Emacs Markdown Mode

markdown-mode is a major mode for editing Markdown-formatted text files in GNU Emacs. markdown-mode is free software, licensed under the GNU GPL.

The latest stable version is markdown-mode 2.0, released on March 24, 2013:

Although markdown-mode is free, it is the result of many years of work. If you use it regularly and it has made your life or work easier or more enjoyable, then you can say thanks by sending a donation!

markdown-mode is also available in several package managers, including:

The latest development version can be downloaded directly (markdown-mode.el) or it can be obtained from the (browsable and clonable) Git repository at http://jblevins.org/git/markdown-mode.git. The entire repository, including the full project history, can be cloned via the Git protocol by running

git clone git://jblevins.org/git/markdown-mode.git


Make sure to place markdown-mode.el somewhere in the load-path and add the following lines to your .emacs file to associate markdown-mode with .text, .markdown, and .md files:

(autoload 'markdown-mode "markdown-mode"
   "Major mode for editing Markdown files" t)
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.text\\'" . markdown-mode))
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.markdown\\'" . markdown-mode))
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.md\\'" . markdown-mode))

There is no official Markdown file extension, nor is there even a de facto standard, so you can easily add, change, or remove any of the file extensions above as needed.


Keybindings are grouped by prefixes based on their function. For example, the commands for inserting links are grouped under C-c C-a, where the C-a is a mnemonic for the HTML <a> tag. In other cases, the connection to HTML is not direct. For example, commands dealing with headings begin with C-c C-t (mnemonic: titling). The primary commands in each group will are described below. You can obtain a list of all keybindings by pressing C-c C-h. Movement and shifting commands tend to be associated with paired delimiters such as M-{ and M-} or C-c < and C-c >. Outline navigation keybindings the same as in org-mode. Finally, commands for running Markdown or doing maintenance on an open file are grouped under the C-c C-c prefix. The most commonly used commands are described below. You can obtain a list of all keybindings by pressing C-c C-h.

  • Hyperlinks: C-c C-a

    In this group, C-c C-a l inserts an inline link of the form [text](url). The link text is determined as follows. First, if there is an active region (i.e., when transient mark mode is on and the mark is active), use it as the link text. Second, if the point is at a word, use that word as the link text. In these two cases, the original text will be replaced with the link and point will be left at the position for inserting a URL. Otherwise, insert empty link markup and place the point for inserting the link text.

    C-c C-a L inserts a reference link of the form [text][label] and, optionally, a corresponding reference label definition. The link text is determined in the same way as with an inline link (using the region, when active, or the word at the point), but instead of inserting empty markup as a last resort, the link text will be read from the minibuffer. The reference label will be read from the minibuffer in both cases, with completion from the set of currently defined references. To create an implicit reference link, press RET to accept the default, an empty label. If the entered referenced label is not defined, additionally prompt for the URL and (optional) title. If a URL is provided, a reference definition will be inserted in accordance with markdown-reference-location. If a title is given, it will be added to the end of the reference definition and will be used to populate the title attribute when converted to XHTML.

    C-c C-a u inserts a bare url, delimited by angle brackets. When there is an active region, the text in the region is used as the URL. If the point is at a URL, that url is used. Otherwise, insert angle brackets and position the point in between them for inserting the URL.

    C-c C-a f inserts a footnote marker at the point, inserts a footnote definition below, and positions the point for inserting the footnote text. Note that footnotes are an extension to Markdown and are not supported by all processors.

    C-c C-a w behaves much like the inline link insertion command and inserts a wiki link of the form [[WikiLink]]. If there is an active region, use the region as the link text. If the point is at a word, use the word as the link text. If there is no active region and the point is not at word, simply insert link markup. Note that wiki links are an extension to Markdown and are not supported by all processors.

  • Images: C-c C-i

    C-c C-i i inserts markup for an inline image, using the active region or the word at point, if any, as the alt text. C-c C-i I behaves similarly and inserts a reference-style image.

  • Styles: C-c C-s

    C-c C-s e inserts markup to make a region or word italic (e for <em> or emphasis). If there is an active region, make the region italic. If the point is at a non-italic word, make the word italic. If the point is at an italic word or phrase, remove the italic markup. Otherwise, simply insert italic delimiters and place the cursor in between them. Similarly, use C-c C-s s for bold (<strong>) and C-c C-s c for inline code (<code>).

