Markdown is a great plain text format for a lot of applications and is often used to convert to HTML (for example on my WordPress blog here). There are also some good use cases for the opposite: converting from HTML into Markdown. I recently had such a case to convert some older blog posts from raw HTML into Markdown found that Pandoc made it really easy.
Pandoc is an open-source utility for converting between a number of common (and rare) document types, for example plain text, HTML, Markdown, MS Word, LaTeX, wiki, and so on. The output formats list is really extensive, and people can write their own “filters” to handle other formats as well, or to customize the existing ones to their exact needs. The project tagline sums it up nicely:
If you need to convert files from one markup format into another, pandoc is your swiss-army knife.
My Use Case
My particular use case was to convert about a dozen really old blog posts from this website. I wrote these back in the early days when I managed this site in CityDesk and later migrated to MovableType. The Google Search Console alerted me to some crawler errors which turned out to be caused by raw PHP file content being served instead of real HTML.
My approach for cleaning this up was as follows:
- Convert HTML original articles into Markdown format
- Do some manual cleanup editing and double-check links are still valid
- Drop the Markdown into the appropriate Posts within WordPress
- Modify my existing
.htaccessfiles to do permanent (301) redirects for all of the old URLs
Simple HTML Example
With Pandoc installed, you can try a simple test pulling down the installation instructions page:
curl --silent https://pandoc.org/installing.html | pandoc --from html --to markdown_strict -o installing.md
To see the result, consider this HTML snippet from installing.html:
<h2 id="compiling-from-source">Compiling from source</h2> <p>If for some reason a binary package is not available for your platform, or if you want to hack on pandoc or use a non-released version, you can install from source.</p> <h3 id="getting-the-pandoc-source-code">Getting the pandoc source code</h3> <p>Source tarballs can be found at <a href="https://hackage.haskell.org/package/pandoc" class="uri">https://hackage.haskell.org/package/pandoc</a>. For example, to fetch the source for version 18.104.22.168:</p> <pre><code>wget https://hackage.haskell.org/package/pandoc-22.214.171.124/pandoc-126.96.36.199.tar.gz tar xvzf pandoc-188.8.131.52.tar.gz cd pandoc-184.108.40.206</code></pre>
We can see the resulting Markdown turned out very well:
## Compiling from source If for some reason a binary package is not available for your platform, or if you want to hack on pandoc or use a non-released version, you can install from source. ### Getting the pandoc source code Source tarballs can be found at <a href="https://hackage.haskell.org/package/pandoc" class="uri">https://hackage.haskell.org/package/pandoc</a>. For example, to fetch the source for version 220.127.116.11: wget https://hackage.haskell.org/package/pandoc-18.104.22.168/pandoc-22.214.171.124.tar.gz tar xvzf pandoc-126.96.36.199.tar.gz cd pandoc-188.8.131.52
My Blog Post Conversions
For my dozen old HTML articles, the straight conversion ended up being a bit noisy, especially with the some old CMS template boilerplate around the content which was no longer needed. To clean those up I used a little bit of Sed to clean it up before conversion:
#!/bin/bash echo "converting $1" cat $1 | sed '1,/<div class="asset-header">/d' | sed '/<div class="asset-footer">/,/<\/html>/d' | pandoc --wrap=none --from html --to markdown_strict > $1.md
(The above Sed commands clean up the HTML source in two passes: first removing everything from top of file to
<div class="asset-header">, which is where the blog post started; and then removing all from
<div class="asset-footer"> to the end of file.)
After that, I just needed to do some minor editing cleanups on the Markdown files before bringing them in to WordPress. Success!
There are a few good online converters you can try; keep in mind some of these are limited in the number of characters they can handle:
To learn more and go deeper on Pandoc, I recommend going through their excellent user’s guide.
And finally a big recommendation for Dillinger, a great online tool for editing Markdown text with live HTML rendering. I use that for writing these blog articles as well, before moving them in to WordPress.