Full Information for Utilizing AsciiDoc in Linux


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Temporary: This detailed information discusses some great benefits of utilizing AsciiDoc and reveals you tips on how to set up and use AsciiDoc in Linux.

Through the years I used many alternative instruments to write down articles, reviews or documentation. I believe all began for me with Luc Barthelet’s Epistole on Apple IIc from the French editor Model Delicate. Then I switched to GUI instruments with the superb Microsoft Phrase 5 for Apple Macintosh, then the much less convincing (to me) StarOffice on Sparc Solaris, that was already often known as OpenOffice once I definitively switched to Linux. All these instruments have been actually word-processors.

However I used to be by no means actually satisfied by WYSIWYG editors. So I investigated many alternative more-or-less human-readable textual content codecs: troff, HTML, RTF, TeX/LaTeX, XML and at last AsciiDoc which is the device I take advantage of essentially the most at the moment. The truth is, I’m utilizing it proper now to write down this text!

If I made that historical past, it was as a result of in some way the loop is closed. Epistole was a word-processor of the text-console period. So far as I keep in mind, there have been menus and you need to use the mouse to pick out textual content — however a lot of the formatting was executed by including non-intrusive tags into the textual content. Similar to it’s executed with AsciiDoc. In fact, it was not the primary software program to do this. But it surely was the primary I used!

Controlling text alignment in Luc Barthelet's Epistole (1985-Apple II) by using commands embedded into the text

Controlling text alignment in Luc Barthelet's Epistole (1985-Apple II) by using commands embedded into the text

Why AsciiDoc (or some other textual content file format)?

I see two benefits in utilizing textual content codecs for writing: first, there’s a clear separation between the content material and the presentation. This argument is open to dialogue since some textual content codecs like TeX or HTML require a great self-discipline to stick to that separation. And alternatively, you possibly can in some way obtain some stage of separation through the use of templates and stylesheets with WYSIWYG editors. I agree with that. However I nonetheless discover presentation points intrusive with GUI instruments. Whereas, when utilizing textual content codecs, you possibly can give attention to the content material solely with none font type or widow line disturbing you in your writing. However perhaps it’s simply me? Nonetheless, I can’t depend the variety of occasions I ended my writing simply to repair some minor styling difficulty — and having misplaced my inspiration once I got here again to the textual content. In case you disagree or have a special expertise, don’t hesitate to contradict me utilizing the remark part under!

Anyway, my second argument might be much less topic to private interpretation: paperwork based mostly on textual content codecs are extremely interoperable. Not solely you possibly can edit them with any textual content editor on any platform, however you possibly can simply handle textual content revisions with a device reminiscent of git or SVN, or automate textual content modification utilizing widespread instruments reminiscent of sed, AWK, Perl and so forth. To provide you a concrete instance, when utilizing a text-based format like AsciiDoc, I solely want one command to provide extremely personalised mailing from a grasp doc, whereas the identical job utilizing a WYSIWYG editor would have required a intelligent use of “fields” and going by a number of wizard screens.

What’s AsciiDoc?

Strictly talking, AsciiDoc is a file format. It defines syntactic constructs that may assist a processor to grasp the semantics of the assorted components of your textual content. Often with a purpose to produce a properly formatted output.

Even when that definition may appear summary, that is one thing easy: some key phrases or characters in your doc have a particular that means that may change the rendering of the doc. That is the very same idea because the tags in HTML. However a key distinction with AsciiDoc is the property of the supply doc to stay simply human readable.

Test our GitHub repository to match how the identical output may be produced utilizing few widespread textual content recordsdata format: (espresso manpage thought courtesy of http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/1158)

espresso.man makes use of the venerable troff processor (based mostly on the 1964 RUNOFF program). It’s principally used at the moment to write down man pages. You’ll be able to attempt it after having downloaded the espresso.* recordsdata by typing man ./espresso.man at your command immediate.
espresso.tex makes use of the LaTeX syntax (1985) to attain principally the identical outcome however for a PDF output. LaTeX is a typesetting program particularly properly suited to scientific publications due to its capability to properly format mathematical formulae and tables. You’ll be able to produce the PDF from the LaTeX supply utilizing pdflatex espresso.tex
espresso.html is utilizing the HTML format (1991) to explain the web page. You’ll be able to straight open that file along with your favourite net browser to see the outcome.
espresso.adoc, lastly, is utilizing the AsciiDoc syntax (2002). You’ll be able to produce each HTML and PDF from that file:
asciidoc espresso.adoc # HTML output
a2x –format pdf ./espresso.adoc # PDF output (dblatex)
a2x –fop –format pdf ./espresso.adoc # PDF output (Apache FOP)

Now you’ve seen the outcome, open these 4 recordsdata utilizing your favourite textual content editor (nano, vim, SublimeText, gedit, Atom, … ) and evaluate the sources: there are nice possibilities you’ll agree the AsciiDoc sources are simpler to learn — and possibly to write down too.