    C-c C-s b inserts a blockquote using the active region, if any, or starts a new blockquote. C-c C-s C-b is a variation which always operates on the region, regardless of whether it is active or not. The appropriate amount of indentation, if any, is calculated automatically given the surrounding context, but may be adjusted later using the region indentation commands.

    C-c C-s p behaves similarly for inserting preformatted code blocks, with C-c C-s C-p being the region-only counterpart.

  • Headings: C-c C-t

    All heading insertion commands use the text in the active region, if any, as the heading text. Otherwise, if the current line is not blank, they use the text on the current line. Finally, the setext commands will prompt for heading text if there is no active region and the current line is blank.

    C-c C-t h inserts a heading with automatically chosen type and level (both determined by the previous heading). C-c C-t H behaves similarly, but uses setext (underlined) headings when possible, still calculating the level automatically. In cases where the automatically-determined level is not what you intended, the level can be quickly promoted or demoted (as described below). Alternatively, a C-u prefix can be given to insert a heading promoted by one level or a C-u C-u prefix can be given to insert a heading demoted by one level.

    To insert a heading of a specific level and type, use C-c C-t 1 through C-c C-t 6 for atx (hash mark) headings and C-c C-t ! or for setext headings of level one or two, respectively. Note that is S–2.

    If the point is at a heading, these commands will replace the existing markup in order to update the level and/or type of the heading. To remove the markup of the heading at the point, press C-c C-k to kill the heading and press C-y to yank the heading text back into the buffer.

  • Horizontal Rules: C-c -

    C-c - inserts a horizontal rule. By default, insert the first string in the list markdown-hr-strings (the most prominent rule). With a C-u prefix, insert the last string. With a numeric prefix N, insert the string in position N (counting from 1).

  • Markdown and Maintenance Commands: C-c C-c

    Compile: C-c C-c m will run Markdown on the current buffer and show the output in another buffer. Preview: C-c C-c p runs Markdown on the current buffer and previews, stores the output in a temporary file, and displays the file in a browser. Export: C-c C-c e will run Markdown on the current buffer and save the result in the file basename.html, where basename is the name of the Markdown file with the extension removed. Export and View: press C-c C-c v to export the file and view it in a browser. For both export commands, the output file will be overwritten without notice. Open: C-c C-c o will open the Markdown source file directly using markdown-open-command.

    To summarize:

    • C-c C-c m: markdown-command > *markdown-output* buffer.
    • C-c C-c p: markdown-command > temporary file > browser.
    • C-c C-c e: markdown-command > basename.html.
    • C-c C-c v: markdown-command > basename.html > browser.
    • C-c C-c w: markdown-command > kill ring.
    • C-c C-c o: markdown-open-command.

    C-c C-c c will check for undefined references. If there are any, a small buffer will open with a list of undefined references and the line numbers on which they appear. In Emacs 22 and greater, selecting a reference from this list and pressing RET will insert an empty reference definition at the end of the buffer. Similarly, selecting the line number will jump to the corresponding line.

    C-c C-c n renumbers any ordered lists in the buffer that are out of sequence.

    C-c C-c ] completes all headings and normalizes all horizontal rules in the buffer.

  • Following Links: C-c C-o

    Press C-c C-o when the point is on an inline or reference link to open the URL in a browser. When the point is at a wiki link, open it in another buffer (in the current window, or in the other window with the C-u prefix). Use M-p and M-n to quickly jump to the previous or next link of any type.

  • Jumping: C-c C-j

    Use C-c C-j to jump from the object at point to its counterpart elsewhere in the text, when possible. Jumps between reference links and definitions; between footnote markers and footnote text. If more than one link uses the same reference name, a new buffer will be created containing clickable buttons for jumping to each link. You may press TAB or S-TAB to jump between buttons in this window.

  • Promotion and Demotion: C-c C— and C-c C-=

    Headings, horizontal rules, and list items can be promoted and demoted, as well as bold and italic text. For headings, “promotion” means decreasing the level (i.e., moving from <h2> to <h1>) while “demotion” means increasing the level. For horizontal rules, promotion and demotion means moving backward or forward through the list of rule strings in markdown-hr-strings. For bold and italic text, promotion and demotion means changing the markup from underscores to asterisks. Press C-c C— or M-LEFT to promote the element at the point if possible.

