|Title||Writing I-Ds and RFCs Using Pandoc and a Bit of XML
Independent Submission R. Gieben
Request for Comments: 7328 Google
Category: Informational August 2014
Writing I-Ds and RFCs Using Pandoc and a Bit of XML
This document presents a technique for using a Markdown syntax
variant, called Pandoc, and a bit of XML (as defined in RFC 2629) as
a source format for documents that are Internet-Drafts (I-Ds) or
The goal of this technique (which is called Pandoc2rfc) is to let an
author of an I-D focus on the main body of text without being
distracted too much by XML tags; however, it does not alleviate the
need to typeset some files in XML.
Status of This Memo
This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
published for informational purposes.
This is a contribution to the RFC Series, independently of any other
RFC stream. The RFC Editor has chosen to publish this document at
its discretion and makes no statement about its value for
implementation or deployment. Documents approved for publication by
the RFC Editor are not a candidate for any level of Internet
Standard; see Section 2 of RFC 5741.
Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at
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Table of Contents
1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
2. Pandoc to RFC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
2.1. Dependencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
3. Building an Internet-Draft . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
4. Supported Features . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
5. Unsupported Features and Limitations . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6. Pandoc Style . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6.1. Figures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6.2. Tables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6.3. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6.4. Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
7. Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
8. Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
9. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
9.1. Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
9.2. Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Appendix A. Cheat Sheet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
This document presents a technique for using a Markdown [Markdown]
syntax variant, called Pandoc [Pandoc], and a bit of XML [RFC2629] as
a source format for documents that are Internet-Drafts (I-Ds) or
The goal of this technique is to let an author of an I-D focus on the
main body of text without being distracted too much by XML tags;
however, it does not alleviate the need to typeset some files in XML.
Pandoc is a format that is almost plain text and therefore
particularly well suited for editing RFC-like documents. The syntax
itself is a superset of the syntax championed by Markdown.
2. Pandoc to RFC
Pandoc's syntax is easy to learn and write, and it can be translated
to numerous output formats, including, but not limited to: HTML,
EPUB, (plain) Markdown, and DocBook XML.
Pandoc2rfc allows authors to write in Pandoc syntax that is then
transformed to XML and given to xml2rfc. The conversions are, in a
way, amusing, as we start off with (almost) plain text, use elaborate
XML, and end up with plain text again.
+-------------------+ pandoc +---------+
| ALMOST PLAIN TEXT | ------> | DOCBOOK |
+-------------------+ 1 +---------+
non-existent | 2 | xsltproc
faster way | |
+------------+ xml2rfc +---------+
| PLAIN TEXT | <-------- | XML |
+------------+ 3 +---------+
Figure 1: Attempt to justify Pandoc2rfc
The output of step 2 in Figure 1 is XML that is suitable for
inclusion in either the "middle" or "back" section of an RFC.
Even though Pandoc2rfc abstracts away a lot of XML details, there are
still places left where XML files needs to be edited -- most notably
in the "front" section of an RFC.
The simplest way to start using Pandoc2rfc is to create a template
XML file and include the appropriate XML for the "front", "middle",
and "back" section:
<?xml version='1.0' ?>
<!DOCTYPE rfc SYSTEM 'rfc2629.dtd' [
<!ENTITY pandocAbstract PUBLIC '' 'abstract.xml'>
<!ENTITY pandocMiddle PUBLIC '' 'middle.xml'>
<!ENTITY pandocBack PUBLIC '' 'back.xml'>
<!ENTITY rfc.2629 PUBLIC '' 'reference.RFC.2629.xml'>
<rfc ipr='trust200902' docName='draft-string-example'>
<title>Writing I-Ds and RFCs using Pandoc</title>
<references title="Normative References">
Figure 2: A minimal template.xml
In this case, you will need to edit four documents:
1. "abstract.mkd" - contains the abstract;
2. "middle.mkd" - contains the main body of text;
3. "back.mkd" - holds the appendices (if any);
4. and this "template.xml" -- probably a fairly static file; among
other things, it holds the author(s) and the references.
Up-to-date source code for Pandoc2rfc can be found at [Pandoc2rfc];
this includes the style sheet "transform.xsl", which is used for the
XML transformation (also see Section 3).
Pandoc2rfc needs "xsltproc" [XSLT] and "pandoc" [Pandoc] to be
installed. The conversion to xml2rfc XML is done with a style sheet
based on XSLT version 1.0 [W3C.REC-xslt-19991116].
When using the template from Figure 2, xml2rfc version 2 (or higher)
must be used.
3. Building an Internet-Draft
Assuming the setup from Section 2, we can build an I-D as follows (in
a Unix-like environment):
for i in abstract middle back; do
pandoc -st docbook $i.mkd | xsltproc --nonet transform.xsl - > $i.xml
xml2rfc template.xml -f draft.txt --text # create text output
xml2rfc template.xml -f draft.html --html # or create HTML output
xml2rfc template.xml -f draft.xml --exp # or create XML output
Figure 3: Building an I-D
Note that the output file names (abstract.xml, middle.xml, and
back.xml) must match the names used as the XML entities in
"template.xml". (See the "!ENTITY" lines in Figure 2.) The
Pandoc2rfc source repository includes a shell script that
incorporates the above transformations. Creating a "draft.txt" or a
"draft.xml" can be done with "pandoc2rfc *.mkd" and "pandoc2rfc -X
4. Supported Features
The full description of Pandoc's syntax can be found in
[PandocGuide]. The following features of xml2rfc are supported by
Pandoc2rfc (also see Table 1 in Appendix A for a "cheat sheet"):
o Sections with an anchor and title attributes;
o Several list styles:
* style="symbols", use "* " for each item;
* style="numbers", use digits: "1. " for each item;
* style="empty", use "#. " for each item;
* style="format %i", use lowercase Roman numerals: "ii. ";
* style="format (%d)", use uppercase Roman numerals "II. ";
* style="format ...", use strike-through text at the start in the
first element, "1. ~~REQ%d.~~ ";
* style="letters", use lower- or uppercase letters: "a. " and
"A. " (note: two spaces as mandated by Pandoc);
* style="hanging", use the Pandoc definition list syntax:
: Definition 1
o Spanx style="verb", style="emph", and style="strong",
respectively, use: "`text`", "_text_" or "**text**";
o Block quote, which is converted to a paragraph within a "<list
o Figures with an anchor and title (Section 6.1);
o Tables with an anchor and title (Section 6.2);
o References (Section 6.3)
* external ("<eref>");
* cross-reference ("<xref>"), to:
+ sections (handled by Pandoc);
+ figures (handled by XSLT);
+ tables (handled by XSLT).
