I write all my documents in Markdown and pipe them through
Pandoc to make PDFs. Typing
pandoc myfile.md -o myfile.md.pdf over
and over at the command line gets tedious, especially if the Pandoc
command requires options for BibTeX and CSL files.
My solution is to use GNU Make (helpful introduction here). Make lets you define a series of rules to compile files. You define ‘targets’ (the files to be made), ‘dependencies’ (the source files), and the commands that express the relation between the two. A typical rule using Pandoc might look like this:
But in larger projects, such as the class that I’m teaching, every
time I added a Markdown file I also had to add a new rule to the
Makefile. Besides the time this took, that process was error-prone,
especially if I ever changed the name of the file. The
the class was over 60 lines long—and that’s at the start of the
So this afternoon I took some time to figure out how to write a Makefile which will run Pandoc on any Markdown file in a directory. I’ve put the file up as a Gist on GitHub. Here is how it works.
First we define a variable with the list of all the files we want to
make. We get that list by using the
wildcard function to find all the
*.md files, then by using the
patsubst function to append
Next we define a generic target,
all, using that list.
We need a rule for making PDFs. Using Make’s string replacement macros, we define a generic rule:
make creates or updates all the PDFs in the project. Four
lines of code that are portable to any project beat 60+ lines that are
specific to the project.
Here is the whole
Makefile as a Gist (with a few additional
The filenames of my PDFs are a little peculiar: if the source file is
handout.md, I name the PDF
handout.md.pdf instead of
That’s a deliberate choice, so that when my shell completes filenames I
get the full name of the Markdown file instead of having to make a