Paru—Pandoc wrapped around in Ruby

Huub de Beer

Do note that Paru version >= 0.2.0 is incompatible with pandoc version < 1.18. Use Paru version 0.1.0 if you are using an older version of pandoc.

Chapter 1. Introduction

Paru is a simple Ruby wrapper around pandoc, the great multi-format document converter. Paru supports automating pandoc by writing Ruby programs and using pandoc in your Ruby programs (see Chapter 2). Paru also supports writing pandoc filters in Ruby (see Chapter 3). In this manual the use of paru is explained in detail, from explaining how to install and use paru, creating and using filters, to putting it all together in a real-world use case: generating this manual!

1.1 Licence

Paru is free sofware; paru is released under the GPLv3. You find paru's source code on github.

1.2 Installation

Paru is installed through rubygems as follows:

gem install paru

You can also download the latest gem paru-0.2.4.gem and install it by:

cd /directory/you/downloaded/the/gem/to
gem install paru-0.2.4.gem

Paru, obviously, requires pandoc. See http://pandoc.org/installing.html about how to install pandoc on your system and pandoc's manual on how to use pandoc.

1.3 Paru says hello to pandoc

Using paru is straightforward. It is a thin "rubyesque" layer around the pandoc executable. After requiring paru in your ruby program, you create a new paru pandoc converter as follows:

require "paru/pandoc"

converter = Paru::Pandoc.new

The various command-line options of pandoc map to methods on this newly created instance. When you want to use a pandoc command-line option that contains dashes, replace all dashes with an underscore to get the corresponding paru method. For example, the pandoc command-line option --latex-engine becomes the paru method latex_engine. Knowing this convention, you can convert from markdown to pdf using the lualatex engine by calling the from, to, and latex_engine methods to configure the converter. There is a convenience configure method that takes a block to configure multiple options at once:

require "paru/pandoc"

converter = Paru::Pandoc.new
converter.configure do
    from "markdown"
    to "latex"
    latex_engine "lualatex"
    output "my_first_pdf_file.pdf"

As creating and immediately configuring a converter is a common pattern, the constructor takes a configuration block as well. Finally, when you have configured the converter, you can use it to convert a string with the convert method, which is aliased by The << operator. You can call convert multiple times and re-configure the converter in between.

This introductory section is ended by the obligatory "hello world" program, paru-style:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "paru/pandoc"

input = "Hello world, from **pandoc**"

output = Paru::Pandoc.new do
    from "markdown"
    to "html"
end << input

puts output

Running the above program results in the following output:

<p>Hello world, from <strong>pandoc</strong></p>

In the next chapter, the development of do-pandoc.rb is presented as an example of real-world usage of paru.

Chapter 2. Automating the use of pandoc with paru

Once I started using pandoc for all my writing, I found that using the command-line interface was a bit cumbersome because of the many options I used. Of course I used the shell's history so I did not have to retype the pandoc invocations each time I used them, but as I write multiple documents at the same time and often on different computers, this felt as a stop-gap solution at best. Would it not be great if I could specify all the command-line options to pandoc in the markdown files themselves? To that end, I developed do-pandoc.rb.

I developed do-pandoc.rb in two steps:

  1. first I wrote a ruby script to mine the pandoc markdown files for its YAML metadata.
  2. using that script, I wrote another script that would use the former to get the pandoc command-line options to use from an input file, fed these options into a dynamically generated pandoc converter, and then use this converter on that same input file to generate my output file.

2.1 Mining a pandoc markdown file for its YAML metadata

One of the interesting aspects of pandoc's markdown format is its allowance for metadata in so-called YAML blocks. Using paru and Ruby it is easy to strip a pandoc file for its metadata through pandoc's JSON output/input format: the script/module [pandoc2yaml.rb (which you will also find in the examples sub directory). Furthermore, it is also installed as an executable when you install paru, so you can run it from the command line like:

pandoc2yaml my-noce-pandoc-file.md

The pandoc2yaml.rb script is quite straightforward:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
# pandoc2yaml.rb extracts the metadata from a pandoc markdown file and prints
# that metadata out again as a pandoc markdown file with nothing in it but that
# metadata
# Usage:
#  pandoc2yaml.rb input_file
module Pandoc2Yaml
  require "json"
  require "paru/pandoc"

  # Paru converters:
  # Note. When converting metadata back to the pandoc markdown format, you have
  # to use the option "standalone", otherwise the metadata is skipped
  PANDOC_2_JSON = Paru::Pandoc.new {from "markdown"; to "json"}
  JSON_2_PANDOC = Paru::Pandoc.new {from "json"; to "markdown"; standalone}

