What exactly is Markdown?

markdown post image

In today's digital world, where content is said to be king, the tools we use to create copy are essential for productivity. A technology that plays a central role (and not just for me) is Markdown - a lightweight markup language format that allows, for example, the creation of HTML code from simple text.

To quickly answer the question in the title:

Markdown is a lightweight markup language that allows you to add formatting elements to text documents.

For me personally, Markdown has a special meaning as it is an integral part of my writing process, especially when writing posts for this blog.

markdown photo

This is how I use Markdown when blogging

I write all posts in Bear, a writing and note-taking program for Mac, iPad and iPhone that fully supports Markdown. Bear has grown on me because it has a very clean look and the text you are working on is presented very beautifully.

After formatting the content in Bear with Markdown, I simply copy it as HTML directly into Bear and then insert it into WordPress.

bear-copy-as-html
Here you can see that you can copy text directly in different formats in Bear.

This workflow has proven to be extremely reliable, especially because WordPress is occasionally prone to losing login sessions, which can result in post changes not being saved. It's happened to me several times and every time I was really annoyed that my good text was gone.

By using Bear and Markdown, I have successfully avoided these frustrations over the past few years.

Markdown encourages focused writing

Not only does Markdown provide a reliable bridge between writing and final publishing on the website, but it also allows me to fully concentrate on writing without being distracted by complex formatting options.

I like this special way of writing text so much that I would like to briefly introduce it to you here.

A small sample article using Markdown that Bear immediately displays in formatting.
A small sample article using Markdown that Bear immediately displays in formatting.

Basics of Markdown

Markdown is a markup language developed by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz in 2004 to make writing on the web easier. The idea was to create easy-to-read and write text that could be easily converted into HTML - the backbone of the Internet.

Here is some background information about Markdown:

  • Origin: Markdown was developed in 2004 by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz to make writing HTML documents easier.
  • Objective: Markdown is a simple markup language that aims to make text formatting easy to read and write without affecting the readability of the raw text.
  • Syntax: Markdown uses simple characters such as stars, underscores, and hashtags to format text such as bold, italics, headings, and lists.
  • conversion: Markdown documents can be converted to HTML for viewing in browsers.
  • Areas of application: Markdown is widely used for blogs, instant messaging, online forums, documentation and readme files.
  • Extensions: There are various Markdown dialects, such as GitHub Flavored Markdown (GFM), that support additional features such as tables, footnotes, and definitions.
  • standardization: The original Markdown specification was informal and resulted in various implementations. In 2014, CommonMark was released as an unambiguous specification and test suite for Markdown.
  • Usage: Markdown is often used by programmers and tech-savvy people to write documentation and readme files.
  • Integration: Markdown plugins are available for many content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress and Joomla.
  • future: Markdown developers argue that full standardization does not always produce the best results because different websites and users have different needs.

Why Markdown?

The key to Markdown's success lies in its simplicity. Unlike other markup languages ​​that can be found complicated and inaccessible by non-technical users, Markdown is designed to be intuitive and easy to learn. This means you can focus on what's really important: your content.

Thanks to John Gruber we can enjoy Markdown (photo from his Threads page).
Thanks to John Gruber we can enjoy Markdown (photo from his Threads page).

The syntax of Markdown

Markdown uses simple characters that you already know from text editing, such as asterisks (*) for bold text or underscores (_) for italic text, to name a few. These characters are used as “markup,” which defines the formatting of the text without compromising readability.

Here's a quick overview of some basic Markdown elements and how to use them:

  • headlines: Are prefixed by one to six # Symbols in front of the text are defined, depending on the hierarchy level of the heading.
  • heels: Are created simply by writing text on a new line.
  • Bold and italic: To make text bold, enclose it with two asterisks or underscores (**fett** or __fett__). Italic text is obtained using a single asterisk or underscore (*kursiv* or _kursiv_).
  • Lists: Unordered lists are created with asterisks, plus signs or minus signs (*, +, -), while ordered lists simply contain numbers followed by a period (e.g 1.) begin.
  • Links: Hyperlinks are created using square brackets followed by round brackets ([Linktext](URL)).
  • Pictures: Similar to links, only preceded by an exclamation mark (![Alt-Text](URL)).

These elements form the foundation of Markdown and enable you to quickly and efficiently format your content for the web.

