Advanced templates: variable variables


In a typical markmeld application, you'll encode the structure of your document within the jinja file. That's great. But to make the template reusable, sometimes it's convenient to do things like specify a list of items that show up somewhere in the document. For example, you may want a template to display a list of files in the output. If you encoded this directly, you'd have to change the template if the number of files changed. Here, we'll walk through a better alternative that uses markmeld data_variables with a jinja loop through the md array.

The markmeld _md array

How to access variable-named elements

Here's an example. Say I'm writing a book on finances. I have 3 chapters: intro, credit, and savings, each written in its own .md file. To start, I write a simple _markmeld.yaml config file that loads each chapter into an object:

    jinja_template: book.jinja
    output_file: "{today}_demo_output.pdf"
      intro: md/
      credit: md/
      savings: md/

My book.jinja template could simply be like this, which puts the chapters in order:

{{ intro }}
{{ credit }}
{{ savings }}

Great. That works. But the problem is that this jinja template is specific now to this particular set of chapters, and adding new chapters means changing the template, which is a pain. Could I make book.jinja adaptable and generic, so it will work with any chapters I add, and even extend to work with any book I may write in the future, regardless of what I name the chapter files and variables? Yes! You can do this using the magic of data.variables. Instead of specifying chapters directly in book.jinja, we'll take advantage of 2 markmeld features: 1. The _md variable contains an array of all the .md files in our target's data, indexed by key we specify; and 2. we can specify custom data to the jinja tempalte using data.variables. We'll define an array of variable names, and then use a jinja loop to loop through that array and use those values to index into the _md object.

The md array

Markmeld makes available to jinja an array under the name md which has access to all of the markdown elements keyed by their names. So, while you can access the intro chapter directly with {{ intro }}, you can also access it through the md array using {{ _md["intro"].content }}. Take it one step further, and this means if you have "intro" in a variable, say myvar, you could access the exact same content with {{ _md[myvar].content }}.

So, let's set up an array with values as the chapter names by adding this to _markmeld.yaml:

          - intro
          - credit
          - savings

This will give us access in the jinja template to a chapters array with those 3 values in it. So, we can switch the markmeld template to use this array like so...

{% for chapter in chapters %}
{{ _md[chapter].content }}
{% endfor %}

And voila! We have the same output, but now we've encoded the chapter order logic in the markmeld config file, and this jinja template can be reused. It's beautiful.

_md array properties

In addition to the .content property, for each md file, you can also access other stuff:

  • _md[id].content - content of the file
  • _md[id].path - path to the file (relative to _markmeld.yaml)
  • _md[id].frontmatter - frontmatter in the md file
  • _md[id].ext - file extension

_yaml array

The _yaml array operates in much the same way, though it doesn't provide a .frontmatter since there's no frontmatter to a yaml array. So it just provides:

  • _md[id].content - content of the file
  • _md[id].path - path to the file (relative to _markmeld.yaml)
  • _md[id].ext - file extension