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Introduction

If you need to render a format not already handled by pandoc, or you want to change how pandoc renders a format, you can create a custom writer using the Lua language. Pandoc has a built-in Lua interpreter, so you needn't install any additional software to do this.

A custom writer is a Lua file that defines how to render the document. Writers must define just a single function, named either Writer or ByteStringWriter, which gets passed the document and writer options, and then handles the conversion of the document, rendering it into a string. This interface was introduced in pandoc 2.17.2, with ByteString writers becoming available in pandoc 3.0.

Pandoc also supports "classic" custom writers, where a Lua function must be defined for each AST element type. Classic style writers are deprecated and should be replaced with new-style writers if possible.

Writers

Custom writers using the new style must contain a global function named Writer or ByteStringWriter. Pandoc calls this function with the document and writer options as arguments, and expects the function to return a UTF-8 encoded string.

function Writer (doc, opts)
  -- ...
end

Writers that do not return text but binary data should define a function with name ByteStringWriter instead. The function must still return a string, but it does not have to be UTF-8 encoded and can contain arbitrary binary data.

If both Writer and ByteStringWriter functions are defined, then only the Writer function will be used.

Format extensions

Writers can be customized through format extensions, such as smart, citations, or hard_line_breaks. The global Extensions table indicates supported extensions with a key. Extensions enabled by default are assigned a true value, while those that are supported but disabled are assigned a false value.

Example: A writer with the following global table supports the extensions smart, citations, and foobar, with smart enabled and the others disabled by default:

Extensions = {
  smart = true,
  citations = false,
  foobar = false
}

The users control extensions as usual, e.g., pandoc -t my-writer.lua+citations. The extensions are accessible through the writer options' extensions field, e.g.:

function Writer (doc, opts)
  print(
    'The citations extension is',
    opts.extensions:includes 'citations' and 'enabled' or 'disabled'
  )
  -- ...
end

Default template

The default template of a custom writer is defined by the return value of the global function Template. Pandoc uses the default template for rendering when the user has not specified a template, but invoked with the -s/--standalone flag.

The Template global can be left undefined, in which case pandoc will throw an error when it would otherwise use the default template.

Example: modified Markdown writer

Writers have access to all modules described in the Lua filters documentation. This includes pandoc.write, which can be used to render a document in a format already supported by pandoc. The document can be modified before this conversion, as demonstrated in the following short example. It renders a document as GitHub Flavored Markdown, but always uses fenced code blocks, never indented code.

function Writer (doc, opts)
  local filter = {
    CodeBlock = function (cb)
      -- only modify if code block has no attributes
      if cb.attr == pandoc.Attr() then
        local delimited = '```\n' .. cb.text .. '\n```'
        return pandoc.RawBlock('markdown', delimited)
      end
    end
  }
  return pandoc.write(doc:walk(filter), 'gfm', opts)
end

function Template ()
  local template = pandoc.template
  return template.compile(template.default 'gfm')
end

Reducing boilerplate with pandoc.scaffolding.Writer

The pandoc.scaffolding.Writer structure is a custom writer scaffold that serves to avoid common boilerplate code when defining a custom writer. The object can be used as a function and allows to skip details like metadata and template handling, requiring only the render functions for each AST element type.

The value of pandoc.scaffolding.Writer is a function that should usually be assigned to the global Writer:

Writer = pandoc.scaffolding.Writer

The render functions for Block and Inline values can then be added to Writer.Block and Writer.Inline, respectively. The functions are passed the element and the WriterOptions.

Writer.Inline.Str = function (str)
  return str.text
end
Writer.Inline.SoftBreak = function (_, opts)
  return opts.wrap_text == "wrap-preserve"
    and cr
    or space
end
Writer.Inline.LineBreak = cr

Writer.Block.Para = function (para)
  return {Writer.Inlines(para.content), pandoc.layout.blankline}
end

The render functions must return a string, a pandoc.layout Doc element, or a list of such elements. In the latter case, the values are concatenated as if they were passed to pandoc.layout.concat. If the value does not depend on the input, a constant can be used as well.

The tables Writer.Block and Writer.Inline can be used as functions; they apply the right render function for an element of the respective type. E.g., Writer.Block(pandoc.Para 'x') will delegate to the Writer.Para render function and will return the result of that call.

Similarly, the functions Writer.Blocks and Writer.Inlines can be used to render lists of elements, and Writer.Pandoc renders the document's blocks.

All predefined functions can be overwritten when needed.

The resulting Writer uses the render functions to handle metadata values and converts them to template variables. The template is applied automatically if one is given.

Classic style

A writer using the classic style defines rendering functions for each element of the pandoc AST. Note that this style is deprecated and may be removed in later versions.

For example,

function Para(s)
  return "<paragraph>" .. s .. "</paragraph>"
end

Template variables

New template variables can be added, or existing ones modified, by returning a second value from function Doc.

For example, the following will add the current date in variable date, unless date is already defined as either a metadata value or a variable:

function Doc (body, meta, vars)
  vars.date = vars.date or meta.data or os.date '%B %e, %Y'
  return body, vars
end

Changes in pandoc 3.0

Custom writers were reworked in pandoc 3.0. For technical reasons, the global variables PANDOC_DOCUMENT and PANDOC_WRITER_OPTIONS are set to the empty document and default values, respectively. The old behavior can be restored by adding the following snippet, which turns a classic into a new style writer.

function Writer (doc, opts)
  PANDOC_DOCUMENT = doc
  PANDOC_WRITER_OPTIONS = opts
  loadfile(PANDOC_SCRIPT_FILE)()
  return pandoc.write_classic(doc, opts)
end