The mathblog package

[Tags:bsd3, program]

This package provides a program for creating and managing a statically-generated, VCS-friendly, mathematically-inclined weblog. If you're interested in managing a blog with few moving parts and support for embedded LaTeX math, embedded function plotting, and the UNIX editor of your choice, then this is the blogging platform for you! For detailed information and a full feature list, please see the README.


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Properties

Versions 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.6
Dependencies base (>=3 && <5), bytestring (>=0.9 && <1.0), ConfigFile (==1.1.*), directory (>=1.0 && <1.1.0.2), filepath (>=1.1), HStringTemplate (==0.6.*), HUnit (==1.2.2.*), old-locale (==1.0.*), pandoc (==1.8.*), pandoc-types (==1.8.*), process (==1.0.*), SHA (==1.4.*), test-framework (>=0.3.3 && <0.4), test-framework-hunit (>=0.2.6 && <0.3), time (>=1.1), unix (>=2.3 && <2.5) [details]
License BSD3
Author Jonathan Daugherty <drcygnus@gmail.com>
Maintainer Jonathan Daugherty <drcygnus@gmail.com>
Stability Unknown
Category Web
Source repository head: git clone git://github.com/jtdaugherty/mathblog.git
Uploaded Sun Feb 19 17:02:56 UTC 2012 by JonathanDaugherty
Distributions NixOS:0.6
Downloads 966 total (8 in the last 30 days)
Votes
0 []
Status Docs not available [build log]
All reported builds failed as of 2015-11-23 [all 4 reports]

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Maintainer's Corner

For package maintainers and hackage trustees

Readme for mathblog

Readme for mathblog-0.3

mathblog

mathblog is a Haskell program targeted at people who want to write statically-generated, mathematically-themed weblogs. It supports:

  • Extended Markdown input syntax as supported by the Pandoc library

  • inline and block-level TeX math rendered by MathJax or LaTeX

  • Function graphing with Gnuplot or the TikZ / pgfplots LaTeX packages

  • Integration of Javascript-based web services such as Disqus

  • Template-based document rendering with support for layout and style customization

Project vision

I wrote mathblog with a very specific set of requirements in mind, motivated by the following principles:

  • A blog should be easy to create, host, and update.

  • A blog should be easy to maintain.

  • I should be able to edit posts in my editor of choice and write them in an intelligent textual markup language.

  • It should be easy to embed high-quality mathematical symbols and equations in the blog posts.

As a result, mathblog has the following properties:

  • The software is composed of a single executable which will automatically take care of creating your blog and regenerating pages when your post markup changes.

  • All content is stored in plain text files and is generated statically. No database or web framework is used.

  • A mathblog can be hosted with a simple static fileserver such as thttpd, Lighttpd, or Apache.

  • Blog posts are written in the Markdown format with extensions, as supported by the Pandoc document converter.

  • Math is embedded with $...$ or \(...\) for inline math and $$...$$ or \[...\] for block-level math.

These properties have some nice advantages; your blog content is cacheable and can be subjected to revision control. Posts are easy to edit and editing doesn't require a web browser. The static file representation model means you can compose a blog post on your laptop and get it just right using a local installation of mathblog, then push it up to your server to post it to your public blog.

Dependencies

mathblog takes advantage of three primary software components:

  • Pandoc, a document-processing library.

  • Math typesetting packages:

    • GladTex and LaTeX for math typesetting if you choose gladtex for the value of the 'mathBackend' configuration setting. GladTex 1.3 is required for best results. GladTex renders LaTeX snippets to images. This is the recommended backend for math typesetting. See https://sourceforge.net/projects/gladtex/

    • MathJax if you choose mathjax for the value of the 'mathBackend' configuration setting. mathblog uses the MathJax CDN for MathJax resources.

  • Function graph plotting packages:

    • The TikZ and pgfplots LaTeX packages if you choose gnuplot for the value of the 'eqBackend' configuration setting. This is the recommended backend for function graph plotting.

    • GNUplot if you choose gnuplot for the value of the 'eqBackend' configuration setting.

Creating a blog

To begin, set the following environment variable:

MB_BASE_DIR

This is the location of your blog files on the filesystem. It must be an absolute path. If you would rather use a command-line parameter, specify -d or --baseDir when running mb. The command line directory parameter will always override the environment variable if it is set.

Once you've set the environment variable, just run mb -i. It will take care of setting up a new blog data directory for you, complete with some default pages and a default first blog post:

$ export MB_BASE_DIR=`pwd`/myBlog
$ mb -i
Blog directory: .../myBlog
Setting up data directory using skeleton: /.../skel
Configuration file changed; regenerating all content.
Templates changed; regenerating accordingly.
Posts changed:
  first-post.txt
Post index changed; regenerating next/previous links.
Rendering first-post
Done.