  # When converting a pandoc document to JSON, or vice versa, the JSON object
  # has the following three properties:
  VERSION = "pandoc-api-version"
  META = "meta"
  BLOCKS = "blocks"

  def extract_metadata input_document
    json = JSON.parse(PANDOC_2_JSON << File.read(input_document))
    yaml = ""

    version, metadata = json.values_at(VERSION, META)

    if not metadata.empty? then
      metadata_document = {
        VERSION => version, 
        META => metadata, 
        BLOCKS => []

      yaml = JSON_2_PANDOC << JSON.generate(metadata_document)


if __FILE__ == $0
  include Pandoc2Yaml

  if ARGV.size != 1 then
    warn "Expecting exactly one argument: the pandoc file to strip for metadata"

  input_document = ARGV.first
  output_metadata = Pandoc2Yaml.extract_metadata input_document
  puts output_metadata

pandoc2yaml.rb is built in two parts:

  1. a library module Pandoc2Yaml, which we will be using later again in do-pandoc.rb,
  2. and a self-contained part that, following a common Ruby pattern, will be executed if the file is run as a script rather than a library. It checks if there is an argument to the script and, if so, interprets it as a path to a file, and mines its contents for YAML metadata using the libray module.

The library module Pandoc2Yaml has one method, extract_metadata that takes one argument, the path to a pandoc markdown file. It converts the contents of that file to a JSON representation of the document. Since pandoc version 1.18, this JSON representation consists of three elements:

  1. the version of the pandoc-types API used ("pandoc-api-version"),
  2. the metadata in the document ("meta"),
  3. and the contents of the document ("blocks").

The contents of the document are discarded and the metadata is converted back to pandoc's markdown format, which now only contains YAML metadata. Note that the JSON_2_PANDOC converter uses the standalone option. Without using it, pandoc does not convert the metadata back to its own markdown format.

2.2 Specify pandoc options in a markdown file itself

Using the library module Pandoc2Yaml discussed in the previous section, it is easy to write a script that runs pandoc on a markdown file using the pandoc options specified in that same file in a YAML metadata block:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "yaml"
require "paru/pandoc"
require_relative "./pandoc2yaml.rb"

include Pandoc2Yaml

if ARGV.size != 1 then
    warn "Expecting exactly one argument: the pandoc file to convert"

input = ARGV.first
metadata = YAML.load Pandoc2Yaml.extract_metadata(input)

if metadata.has_key? "pandoc" then
        pandoc = Paru::Pandoc.new
        to_stdout = true
        metadata["pandoc"].each do |option, value|
            pandoc.send option, value
            to_stdout = false if option == "output"
        output = pandoc << File.read(input)
        puts output if to_stdout
    rescue Exception => e
        warn "Something went wrong while using pandoc:\n\n#{e.message}"
    warn "Unsure what to do: no pandoc options in #{input}"

The script do-pandoc.rb first checks if there is one argument. If so, it is treated as a path to a pandoc markdown file. That file is mined for its metadata and if that metadata contains the property pandoc, the fields of that property are interpreted are used to configure a paru pandoc converter. The key of a property is called as a method on a `Paru::Pandoc`` object with the property's value as its argument. Thus, a pandoc markdown file that contains a metadata block like:

    from: markdown
    to: html5
    toc: true
    standalone: true
    bibliography: 'path/to/bibliography.bib'

will configure a Paru::Pandoc object to convert the contents of that pandoc markdown file from markdown to standalone html code with a table of contents while using path/to/bibliography.bib as the bibliographic database.

do-pandoc.rb is also installed as an executable script when you istall paru. You can run it from the command line as follows:

do-pandoc.rb my-file.md

In Chapter 4 this script do-pandoc.rb is used on paru's documentation file to generate a new pandoc markdown file, index.md, that is converted to HTML into the manual you are reading now!

Note how do-pandoc.rb defaults to outputting the results of a conversion to standard out unless the output option is specified in the pandoc property in the metadata.

Chapter 3. Writing and using pandoc filters with paru

3.1 Introduction

One of pandoc's interesting capabilities are custom filters. This is an extremely powerful feature that allows you to automate certain tasks, such as numbering figures, using other command-line programs to pre or post process parts of the input, or change the structure of the input document before having pandoc writing it out. Paru allows you to write pandoc filters in Ruby.

The simplest paru pandoc filter is the identity filter that does do nothing:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "paru/filter"

Paru::Filter.run do
    # nothing

Nevertheless, it shows the structure of every paru pandoc filter: A filter is an executable script (line 1), it uses the paru/filter module, and it executes a Paru::Filter object. Running the identity filter is a good way to start writing your own filters. In the next sections several simple but useful filters are developed to showcase the use of paru to write pandoc filters in Ruby.

All example filters discussed in this chapter can be found in the filters sub directory of paru's examples. Feel free to copy and adapt them to your needs.