Markdown formatting examples

To illustrate the application of Markdown in practice, let's take a look at some concrete examples. These show how easy and intuitive text design with Markdown can be.

headlines

Markdown supports six levels of headings, divided by the number of # Symbols can be determined before the text. Here's an example:

# Heading 1 ## Heading 2 ### Heading 3 #### Heading 4 ##### Heading 5 ###### Heading 6

Paragraphs and line breaks

Paragraphs are created simply by leaving a blank line between blocks of text. To break a line within a paragraph, add two spaces at the end of the line before pressing Enter.

This is a paragraph. A new paragraph begins here. To create a line break within a paragraph, add two spaces at the end of the line.

Bold and italic

Text can be quickly made bold or italic to emphasize certain parts.

*This text is italic* while **this text is bold**. ***This text is in italics and bold.***

Lists

Lists are an essential element for presenting content in a structured manner. Here is an example of unordered and ordered lists:

Unordered list: - Item 1 - Item 2 - Item 3 Ordered list: 1. First step 2. Second step 3. Third step

A tip for ordered lists: If you start them with “0. ” begins with each item, then it is automatically numbered (thanks, Michael!).

Links and images

Links and images enrich your texts and are easy to integrate with Markdown.

This is a [Link to Sir Apfelot](https://www.sir-apfelot.de). And this is how you insert an image: ![Alt ​​text for the image](https://www.sir-apfelot.de/image.jpg)

--

For technical articles or tutorials, it is often necessary to show code examples. Markdown makes it easy:

Single-line code `code` is marked with backticks.

For more extensive code sections, you can introduce and end them with either three backticks (“`) or three tildes (~~~). Both methods make it possible to separate code blocks from the rest of the text and display them clearly.

``` javascript function greet(name) { console.log(`Hello, ${name}!`); } greet('World'); ```

or with three tildes

~~~ function sayHello(user) { console.log(`Hi there, ${user}!`); } sayHello('everyone'); ~~~

I hope all examples were understandable.

Use Markdown on Mac

For Mac users, there are a variety of programs that support Markdown and make writing and organizing documents easier.

Here I'll highlight some of the best options, including Bear, which is the best choice for me personally - but of course it depends on the use case.

Here you can see how beautiful Bear is visually successful.
Here you can see how beautiful Bear is visually successful.

Bear

Bear is more than just a note-taking app; it is a powerful writing tool that offers full Markdown support. Its interface is minimalist and intuitive, making it an ideal tool for writing blog posts, notes, and even entire articles.

What I particularly like about Bear is the ability to export content directly to HTML, which makes publishing to WordPress seamless and secure.

iA Writer
This is what the iA Writer user interface looks like.

iA Writer

iA Writer is known for its focus on the essentials and a distraction-free writing environment. With its support for Markdown, iA Writer allows authors to fully concentrate on their text without being distracted by complex formatting options.

The app also offers live preview of Markdown documents, making it a great tool for those who want to see their work in real time.

MacDown is another Markdown editor for Mac.
MacDown is another Markdown editor for Mac.

MacDown

MacDown is an open source Markdown editor praised for its ease of use and versatility. It offers a split view that allows you to see the Markdown text on one side and the HTML preview on the other side at the same time.

This makes MacDown an excellent choice for those who want instant feedback on how their documents look.

Byword is a simple Markdown editor that runs on macOS.
Byword is a simple Markdown editor that runs on macOS.

Byword

Byword prioritizes simplicity and efficiency, with a clear focus on writing. It fully supports Markdown and integrates seamlessly with major blogging platforms such as WordPress, Medium and Tumblr, making it easy to publish content directly from the app.

Ulysses is a comprehensive writing app that would be my second choice if I didn't already write with Bear.
Ulysses is a comprehensive writing app that would be my second choice if I didn't already write with Bear.

Ulysses

Ulysses offers a comprehensive writing environment designed specifically for writers, bloggers and journalists. It combines powerful Markdown support with organizational and management features that make it easy to handle projects of any size.

Ulysses' ability to switch between different documents and notes makes it a valuable tool for those working on multiple projects at once.

Online Markdown to HTML converter

For those who want a quick and easy way to convert their Markdown texts to HTML without having to install any special software is the online converter markdowntohtml.com an excellent choice.