Who is who? Could you guess which of these example files is written using AsciiDoc?

Who is who? Could you guess which of these example files is written using AsciiDoc?

Learn how to set up AsciiDoc in Linux?

AsciiDoc is comparatively complicated to put in due to the numerous dependencies. I imply complicated if you wish to set up it from sources. For many of us, utilizing our bundle supervisor might be the easiest way:

apt-get set up asciidoc fop

or the next command:

yum set up acsiidoc fop

(fop is simply required when you want the Apache FOP backend for PDF technology — that is the PDF backend I take advantage of myself)

Extra particulars concerning the set up may be discovered on the official AsciiDoc web site. For now, all you want now could be a bit of little bit of persistence, since, not less than on my minimal Debian system, putting in AsciiDoc require 360MB to be downloaded (principally due to the LaTeX dependency). Which, relying in your Web bandwidth, might provide you with loads of time to learn the remainder of this text.

AsciiDoc Tutorial: Learn how to write in AsciiDoc?

AsciiDoc tutorial for Linux

AsciiDoc tutorial for Linux

I mentioned it a number of occasions, AsciiDoc is a human-readable textual content file format. So, you possibly can write your paperwork utilizing the textual content editor of your alternative. There are even devoted textual content editors. However I cannot discuss them right here— just because I don’t use them. But when are utilizing one among them, don’t hesitate to share your suggestions utilizing the remark part on the finish of this text.

I don’t intend to create one more AsciiDoc syntax tutorial right here: there are many them already out there on the net. So I’ll solely point out the very primary syntactic constructs you’ll use in just about any doc. From the straightforward “espresso” command instance quoted above, you may even see:

titles in AsciiDoc are recognized by underlying them with === or — (relying on the title stage),
daring character spans are written between begins,
and italics between underscores.

These are fairly widespread conference in all probability relationship again to the pre-HTML e-mail period. As well as, you could want two different widespread constructs, not illustrated in my earlier instance: hyperlinks and pictures inclusion, whose syntax is fairly self-explanatory.

// HyperText hyperlinks
hyperlink:http://dashing-kazoo.flywheelsites.com[ItsFOSS Linux Blog]

// Inline Photographs
picture:https://itsfoss.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/itsfoss-text-logo.png[ItsFOSS Text Logo]

// Block Photographs
picture::https://itsfoss.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/itsfoss-text-logo.png[ItsFOSS Text Logo]

However the AsciiDoc syntax is far richer than that. If you’d like extra, I can level you to that good AsciiDoc cheatsheet: http://powerman.identify/doc/asciidoc

Learn how to render the ultimate output?

I’ll assume right here you’ve gotten already written some textual content following the AsciiDoc format. If this isn’t the case, you possibly can obtain right here some instance recordsdata copied straight out of the AsciiDoc documentation:

# Obtain the AsciiDoc Person Information supply doc
wget “$”/

Since AsciiDoc is human-readable, you possibly can ship the AsciiDoc supply textual content on to somebody by e-mail, and the recipient will be capable of learn that message with out additional ado. However, you could need to present some extra properly formatted output. For instance as HTML for net publication (identical to I’ve executed it for this text). Or as PDF for print or show utilization.

In all circumstances, you want a processor. The truth is, below the hood, you will have a number of processors. As a result of your AsciiDoc doc might be reworked into varied intermediate codecs earlier than producing the ultimate output. Since a number of instruments are used, the output of 1 being the enter of the following one, we generally communicate of a toolchain.

Even when I clarify some interior working particulars right here, you need to perceive most of that might be hidden from you. Until perhaps whenever you initially have to put in the instruments— or if you wish to fine-tune some steps of the method.

In apply?