3.2 Filter basics

Numbering figures

In some output formats, such as PDF, HTML + CSS, or ODT, figures can be automatically numbered. In other formats, notably markdown itself, numbering has to be done manually. However, it is very easy to create a filter that does this numbering of figures automatically as well:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "paru/filter"

current = 0;

Paru::Filter.run do 
    with "Image" do |image|
        current += 1
        image.inner_markdown = "Figure #{current}. #{image.inner_markdown}"

The filter number_figures.rb keeps track of the last figure's sequence number in counter. Each time an Image is encountered while processing the input file, that counter is incremented and the image's caption is prefixed with "Figure #{counter}. " by overwriting the image's node's inner markdown.

A filter consists of a number of selectors. You specify a selector through the "with "Type" do |node| ... end" construct. You can use any of pandoc's internal types as a selector (see the table below).

Pandoc internal type you can use in a selector in a filter
block inline
Plain Str
Para Emph
CodeBlock Strong
RawBlock Strikeout
BlockQuote Superscript
OrderedList Supscript
BulletList SmallCaps
DefinitionList Quoted
Header Cite
HorizontalRule Code
Table Space
Div SoftBreak
Null LineBreak
LineBlock Math

Usually, however, you want to number figures relative to the chapter they are in. How to do that is shown next.

Numbering figures and chapters

One of the problems with using flat text input formats such as markdown, LaTeX, or HTML is that a document is more of a sequence of structure elements rather than a tree. For example, in markdown there is no such thing as a chapter block that contains its title and contents. Instead, a chapter is implied by using a header followed by its contents. Nevertheless, assuming a properly structured input file where each chapter is implied by a header of level one and a section by a header of level two, the filter numbering_figures.rb can be extended to number chapters, sections, and figures as follows:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "paru/filter"

current_chapter = 0
current_section = 0
current_figure = 0

Paru::Filter.run do
    with "Header" do |header|
        if header.level == 1 
            current_chapter += 1
            current_figure = 0
            current_section = 0

            header.inner_markdown = "Chapter #{current_chapter}. #{header.inner_markdown}"

        if header.level == 2
          current_section += 1
          header.inner_markdown = 
            "#{current_chapter}.#{current_section} #{header.inner_markdown}"

    with "Header + Image" do |image|
        current_figure += 1
        image.inner_markdown = 
          "Figure #{current_chapter}.#{current_figure} #{image.inner_markdown}"

In the filter number_chapters_and_sections_and_figures.rb, three counters have to be used. One to keep track of the current chapter, one to keep track of the current section in that chapter, and one to keep track of the current figure in that chapter. Each time a new chapter is started—thus each time a Header of level one is encountered—the current chapter counter is incremented whereas the current section and current figure counters are reset to zero. When a section—rather a Header of level 2—and an Image are encountered, their respective counters are incremented as well.

Note how easy it is to change the content of a node by using the inner_markdown property. This method is used thrice, once in each selector.

In the second selector the + or "follows" operator is used. Operators in selectors denote a relationship between the current node that is being processed—the right hand side type—and nodes that came before. In this case, the selector denotes each Image that follows a Header.

You can use three different selection operators in paru:

Due to the flat structure of the pandoc format, the last selector is used only sporadically.

As a more interesting example of using operators, the first sentence of a section's first paragraph is capitalized next.

Capitalizing a first sentence

An optional distance can be used in combination with a selector operator by putting an integer after the operator. To select the first paragraph of a section, you select only those paragraphs that follow at a distance of 1 nodes from a header like so:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "paru/filter"

Paru::Filter.run do 
    with "Header +1 Para" do |p|
        text = p.inner_markdown
        first_line = text.slice(0, END_CAPITAL).upcase
        rest = text.slice(END_CAPITAL, text.size)
        p.inner_markdown = first_line + rest

Of course, just taking the first N letters to capitalize does not work that well because often the capitalization stops halfway a word. Is it not hard to improve this capitalize_first_sentence.rb filter to capitalize the first M words, for example.

Custom blocks

You can use filters to create a custom example block. Given the following code in your markdown file:

<div class="example">
### Numbering figures

You can number figures in pandoc by using a filter as follows: ...

you can automatically number the example blocks by selecting all Headers of level 3 in all Div elements that have class "example":

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "paru/filter"

example_count = 0

Paru::Filter.run do
    with "Div.example > Header" do |header|
        if header.level == 3 
            example_count += 1
            header.inner_markdown = "Example #{example_count}: #{header.inner_markdown}"

    with "Div.important" do |d|
        d.inner_markdown = d.inner_markdown + "\n\n*(important)*"


Here the descendant selection operator comes in handy to denote the hierarchical relationship between a block and its contents.

