The underscore method, when passed no arguments, returns an object that can be used to perform a number of special functions. Some of those functions are unique to the output method. Others like logging methods are common.

The underscore method when passed multiple arguments or a combination of arguments and a block may do other common functions, depending on the types of the arguments passed.

Question mark, exclamation mark, and underscore suffixes to the method name may modify the results.

Quick Start (HTML)

Simple element:


Nested elements:

_div do

Element with text:

_h1 "My weblog"

Element with attributes:

_img src: '/img/logo.jpg', alt: 'site logo'

Element with both text and attributes:

_a 'search', href: ''

Element with boolean attributes:

_input 'Cheese', type: 'checkbox', name: 'cheese', checked: true

Element with boolean attributes (alternate form):

_input 'Cheese', :checked, type: 'checkbox', name: 'cheese'

Element with optional (omitted) attributes:

_tr class: nil

Text (markup characters are escaped):

_ "<3"

Text (may contain markup):


Import of HTML/XML:

_[Nokogiri::XML "<em>hello</em>"]

Mixed content (autospaced):

_p do
  _ 'It is a'
  _em 'very'
  _ 'nice day.'

Mixed content (space controlled):

_p! do
  _ 'Source is on '
  _a 'github', href: ''
  _ '.'

Insert blank lines between rows in the HTML produced:

_tbody do
  _tr_ do
    _td 1
  _tr_ do
    _td 2
  _tr_ do
    _td 3

Capture exceptions:

_body? do

Class attribute shortcut (equivalent to class="front"):

_div.front do

Id attributes shortcut (equivalent to id="search"):! do

Complete lists/rows can be defined using arrays:

_ul %w(apple orange pear)
_ol %w(apple orange pear)
_table do
  _tr %w(apple orange pear)

Arbitrary iteration can be done over Enumerables:

_dl.colors red: '#F00', green: '#0F0', blue: '#00F' do |color, hex|
  _dt color.to_s
  _dd hex

Basic interface

A typical main program produces one or more of HTML, JSON, or plain text output. This is accomplished by providing one or more of the following:

_html do

_xhtml do

_json do

_text do

_websocket do

Arbitrary Ruby code can be placed in each. Form parameters are made available as instance variables (e.g., @name). Host environment (CGI, Rack, Sinatra) values are accessible as methods of the _ object: for example _.headers (CGI), _.set_cookie (Rack), _.redirect (Sinatra).

To append to the output produced, use the _ methods described below. Example applications are in the tutorial.

Methods provided to Wunderbar.html

Invoking methods that start with a Unicode low line character ("_") will generate an HTML tag. As with builder, on which this library is based, these tags can have text content and attributes. Tags can also be nested. Logic can be freely intermixed.

Wunderbar knows which HTML tags need to be explicitly closed with separate end tags (example: textarea), and which should never be closed with separate end tags (example: br). It also takes care of HTML quoting and escaping of arguments and text.

Suffixes after the tag name will modify the processing.

  • !: turns off all special processing, including indenting
  • ?: adds code to rescue exceptions and produce tracebacks
  • _: adds extra blank lines between this tag and siblings

The "_" method serves a number of purposes. Calling it with a single argument inserts markup, respecting indendation. Inserting markup without regard to indendatation is done using "_ << text". A number of other convenience methods are defined:

  • _: insert text with indentation matching the current output
  • _!: insert text without indenting
  • -- was this invoked via HTTP POST?
  • _.system -- invokes a shell command, captures stdin, stdout, and stderr
  • _.submit -- runs command (or block) as a deamon process
  • _.xhtml? -- output as XHTML?

The _.system method takes an optional hash as its last parameter. This can be used to provide settings for the underlying Process.spawn method. For example: ._system('pwd',{ system_opts: { chdir: dir } , system_env: { 'FOO' => 'BAR' } }) Note that environment variable names must be provided as strings, not symbols.

Access to all of the builder defined methods (typically these end in an exclamation mark) and all of the Wunderbar module methods can be accessed in this way. Examples:

  • _.tag! :foo: insert elements where the name can be dynamic
  • _.comment! "text": add a comment
  • _.error 'Log message': write a message to the server log

Underscores in element and attribute names are converted to dashes. To disable this behavior, express attribute names as strings and use the _.tag! method for element names.

XHTML differs from HTML in the escaping of inline style and script elements. XHTML will also fall back to HTML output unless the user agent indicates it supports XHTML via the HTTP Accept header.

In addition to the default processing of elements, text, and attributes, Wunderdar defines additional processing for the following:

  • _head: insert meta charset utf-8
  • _svg: insert svg namespace
  • _math: insert math namespace
  • _coffeescript: convert coffeescript to JS and insert script tag

Note that adding an exclamation mark to the end of the tag name disables this behavior.

If one of the attributes passed on the _html declaration is :_width, an attempt will be made to reflow text in order to not exceed this line width. This won't be done if it will affect what actually is displayed.

If none of the child elements for the html element are either head or body, then these tags will be created for you, and the relevant children will be moved to the appropriate section. If the body contains a h1 element, and the head doesn't contain a title, a title element will be created based on the text supplied to the first h1 element.