For HTML output, you solely want the asciidoc device. For extra sophisticated toolchains, I encourage you to make use of the a2x device (a part of the AsciiDoc distribution) that may set off the required processors so as:

# All examples are based mostly on the AsciiDoc Person Information supply doc

# HTML output
asciidoc asciidoc.txt
firefox asciidoc.html

# XHTML output
a2x –format=xhtml asciidoc.txt

# PDF output (LaTeX processor)
a2x –format=pdf asciidoc.txt

# PDF output (FOP processor)
a2x –fop –format=pdf asciidoc.txt

Even when it could straight produce an HTML output, the core performance of the asciidoc device stays to rework the AsciiDoc doc to the intermediate DocBook format. DocBook is a XML-based format generally used for (however not restricted to) technical documentation publishing. DocBook is a semantic format. Meaning it describes your doc content material. However not its presentation. So formatting would be the subsequent step of the transformation. For that, no matter is the output format, the DocBook intermediate doc is processed by an XSLT processor to provide both straight the output (e.g. XHTML), or one other intermediate format.

That is the case whenever you generate a PDF doc the place the DocBook doc might be (at your will) transformed both as a LaTeX intermediate illustration or as XSL-FO (a XML-based language for web page description). Lastly, a devoted device will convert that illustration to PDF.

The additional steps for PDF generations are notably justified by the very fact the toolchain has to deal with pagination for the PDF output. One thing this isn’t vital for a “stream” format like HTML.

dblatex or fop?

Since there are two PDF backends, the standard query is “Which is the very best?” One thing I can’t reply for you.

Each processors have execs and cons. And in the end, the selection might be a compromise between your wants and your tastes. So I encourage you to take the time to attempt each of them earlier than selecting the backend you’ll use. In case you comply with the LaTeX path, dblatex would be the backend used to provide the PDF. Whereas it is going to be Apache FOP when you favor utilizing the XSL-FO intermediate format. So don’t neglect to try the documentation of those instruments to see how simple it is going to be to customise the output to your wants. Until after all if you’re happy with the default output!

Learn how to customise the output of AsciiDoc?

AsciiDoc to HTML

Out of the field, AsciiDoc produces fairly good paperwork. However ultimately you’ll what to customise their look.

The precise modifications will rely upon the backend you utilize. For the HTML output, most modifications may be executed by altering the CSS stylesheet related to the doc.

For instance, let’s say I need to show all part headings in purple, I may create the next customized.css file:


And course of the doc utilizing the marginally modified command:

# Set the ‘stylesheet’ attribute to
# absolutely the path to our customized CSS file
asciidoc -a stylesheet=$PWD/customized.css asciidoc.txt

You can even make modifications at a finer stage by attaching a task attribute to a component. This can translate into a category attribute within the generated HTML.

For instance, attempt to modify our check doc so as to add the position attribute to the primary paragraph of the textual content:

AsciiDoc is a textual content doc format ….

Then add the next rule to the customized.css file:

font-style: italic;

Re-generate the doc:

asciidoc -a stylesheet=$PWD/customized.css asciidoc.txt

AsciiDoc HTML output with custom CSS to display the first paragraph in italics and section headings in color

AsciiDoc HTML output with custom CSS to display the first paragraph in italics and section headings in color
et voila: the primary paragraph is now displayed in italic. With a bit of little bit of creativity, some persistence and a few CSS tutorials, you must be capable of customise your doc at your wills.

AsciiDoc to PDF

Customizing the PDF output is considerably extra complicated. Not from the creator’s perspective for the reason that supply textual content will stay an identical. Finally utilizing the identical position attribute as above to determine the components that want a particular therapy.

However you possibly can not use CSS to outline the formatting for PDF output. For the most typical settings, there are parameters you possibly can set from the command line. Some parameters can be utilized each with the dblatex and the fop backends, others are particular to every backend.

For the record of dblatex supported parameters, see http://dblatex.sourceforge.internet/doc/handbook/sec-params.html

For the record of DocBook XSL parameters, see http://docbook.sourceforge.internet/launch/xsl/1.75.2/doc/param.html

Since margin adjustment is a fairly widespread requirement, you may additionally need to try that: http://docbook.sourceforge.internet/launch/xsl/present/doc/fo/common.html

If the parameter names are considerably constant between the 2 backends, the command-line arguments used to move these values to the backends differ between dblatex and fop. So, double verify first your syntax if apparently, this isn’t working. However to be sincere, whereas writing this text I wasn’t in a position to make the physique.font.household parameter work with the dblatex backend. Since I often use fop, perhaps did I miss one thing? When you have extra clues about that, I might be more than pleased to learn your solutions within the remark part on the finish of this text!