Configuring the Blog

The default blog configuration file is called blog.cfg. This file contains information about you which may be included in the generated pages. The configuration file blog.cfg must have the following fields set:

  • baseUrl

    The base URL of your blog; this URL will be used to generate some links in the blog's pages where absolute URLs matter. Otherwise, relative URLs will be used, with an assumption that your blog is hosted at the root of a domain.

  • title

    The title of your blog, such as "My math blog".

  • authorName

    Your name (for the RSS feed metadata and the page footer).

  • authorEmail

    Your e-mail address (for the RSS feed metadata only).

  • mathBackend

    The backend used to render TeX math expressions. Can be either gladtex or mathjax. If gladtex, you will need the latest version of the gladtex program for best results. No special configuration is necessary for MathJax, as mathblog's default templates use CDN resources for MathJax.

  • eqBackend

    The backend used to render function graphs. Can be either tikz or gnuplot. See the Function Graph Embedding section below for details.

Note that if you pick a math or function graphing backend which isn't supported by your system, mb will emit errors when processing your posts.

All of the above fields can be accessed in templates using the syntax described in "Customizing your blog" below.

Serving the Blog

To serve your blog files you can either make the "html" directory a document root for your web server or virtual host, or you can symlink the html directory to the location of choice. The mathblog directory itself is not intended to be in your web server's document tree because it contains many files that shouldn't be served to users.

Start up a web server pointing at the html directory and take a look.

Now you might want to edit or create a new post, or even remove one. Just edit the appropriate file in posts/ accordingly and re-run mb. Here's an example of adding a new post:

$ mb
mb: using base directory ".../myBlog"
Posts changed:
  first-post.txt
Rendering 1 post(s)...
Rendering first-post
Done.

When to run mb

mb looks at the modification times of your post files in posts/, the config file, template files, and the post index (see below) when determining when to regenerate content. It also looks for new posts that haven't been rendered in the past. The rule of thumb is: re-run mb whenever you make any changes to:

  • templates in templates/
  • post files in posts/
  • the post index, posts/posts-index
  • blog.cfg

Modifying a post will cause that post to be re-rendered, but modifiying the configuration file will cause ALL posts to be re-rendered (since the configuration file contains values that will affect all hyperlinks contained inside each post). mb will always rebuild the portions of each page affected by template changes even if post source files are unchanged.

Post format

Posts are formatted in Markdown and support the extended Markdown syntax as implemented by Pandoc. The only important convention to note is that the post title goes on the first line of the file following a percent sign, as follows:

%My First Post

First paragraph starts here.

Running mb in "listen" mode

Ordinarily, you'll just run mb once in a while to update your content. But if you're in the middle of authoring a new post and you want to see what it looks like as you edit it rather than run mb by hand periodically, you can run mb in "listen" mode; this means that mb will run forever, peroidically scanning the filesystem for changes to your blog posts and other data files and regenerate them when it detects a change. Running mathblog in listen mode is simple:

$ mb -l
Blog directory: /.../blog
Post index changed; regenerating next/previous links.
Done.

Blog directory: /.../blog
Configuration file changed; regenerating all content.
Rendering 1 post(s)...
Rendering first-post
Done.

Blog directory: /Users/cygnus/blog3
Posts changed:
  first-post.txt
Rendering 1 post(s)...
Rendering first-post
Done.

Above I ran mb in listen mode and then modified the post index, then the blog config file, then one of the posts. In each case mb detected the change and ran its typical regeneration routine.

Customizing your blog

It's likely that you'll want to customize the look and feel of your blog. To this end, mathblog generates the pages of your blog by assembling various pieces of the page to create the final result. The biggest piece of a generated page is the blog post itself, but the surrounding elements are read from various files that are created by mathblog when it creates your blog data directory. These files are stored in the templates/ subdirectory of your blog data directory and are as follows:

  • templates/rssTemplate.xml

    This is the template used to generate your RSS feed.

  • templates/pageTemplate.html

    This file makes up the overall structure of every page on the blog.

  • templates/postTemplate.html

    This file makes up the structure of the post portion of the page, for pages which show posts (i.e., not the post index).

In addition, subdirectories of the html/ directory contain things you might want to customize, such as a CSS stylesheet.

