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Adding section links to Hakyll articles with Text.Pandoc.Walk

It is handy to be able to link to section headings in long articles. Pandoc and Hakyll don’t do that out of the box. But they give you all the power you need to implement it yourself. In this post I’ll show you how.

Objective §

The main objective is to provide links (HTML <a> element) to section headings. They should be located near or within the heading element. Having them in the document will make it easy for readers to grab a link to a specific section of the article. (I myself often want to do this!)

You could make the whole heading a link, but I like the approach that reveals a link when the pointer hovers over the heading. Some sites use a pilcrow (¶), pound (#) or a link symbol (🔗) as the link text. I will use a section sign (§).

Building blocks §

Pandoc does set the id attribute of HTML heading elements to a value derived from the heading text. For example, one of my previous posts had a section headed Probabilities. The resulting HTML for the heading is:

<h2 id="probabilities">Probabilities</h2>

The value of the id attribute will be the href target of the <a> element we create (with # prepended to make it a URI fragment).

Hakyll provides the pandocCompilerWithTransform function for compiling documents using Pandoc and applying an arbitrary transformation to them. It has the type:

  :: ReaderOptions
  -> WriterOptions
  -> (Pandoc -> Pandoc)
  -> Compiler (Item String)

Note the (Pandoc -> Pandoc) argument. This is the tranformation function. It works with the Pandoc native AST data type, rather than HTML or the input type (e.g. Markdown).

For constructing such a transformation, Pandoc provides the Text.Pandoc.Walk module and the walk function:

walk :: (Walkable a b) => (a -> a) -> b -> b

walk f x walks the structure x :: b (bottom up) and replaces every occurrence of a value of type a with the result of applying f :: (a -> a) to it.

There are many instances of Walkable. We are interested in the one that visits all the Block elements (that’s what headings are) in the Pandoc:

instance Walkable Block Pandoc

Putting it together §

I needed a handful of Pandoc constructors to implement the transformation. The Header constructor (of the Block data type) represents a document (sub)heading with Int depth, attributes, and the list of Inline elements that constitute the header content.

data Block
  | Header Int Attr [Inline]

I also had to construct a Link (one of the cases of the Inline data type). A Link has attributes, content ([Inline]) and a target. I also used the Str and Space constructors.

data Inline
    = Str Text              -- ^ Literal text
    | Space                 -- ^ Inter-word space
    | Link Attr [Inline] Target

By the way, Attr and Target are defined as:

-- id, classes and key-value pairs
type Attr = (Text, [Text], [(Text, Text)])

-- URI, title
type Target = (Text, Text)

With these constructors in hand, here is the whole transformation function:

addSectionLinks :: Pandoc -> Pandoc
addSectionLinks = walk f where
  f (Header n attr@(idAttr, _, _) inlines) | n > 1 =
    let link = Link nullAttr [Str "§"] ("#" <> idAttr, "")
    in Header n attr (inlines <> [Space, link])
  f x = x

Note that we only apply this change to headings of depth greater than one. I do not need to provide a link for the article title, which is at the top of the page. For all other headers, we add a Link to its inline content, where the target is the fragment pointing at the idAddr of the header itself.

To apply the transformation, I had to replace a single occurrence of:

pandocCompiler :: Compiler (Item String)



Style §

I want to hide the heading link unless the cursor is hovering over the heading. I would like to accomplish it with this small dose of CSS:

:is(h2, h3, h4, h5, h6) a {
    text-decoration: none;
    color: grey;
    visibility: hidden;

:is(h2, h3, h4, h5, h6):hover a {
    visibility: visible;

The is() pseudo-class function matches anything that matches the selector arguments, avoiding tedious repetition. It is part of CSS Selectors Level 4, which is still a draft. Firefox and Safari fully support it but unfortunately other browsers are lagging behind. So I am stuck with the tedious repetition for now:

h2 a, h3 a, h4 a, h5 a, h6 a {
    text-decoration: none;
    color: grey;
    visibility: hidden;

h2:hover a, h3:hover a, h4:hover a, h5:hover a, h6:hover a {
    visibility: visible;

I also used text-decoration and color to make the link appearance clean and understated.

Conclusion §

As a result of this change, the HTML emitted for section headers (of depth > 1) looks like:

<h2 id="probabilities">
  Probabilities <a href="#probabilities">§</a>

You can experience the results for yourself, right here on this page (and in my other posts). You can also view the commit that implements this feature.

There’s not much else to say, really. Pandoc is still awesome. Hakyll is still awesome. And I am very happy with the results of this little enhancement. Go forth and pilcrow-ise your Hakyll sites!

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License .