Proposed table specification (long!)

Fletcher T. Penney fletcher at
Tue May 10 21:47:27 EDT 2011

Since you asked, here are my own personal thoughts - others most
likely disagree....

The syntax seems a bit complicated - I didn't compare, but I suspect
the length of your explanation approaches or exceeds the entire
Markdown syntax guide. I realize that you are trying to offer some
flexibility, but that can get tricky.

The other challenge is "editability" - with most of the complex table
formats out there, it would be very tedious to actually create and
subsequently modify a table by hand. I will grant you that this as
much (or more) a problem with editors than the syntax. And one could
create plugins for certain editors (e.g. TextMate) that could do the
formatting for you. But this seems to be straying outside the bounds
of what makes Markdown so great. (Again --- just my opinion)

But I think the biggest issue is the monospace vs proportional font
problem. This plagues every proposed table syntax out there (to my
knowledge) --- tables just aren't going to look right in both font
types in plain text files. Proper alignment is a key feature of
tables, and it's frustrating when this is destroyed by changing the

That said, the elastic tabstop idea proposed by Nick Gravgaard offers
a tantalizing solution to this problem. In text editors that
supported this concept, it would be trivially easy to align columns of
text that worked for both monospace and proportional fonts. Columns
would automatically realign when you changed the length of a given

In general, I believe there is a trade-off between simplicity and
functionality. My preference is not to sacrifice (much) simplicity
for the sake of functionality --- I believe MMD's table syntax is
about as far down that curve as I am willing to go. Others may be on
the other end of the spectrum.

Where true genius comes is being able to merge simplicity with
functionality (e.g. the iphone). I'm not saying a great solution for
the Markdown/Table dilemma doesn't exist. I just don't think I've
seen it yet. But I agree with you that continuing to generate new
proposals is a good idea.


On Tue, May 10, 2011 at 9:22 PM, Simon Bull <waysoftheearth at> wrote:

> Hi Fletcher,


> Should I assume that you mean the proposed syntax falls short in one or more

> of the four categories you identified?


> If you care to elaborate on some of these short-comings I would be very

> happy to alter my proposal in order to meet the needs of a wider audience.

> That was in fact the purpose of proposing it at all.


> Thanks for your comments,


> Simon


Fletcher T. Penney
fletcher at

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