The templates mentioned above are StringTemplate templates and are processed with the HStringTemplate library. The following template placeholders are supported in each template:

  • $title$, $baseUrl$, $authorName$, $authorEmail$

    These placeholders all correspond directly to fields on the blog.cfg configuration file.

  • $extraPageHead$

    Content to be placed in the <HEAD> tag of the page, such as javascript tags, stylesheets, etc. You'll need to ensure that this is somewhere in your <HEAD> tag if you want to use mathblog features which may need to load extra resources.

These placeholders are supported in the post template:

  • $jsInfo$

    A brief javascript used to provide information about the page to other javascripts (see "Other features" below for usage).

  • $nextPrevLinks$

    HTML displaying the "next" and "previous" links for older/newer posts.

  • $post$

    The body of the post itself.

These placeholders are supported in the page template:

  • $content$

    The content of the page to be rendered.

Function Graph Embedding

mathblog supports inline scripts for rendering function graphs. Right now, mathblog supports Gnuplot and the TikZ / pgfplots LaTeX packages. Set the 'eqBackend' configuration option (see above) to choose a backend.

Gnuplot

To specify a Gnuplot function graph in a blog post, we overload the Pandoc code block syntax. Here's an example of a Gnuplot graph:

~~~ {#eq-basic}
f(x) = x
plot [-5.0:5.0] [-5.0:5.0] f(x) lt rgb "blue"
~~~

This defines a single function and plots it in blue over the specified intervals. The most important part is the "#eq-basic" bit: this specifies the equation preamble to use when generating the output image. This string refers to this preamble file in your blog directory:

eq-preambles/eq-basic.txt

This file contains the commands responsible for determining the output image size and axis configuration. The contents of the code block that you write get appended to the contents of the preamble file you specify to result in the full gnuplot script, whose output gets embedded in the page. We use these templates to make it easier to create many graphs that have the same general structure (e.g., axis configuration, image size) without having to repeat the full gnuplot script each time.

You can create other gnuplot premables to suit your needs; just reference them in the code block in the same way. For example, you might create eq-preambles/eq-fancy.txt, in which case the code block syntax to use it is:

~~~ {#eq-fancy}
<your script here>
~~~

TikZ / pgfplots

To specify a TikZ / pgfplots function graph in a blog post, we overload the Pandoc code block syntax. Here's an example of a TikZ figure:

~~~ {#tikz}
\begin{axis}[
        minor tick num=3,
        axis y line=center,
        axis x line=middle,
    ]

\addplot[smooth,mark=none,blue] plot coordinates {
    (-1,-1)
    (2.95,2.95)
};
~~~

This is a LaTeX fragment which will automatically be embedded in a tikzpicture environment and rendered to an image within the blog post. For more information on the powerful TikZ / pgfplots packages, please see https://sourceforge.net/projects/pgfplots/

Styling Function Graphs with CSS

Note that the Pandoc syntax also allows us to assign CSS class names to the code block, and mathblog passes these through to the generated image. So if you wanted to wrap your text around the generated image, you could create a CSS class like this:

.eq-right {
  float: right;
}

and then assign it to your equation graph like this:

~~~ {#eq-basic .eq-right}
...
~~~

For more information on the code block syntax, please see:

http://johnmacfarlane.net/pandoc/README.html#delimited-code-blocks

Other features

Since mathblog doesn't provide many moving parts, it's up to you to outsource various web site features, such as comments. I've successfully integrated mathblog with the Disqus comments service. To do this, some javascript needs to be embedded in the blog pages. Disqus works best when you supply it with a page identifier so it can guarantee that comments are post-specific rather than URL-specific. The way mathblog makes this possible is by exposing a JavaScript variable to other scripts in your page:

Blog.pageName = "foobar-baz";

This variable name can be used by scripts you embed, such as with Disqus comment forms:

var disqus_identifier = Blog.pageName;

Controlling Post Order

Whenever you add a new post, mb automatically updates the "post index", a file called posts-index in the post source directory. This file lists the filenames of all posts from newest to oldest. By default, new posts get added to the beginning of the list, as you would expect. Any new posts added to the list are sorted by modification time so that the newest post on disk appears earlier in the index. This feature exists to make it possible for older posts to be updated without changing their ordering in the overall sequence of posts.

At any time, you can edit the index to reorder the posts as you see fit. mb will preserve ordering of posts already in the index when you run it in the future.

mb will also take care of removing posts from the index if they've been removed from the post source directory.

Afterword

I personally use this software package but I'll be pleased if others find it useful. In addition, I'm open to accepting contributions on the project if they're consistent with what I've outlined above. Happy blogging!

Jonathan Daugherty (drcygnus@gmail.com)