Methods provided to Wunderbar.json

Common operations are to return a Hash or an Array of values. Hashes are a series of name/value pairs, and Arrays are a series of values.

Wunderbar.json do
  _content format_content(@message.content)
  _ @message, :created_at, :updated_at 

  _author do
    _email_address @message.creator.email_address_with_name
    _url url_for(@message.creator, format: :json)

  if current_user.admin?
    _visitors calculate_visitors(@message)

  _comments @message.comments, :content, :created_at
  _attachments @message.attachments do |attachment|
    _filename attachment.filename
    _url url_for(attachment)

Invoking methods that start with a Unicode low line character ("_") will add a key/value pair to that hash. Hashes can also be nested. Logic can be freely intermixed.

The "_" method serves a number of purposes.

  • calling it with multiple arguments will cause the first argument to be treated as the object, and the remainder as the attributes to be extracted

    • Example: _ File.stat('foo'), :mtime, :size, :mode
  • calling it with a single Enumerable object and a block will cause an array to be returned based on mapping each objection from the enumeration against the block

    • Example: _([1,2,3]) {|n| n*n}
  • arrays can be also be built using the _ method:

      _ 1
      _ 2

The _ method returns a proxy to the object being constructed. This is often handy when called with no arguments. Examples:

    _['foo'] = 'bar'

Methods provided to Wunderbar.text

Appending to the output stream is done using the _ method, which is equivalent to puts. The _ method returns an object which proxies the output stream, which provides access to other useful methods, for example:

    _.print 'foo'
    _.printf "Hello %s!\n", 'world'

Methods provided to Wunderbar.websocket

WebSocket support requires em-websocket to be installed.

A web socket is a bidrectional channel. _.send or _.push can be used to send arbitrary strings. More commonly, the JSON array methods described above can be all be used, the important difference is that the individual entries are sent individually and as they are produced.

_.recv or _.pop can be used to receive arbitrary strings. More commonly, _.subscribe is used to register a block that is used as a callback.

_.system will run an arbitrary command. Lines of output are sent across the websocket as they are received as JSON encoded hashes with two values: type is one of stdin, stdout or stderr; and line which contains the line itself. If the command is an array, the elements of the array will be escaped as Shell command arguments. Nested arrays may be used to hide elements from the echoing of the command to stdin. Nil values are omitted.

Options to _websocket are provided as a hash:

  • :port will chose a port number, with the default being that an available one is picked for you.
  • :sync set to false will cause the WebSocket server to be run as a daemon process. This defaults to true when run from the command line and to false when run as CGI.
  • buffer_limit will limit the amount of entries retained and sent to new clients on open requests. Default is 1. A value of zero will disable buffering. A value of nil will result in unlimited buffering. Note: buffering is effectively unlimited until the first client connects.

Secure by default

Wunderbar will properly escape all HTML and JSON output, eliminating problems of HTML or JavaScript injection. This includes calls to _ to insert text directly. Unless nokogiri was previously required (see optional dependencies below), calls to insert markup (_{...}) will escape the markup.

Globals provided

  • $USER - Host user id
  • $PASSWORD - Host password (if CGI and HTTP_AUTHORIZATION is passed through)
  • $HOME - Home directory
  • $SERVER - Server name
  • $HOME - user's home directory
  • $HOST - server host

Also, the following environment variables are set if they aren't already:

  • HOME
  • LANG

Finally, the default external and internal encodings are set to UTF-8.


  • _.debug: debug messages
  • informational messages
  • _.warn: warning messages
  • _.error: error messages
  • _.fatal: fatal error messages
  • _.log_level=: set logging level (default: :warn)
  • _.default_log_level=: set, but don't override, log level
  • _.logger: return Logger instance

Command line options

When run from the command line, CGI name=value pairs can be specified. Additionally, the following options are supported:

  • --get: HTML (HTTP GET) output is expected
  • --post: HTML (HTTP POST) output is expected
  • --json: JSON (XML HTTP Request) output is expected
  • --html: force HTML output
  • --prompt or --offline: prompt for key/value pairs using stdin
  • --debug, --info, --warn, --error, --fatal: set log level
  • --install=path: produce an suexec-callable wrapper script
  • --rescue or --backtrace cause wrapper script to capture errors

Optional dependencies

The following gems are needed based on what functions you use:

  • em-websocket is required by wunderbar/websocket
  • kramdown is required by wunderbar/markdown
  • ruby2js adds support for scripts written as blocks
  • sourcify is required by wunderbar/opal

The following gems are required by extensions of the same name:

  • coderay - syntax highlighting
  • opal - ruby to javascript compiler
  • rack - webserver interface
  • sinatra - DSL for creating web applications

The following gems, if installed, will produce cleaner and prettier output:

  • nokogiri cleans up HTML fragments inserted via << and _{}.
  • nokogumbo also cleans up HTML fragments inserted via << and _{}. If this gem is available, it will be preferred over direct usage of nokogiri.
  • escape prettier quoting of system commands

Related efforts