This tool is particularly useful if you want to prepare your content written in Markdown for the web or blog platforms such as WordPress. And the best thing: the converter is free AND ad-free - that's something you rarely have in common.

markdown to html

How does the tool work?

The process is incredibly simple:

  1. Insert text: Copy your Markdown text into the input field on the website.
  2. conversion: With a simple click on the conversion button, your text will be converted into HTML.
  3. Copy result: The converted HTML text can be immediately copied and pasted into your website or blogging platform.

 

Why you'll love Markdown

Imagine being able to type your web content at lightning speed without having to get lost in the depths of HTML. That's exactly what Markdown allows you to do - a super easy language that will revolutionize your everyday writing life.

Here are a few reasons why you should integrate Markdown into your digital life:

It couldn't be easier

Markdown is very easy to learn. You can master the basics faster than you wait in line for coffee. You just start typing and the formatting almost takes care of itself. No more worrying about complicated HTML tags - just you and your thoughts.

At home everywhere

No matter what device or app you are working on, Markdown is always there. Text-based and universal, without being tied to special software. Perfect for those who like to remain flexible and work anywhere.

Collaboration made easy

Markdown documents are perfect for teams. Anyone who can use a text editor can get started straight away. This makes collaborating on projects a breeze and Markdown also works on old Macs and apps.

Think long term

Markdown files are future-proof. While software comes and goes, your texts remain intact. You can be sure that your content will still be accessible and editable years from now - a reassuring feeling.

This is also a reason why I always choose against WordPress' great builder tools and prefer to work with the Classic Editor. It will still work in 10 years.

Questions about Markdown? Bring it on!

And if you still have questions or are wondering how you can best use Markdown for your projects, don't hesitate! Just leave a comment under this post. I would be happy to help you and answer your questions.

FAQs about Markdown

What is Markdown?
Markdown is a simple markup language designed to easily format text on the web. It allows you to create formatting such as bold, italics, headings and lists using simple text characters such as asterisks (*) and underscores (_), which can then be converted into HTML.

Who is Markdown suitable for?
Markdown is ideal for bloggers, writers, web developers, and anyone who creates content for the web. It is particularly useful for those who want a quick and efficient way to format text without in-depth knowledge of HTML.

How do I insert links in Markdown?
To insert a link in Markdown, use the following syntax: [Linktext](URL). For example: [Google](https://www.google.com) creates a clickable link to Google.

What is the difference between Markup and Markdown?
Markup is a general term that uses any type of coding to give structure and formatting to a document, such as HTML. Markdown, on the other hand, is a specific markup language that provides a simplified syntax for creating web content and aims to be as readable as possible. While markup is often complex and difficult to read, Markdown is known for its simplicity and ease of use.

Can I insert images into Markdown?
Yes, to insert an image you use the syntax: ![Alt-Text](URL zum Bild). For example: ![Dies ist ein Bild](https://example.com/image.jpg).

How do I create lists in Markdown?
In Markdown you can create unordered lists with asterisks (*), plus signs (+) or minus signs (-). Ordered lists are simply created with numbers and a point (e.g 1., 2., 3. etc.).

Is Markdown compatible with all editors and platforms?
Markdown texts can be created with any text editor, but not all platforms and editors support automatic Markdown to HTML conversion. However, many modern content management systems (CMS) and editors offer native support or plugins for processing Markdown.

Can I use Markdown to create scientific documents?
Yes, Markdown is increasingly being used in academia and for the creation of scientific documents, especially in conjunction with tools such as Pandoc, which can convert Markdown into various formats such as PDF or LaTeX.

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6 comments on “What actually is Markdown?”

  1. Good article for those who don't know Markdown yet, thank you very much!
    A little hint: ordered lists with “0. ” start with each item, then it will be numbered automatically.

    1. Hi Michael! Ah, I actually have no idea about Markdown because I only use it for writing text. There is definitely so much more to know, but I hope I have provided a helpful “introduction” for complete beginners. I'll add your tip right above! Thanks for that. LG, Jens

    1. Hello Martin! Then I wish you a nice start and thank you for the fact that my article initiated this. That's a great compliment. 😊

  2. I also really like Markdown and have been working with it for a few years. Once you get the formatting down, you can write your files in any editor.
    In the Apple environment, I think the Marked2 app is worth a look. It can render the Markdown files according to CSS_Files specifications.
    It also enables – if necessary – export to various formats.

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