3 min read

Finally, Four Backticks on Github

It is always the little things…

Over the years, I have been totally happy with almost everything about Github, but I have also been waiting for one little thing:1 I wish we could enclose text that contains N backticks with a pair of N + 1 backticks in Github issues/comments, i.e.,

````
```{r, echo=TRUE}
1 + 1
```
````

so that we could show a literal R code chunk like this:

```{r, echo=TRUE}
1 + 1
```

In the past, we had to indent the code chunk by four spaces to show it verbatim:

    ```{r, echo=TRUE}
    1 + 1
    ```

This is what used to drive me crazy, because you cannot easily indent text in a textarea on Github. Your only choices are:

  • Type the text in a text editor that supports indenting a chunk of text, e.g., in RStudio, select the text, hit TAB (perhaps twice), copy the text, and paste back to Github; or

  • Bang bang bang bang; then bang bang bang bang; and then bang bang bang bang…

Sometimes I need to write verbatim R code chunks on Github to show other people examples, and sometimes I ask users to provide examples. This four-space thing has annoyed me for a couple of years. You may not think it is big deal, but let me just show you two numbers: the knitr repo has got about 1400 issues over the years, and rmarkdown has got about 1000. You could try to sit here still and simply count the numbers from 1 to 1000. Then feel my despair of bang bang bang bang once every few days.2

I love technology

I have a Github issue template for knitr, and hopefully anyone who opens a new issue should see the instructions on four spaces, but I feel most users simply ignored it. I don’t think it is the problem of these users, but it is just too much hassle to indent the text.

Finally, Github embraced CommonMark and announced a formal spec for GitHub Flavored Markdown. I just loved it.

I love everything about Markdown except the fact that the Markdown world is so fragmentized with many different flavors of Markdown. I very much believe in Pandoc’s Markdown and truly appreciate John McFarland’s effort on “standardizing” Markdown along with other contributors of CommonMark. Some of you may still remember John Gruber’s tweet “‘Standard Markdown’ is neither” in 2014. I was quite upset by these words from the mouth of the Markdown’s inventor. Anyway, “Standard Markdown” was renamed to “CommonMark” later. Whatever the name is, I love it.

So I revised the Github issue template, and it is much easier to type a pair of four backticks than many four-spaces.

The next time when you post a new issue or comment on Github that contains an R Markdown example, please keep this haiku in mind and show other people something that they can copy and run directly:3

To include three cool backticks,
 use a cozy pair of four backticks,
  or I will kill you.4

````
---
title: My Document
---

Hello world.

```{r}
1 + 1
```
````

  1. Actually I have also been waiting for another feature (commenting in the source file view), but it does not bother me as much.
  2. I have edited almost every single issue/comment from users that didn’t properly format R code chunks.
  3. Usually there have been enough straws on the camels’ back. Your effort will be appreciated if you could even reduce one single straw.
  4. Credits to Joe Cheng, who wrote the haiku “Keep your side-effects, out of reactives, or I will kill you”. I don’t remember the exact words but I guess I hate poorly formatted Github issues as much as he discourages side-effects in Shiny reactives.