Price mentioning utilizing non-standard fonts— even with fop–require some additional work. But it surely’s fairly properly documented on the Apache web site: https://xmlgraphics.apache.org/fop/trunk/fonts.html#bulk

a2x -v –format pdf
–xsltproc-opts=’–stringparam web page.margin.interior 10cm’
–xsltproc-opts=’–stringparam physique.font.household Helvetica’
–xsltproc-opts=’–stringparam physique.font.measurement 8pt’

# dblatex
# (physique.font.household _should_ work, however, apparently, it is not ?!?)
a2x -v –format pdf
–dblatex-opts=’–param web page.margin.interior=10cm’
–dblatex-opts=’–stringparam physique.font.household Helvetica’

Superb-grained setting for PDF technology

International parameters are good when you simply want to regulate some pre-defined settings. However if you wish to fine-tune the doc (or fully change the structure) you will have some additional efforts.

On the core of the DocBook processing there’s XSLT. XSLT is a pc language, expressed in XML notation, that permits to write down arbitrary transformation from an XML doc to … one thing else. XML or not.

For instance, you will have to increase or modify the DocBook XSL stylesheet to provide the XSL-FO code for the brand new types you might have considered trying. And when you use the dblatex backend, this will likely require modifying the corresponding DocBook-to-LaTeX XSLT stylesheet. In that latter case you may additionally want to make use of a customized LaTeX bundle. However I cannot give attention to that since dblatex isn’t the backend I take advantage of myself. I can solely level you to the official documentation if you wish to know extra. However as soon as once more, when you’re conversant in that, please share your ideas and methods within the remark part!

Even whereas focusing solely on fop, I don’t actually have the room right here to element the complete process. So, I’ll simply present you the modifications you possibly can use to acquire an identical outcome because the one obtained with few CSS strains in HTML output above. That’s: part titles in purple and a abstract paragraph in italics.

The trick I take advantage of right here is to create a brand new XSLT stylesheet, importing the unique DocBook stylesheet, however overriding the attribute units or template for the weather we need to change:



Then, you need to request a2x to make use of that customized XSL stylesheet to provide the output relatively than the default one utilizing the –xsl-file possibility:

a2x -v –format pdf

AsciiDoc PDF output generated from Apache FOP using a custom XSLT to display the first paragraph in italics and section headings in colorAsciiDoc PDF output generated from Apache FOP using a custom XSLT to display the first paragraph in italics and section headings in color

With a bit of little bit of familiarity with XSLT, the hints given right here and a few queries in your favourite search engine, I believe you must be capable of begin customizing the XSL-FO output.

However I cannot lie, some apparently easy modifications within the doc output might require you to spend fairly some occasions looking out by the DocBook XML and XSL-FO manuals, analyzing the stylesheets sources and performing a few checks earlier than you lastly obtain what you need.

My opinion

Writing paperwork utilizing a textual content format has large benefits. And if you have to publish to HTML, there’s not a lot cause for not utilizing AsciiDoc. The syntax is clear and neat, processing is straightforward and altering the presentation if wanted, principally require simple to amass CSS abilities.

And even when you don’t use the HTML output straight, HTML can be utilized as an interchange format with many WYSIWYG purposes at the moment. For example, that is was I’ve executed right here: I copied the HTML output of this text into the WordPress version space, thus conserving all formatting, with out having to kind something straight into WordPress.

If you have to publish to PDF— the benefits stay the identical for the author. Issues might be actually harsher if you have to change the default structure in depth although. In a company surroundings, that in all probability means hiring a doc designed expert with XSLT to provide the set of stylesheets that may fit your branding or technical necessities— or for somebody within the staff to amass these abilities. However as soon as executed it is going to be a pleasure to write down textual content with AsciiDoc. And seeing these writings being routinely transformed to stunning HTML pages or PDF paperwork!

Lastly, when you discover AsciiDoc both too simplistic or too complicated, you could check out another file codecs with related objectives: Markdown, Textile, reStructuredText or AsciiDoctor to call few. Even when based mostly on ideas relationship again to the early days of computing, the human-readable textual content format ecosystem is fairly wealthy. In all probability richer it was solely 20 years in the past. As a proof, many fashionable static website turbines are based mostly on them. Sadly, that is out of the scope for this text. So, tell us if you wish to hear extra about that!

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