3.3 Going beyond the confines of a filter file

Although filters in and of themselves are already quite useful, the fact that paru filters have the full power of ruby at their disposal makes for some truly powerful behavior.

Inserting other pandoc files

A frequently asked for filter on the pandoc channel on IRC (#pandoc on freenode.net, come join us!) is a way to include external files in a markdown file. An command that is a bit like LaTeX's input command can be created with a paru filter quite easily:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "paru/filter"

Paru::Filter.run do 
  with "Para" do |paragraph|
    if paragraph.inner_markdown.lines.length == 1
      command, path = paragraph.inner_markdown.strip.split " "
      if command == "::paru::insert"
        markdown = File.read path.gsub(/\\_/, "_")
        paragraph.outer_markdown = markdown

The filter insert_document.rb inspects each Paragraph. If it is exactly one line long, that line is split on a space (" "). If the left-most split off is equal to ::paru::insert, the one-line paragraph is interpreted as an insert command with one parameter: the path to the file to insert. This one-line paragraph's contents are replaced by the contents of that file using the outer_markdown method.

Note that, because I like to use file names with an underscore in it and pandoc puts an backslash (\) in front of underscores, I had to replace all occurrences of "\_" by "_" to get Ruby to find and read the file correctly.

Inserting code files

Similarly, when writing a programming tutorial or manual (like this manual; have a look at documentation/using_filters.md for example), it would be great if you can point pandoc to a file containing some programming code and have that code included automatically. This is even more simple that inserting markdown files!:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "paru/filter"

Paru::Filter.run do 
  with "CodeBlock" do |code_block|
    command, path, *classes = code_block.string.strip.split " "
    if command == "::paru::insert"
      code_block.string = File.read path.gsub(/\\_/, "_")
      classes.each {|c| code_block.attr.classes.push c}

The CodeBlock element has a string property that can be inspected and replaced. As with the previous filter to include other markdown files, if the CodeBlock contains the "command" ::paru::insert followed by a path and optionally more parameters, the code block is treated as an insert command. The file is read and its contents are used in stead of the command.

3.4 Manipulating pandoc's metadata

Finally, you can access metadata in an input file through the metadata method available in a selector. This gives you the ability to create flexible filters that have different behavior depending on the metadata specified in the file. Furthermore, you can also set metadata. For example, each time you encounter a Strong node, you could add it to the keywords metadata to automatically generate a list of keywords.

As an example, I have created a filter that removes a pandoc configuration from the metadata if there is such a property:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
require "paru/filter"

Paru::Filter.run do 
  metadata.delete "pandoc" if metadata.has_key? "pandoc"

Instead of removing the pandoc property all together, I could also have updated it to have a markdown file be converted differently the second time it is run by do-pandoc.rb.

3.5 Paru filter API

Each of pandoc's internal types (see the table in Section 3.2) is a subclass of Paru::PandocFilter::Node. A Node has the following properties and methods:

Node's properties

Node's methods

Basic methods

AST manipulation methods

Markdown methods

The Document node

The Paru::PandocFilter::Document node is a special node representing a pandoc document. It has special static methods to create a document:

Furthermore, a document can be converted to json using the


Chapter 4. Putting it all together

Having discussed using paru and creating and using filters in the previous two chapters, it is now time to put it all together and into practice. As an example, the generation of this manual is used. In the directory documentation you find a number of files that comprise this manual. The root file is documentation.md, which contains some metadata, the outline of the manual, and a number of ::paru::insert commands to include the other markdown files from the documentation directory:

title: Paru—Pandoc wrapped around in Ruby
author: Huub de Beer
- pandoc
- ruby
- paru
- filter
- pandoc filter
  from: markdown
  to: markdown
  output: ../index.md
  standalone: true
  - ../examples/filters/insert_document.rb
  - ../examples/filters/number_chapters_and_sections_and_figures.rb
  - ../examples/filters/insert_code_block.rb
  - ../examples/filters/remove_pandoc_metadata.rb

::paru::insert preface.md

# Introduction

::paru::insert introduction.md

## Licence

::paru::insert licence.md

## Installation

::paru::insert install.md

## Paru says hello to pandoc

::paru::insert usage.md

# Automating the use of pandoc with paru

::paru::insert using_paru.md

# Writing and using pandoc filters with paru

::paru::insert using_filters.md

# Putting it all together

::paru::insert putting_it_all_together.md

# Frequently asked questions

::paru::insert faq.md

To generate the manual markdown file index.md, run the do-pandoc.rb script on document.md:

do-pandoc.rb documentation.md

Using some simple filters and a small Ruby script, paru enables you to automate using pandoc and perform simple and complex transformations on your input files to generate quite complex documents.

Chapter 5. Frequently asked questions

There are no frequently asked questions at the moment. Feel free to ask me a question: send me an email!