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Standard Markdown Becomes Common Markdown then CommonMark

by Abel Avram on Sep 08, 2014 |

A group of representatives from Stack Exchange, GitHub, Reddit, and others have started to standardize and enhance Markdown under the name Standard Markdown. Their efforts have met the opposition of John Gruber, the syntax’s creator, who does not want to see Markdown used in other projects, so the project was eventually renamed CommonMark.

Markdown is both a simple plain text formatting syntax and a Perl tool released by their creator, John Gruber, back in 2004. The tool is used to convert plain documents with Markdown formatting into their corresponding HTML. The syntax has seen growing adoption over the years, Markdown being used today by GitHub, Reddit, Stack Exchange, SourceForge, Atlassian Confluence to name a few, so we could say that it has been adopted by the software community. Its relative success has something to do with its simplicity, Gruber designing it so that,

A Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it's been marked up with tags or formatting instructions.

But not everybody has been happy with its evolution, more exactly the lack of it. The syntax has not seen a revision since v1.0.1 (2004), and many have created conversion tools that generate slightly different HTML documents, as shown by the Babelmark tool. Also, many would like to add various features to it, such as tables, definition lists, footnotes, etc.

One of those looking to improve Markdown is Jeff Atwood, co-founder of the Stack Exchange network, including StackOverflow. According to Atwood, a number of “key representatives from GitHub, from Reddit, from Stack Exchange, from the open source community” formed a “small private working group” intending to standardize Markdown, and open it for further enhancements. The group recently announced Standard Markdown, along with a dedicated website, standardmarkdown.com, which has been taken off a couple of days later at Gruber’s request.

In a private message to Atwood, Gruber qualified the association of standard with Markdown as “infuriating,” asking the standardizing group to rename the project, to shutdown standardmarkdown.com and to apologize. For a name, Gruber suggested they could use something like Strict Markdown or Pedantic Markdown. Atwood wanted to call it something else, and after waiting less than a day on Gruber’s reaction, he renamed it Common Markdown. But Gruber eventually added that “no form of the word ‘Markdown’ is acceptable to him”, so Atwood&comp. renamed it CommonMark.

The standardization efforts and the use of Markdown generated an important reaction from the community, with hundreds of comments (Standard Flavored Markdown, Standard Markdown is now Common Markdown, Reddit, Twitter). Some are defending Gruber’s position, rejecting any standardization efforts, while others want it standardized and improved. For those interested in taking it further, the CommonMark website contains the specification, the GitHub repository with implementations in C and JavaScript and some 400 conformance tests, and a forum that already has been filled with dozens of topics.

We should add that Markdown was initially released under a BSD-style open source license that specified among others that “Neither the name “Markdown” nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.” 

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