o Index, by using footnotes and superscript text (Section 6.4);
o Citations, by using cross-references;
o Processing Instructions (PIs), which appear as "<?rfc?>", may be
used after a section header. They are carried over to the
o The "<vspace>" tag is supported and carried over to the generated
5. Unsupported Features and Limitations
With Pandoc2rfc, an author of an I-D can get a long way without
needing to input XML, but it is not a 100% solution. The initial
setup and the reference library still force the author to edit XML
files. The metadata feature (Pandoc's "Title Block" extension) is
not used in Pandoc2rfc. This information (authors, date, keyword,
and URLs) should be put in the "template.xml".
Some other quirks:
o Comments are supported via HTML comments in the Pandoc source
o Citations are supported via cross-references; the citation syntax
of Pandoc is not used.
o Authors still need to know how to deal with possible errors from
6. Pandoc Style
The following sections detail how to use the Pandoc syntax for
figures, tables, and references to get the desired output.
Indent the paragraph with 4 spaces as mandated by Pandoc. If you add
an inline footnote _directly_ after the figure, the artwork gets a
title attribute with the text of that footnote (and a possible
A table can be entered by using Pandoc's table syntax. You can
choose multiple styles as input, but they all are converted to the
same style table (plain "<texttable>") in xml2rfc. If you add an
inline footnote _directly_ after the table, it will get a title
attribute with the text of that footnote (and a possible anchor).
The built-in syntax of Pandoc to create a caption with "Table:"
should not be used.
Pandoc provides a syntax that can be used for references. Its syntax
is repeated in this paragraph. Any reference like
"[Click here](URI)" is an external reference. An internal reference
(i.e., "see Section X") is typeset with "(#localid)".
For referencing RFCs (and other documents), you will need to add the
reference source in the template as an external XML entity; Figure 2
provides an example. After that, you can use the following syntax to
create a citation: "(#RFC2629)" to cite RFC 2629.
There is no direct support for referencing tables, figures, and
artworks, but Pandoc2rfc employs the following "hack". If an inline
footnote is added after the figure or table, the text of the footnote
is used as the title. The first word up until a double colon "::"
will be used as the anchor. If a figure has an anchor, it will be
centered on the page.
Figure 2, for instance, is followed by this inline footnote:
^[fig:minimal::A minimal template.xml.]
An index can be generated by using the following syntax:
^[ ^item^ subitem ]
where "subitem" is optional.
The following people have helped shape Pandoc2rfc: Benno Overeinder,
Erlend Hamnaberg, Matthijs Mekking, and Trygve Laugstoel.
8. Security Considerations
This document raises no security issues.
9.1. Normative References
[RFC2629] Rose, M., "Writing I-Ds and RFCs using XML", RFC 2629,
Clark, J., "XSL Transformations (XSLT) Version 1.0", World
Wide Web Consortium Recommendation REC-xslt-19991116,
[XSLT] Veillard, D., "The XSLT C library for GNOME", 2006,
9.2. Informative References
[Markdown] Gruber, J., "Markdown", 2004,
[Pandoc] MacFarlane, J., "Pandoc, a universal document converter",
Gieben, R., "Pandoc2rfc git repository", October 2012,
MacFarlane, J., "Pandoc User's Guide", 2006,
Appendix A. Cheat Sheet
| Textual construct | Pandoc syntax | Text output |
| Section Header | "# Section" | 1. Section |
| Unordered List | "* item" | o item |
| Unordered List | "#. item" | item |
| Ordered List | "1. item" | 1. item |
| Ordered List | "a. item" | a. item |
| Ordered List | "ii. item" | i. item |
| Ordered List | "II. item" | (1) item |
| Ordered List | "A. item" | A. item |
| Ordered List | "1. ~~REQ%d.~~" | REQ1. |
| Emphasis | "_text_" | _text_ |
| Strong Emphasis | "**text**" | *text* |
| Verbatim | "`text`" | "text" |
| Block Quote | "> quote" | quote |
| External Reference | "[Click](URI)" | Click  |
| Internal Reference | "(#id)" | Section 1 |
| Figure Anchor | "^[fid::text]" | N/A |
| Figure Reference | "(#fid)" | Figure 1 |
| Table Anchor | "^[tid::text]" | N/A |
| Table Reference | "(#tid)" | Table 1 |
| Citations | "(#RFC2119)" | [RFC2119] |
| Table | Tables | * |
| Figures | Code Blocks | * |
| Definition List | Definition | * |
| Index | ^[ ^item^ ] | * |
* This construct creates output too voluminous to show in the table.
Table 1: The most important textual constructs that
can be used in Pandoc2rfc
R. (Miek) Gieben