    To remember these commands, note that - is for decreasing the level (promoting), and = (on the same key as +) is for increasing the level (demoting). Similarly, the left and right arrow keys indicate the direction that the atx heading markup is moving in when promoting or demoting.

  • Completion: C-c C-]

    Complete markup is in normalized form, which means, for example, that the underline portion of a setext header is the same length as the heading text, or that the number of leading and trailing hash marks of an atx header are equal and that there is no extra whitespace in the header text. C-c C-] completes the markup at the point, if it is determined to be incomplete.

  • Editing Lists: M-RET, M-UP, M-DOWN, M-LEFT, and M-RIGHT

    New list items can be inserted with M-RET. This command determines the appropriate marker (one of the possible unordered list markers or the next number in sequence for an ordered list) and indentation level by examining nearby list items. If there is no list before or after the point, start a new list. Prefix this command by C-u to decrease the indentation by one level. Prefix this command by C-u C-u to increase the indentation by one level.

    Existing list items can be moved up or down with M-UP or M-DOWN and indented or exdented with M-RIGHT or M-LEFT.

  • Shifting the Region: C-c < and C-c >

    Text in the region can be indented or exdented as a group using C-c > to indent to the next indentation point (calculated in the current context), and C-c < to exdent to the previous indentation point. These keybindings are the same as those for similar commands in python-mode.

  • Killing Elements: C-c C-k

    Press C-c C-k to kill the thing at point and add important text, without markup, to the kill ring. Possible things to kill include (roughly in order of precedece): inline code, headings, horizonal rules, links (add link text to kill ring), images (add alt text to kill ring), angle URIs, email addresses, bold, italics, reference definitions (add URI to kill ring), footnote markers and text (kill both marker and text, add text to kill ring), and list items.

  • Outline Navigation: C-c C-n, C-c C-p, C-c C-f, C-c C-b, and C-c C-u

    Navigation between headings is possible using outline-mode. Use C-c C-n and C-c C-p to move between the next and previous visible headings. Similarly, C-c C-f and C-c C-b move to the next and previous visible headings at the same level as the one at the point. Finally, C-c C-u will move up to a lower-level (higher precedence) visible heading.

  • Movement by Paragraph or Block: M-{ and M-}

    The definition of a “paragraph” is slightly different in markdown-mode than, say, text-mode, because markdown-mode supports filling for list items and respects hard line breaks, both of which break paragraphs. So, markdown-mode overrides the usual paragraph navigation commands M-{ and M-} so that with a C-u prefix, these commands jump to the beginning or end of an entire block of text, respectively, where “blocks” are separated by one or more lines.

  • Movement by Defun: C-M-a, C-M-e, and C-M-h

    The usual Emacs commands can be used to move by defuns (top-level major definitions). In markdown-mode, a defun is a section. As usual, C-M-a will move the point to the beginning of the current or preceding defun, C-M-e will move to the end of the current or following defun, and C-M-h will put the region around the entire defun.

As noted, many of the commands above behave differently depending on whether Transient Mark mode is enabled or not. When it makes sense, if Transient Mark mode is on and the region is active, the command applies to the text in the region (e.g., C-c C-s s makes the region bold). For users who prefer to work outside of Transient Mark mode, since Emacs 22 it can be enabled temporarily by pressing C-SPC C-SPC. When this is not the case, many commands then proceed to look work with the word or line at the point.

When applicable, commands that specifically act on the region even outside of Transient Mark mode have the same keybinding as their standard counterpart, but the letter is uppercase. For example, markdown-insert-blockquote is bound to C-c C-s b and only acts on the region in Transient Mark mode while markdown-blockquote-region is bound to C-c C-s B and always applies to the region (when nonempty).

Note that these region-specific functions are useful in many cases where it may not be obvious. For example, yanking text from the kill ring sets the mark at the beginning of the yanked text and moves the point to the end. Therefore, the (inactive) region contains the yanked text. So, C-y followed by C-c C-s C-b will yank text and turn it into a blockquote.

markdown-mode attempts to be flexible in how it handles indentation. When you press TAB repeatedly, the point will cycle through several possible indentation levels corresponding to things you might have in mind when you press RET at the end of a line or TAB. For example, you may want to start a new list item, continue a list item with hanging indentation, indent for a nested pre block, and so on. Exdention is handled similarly when backspace is pressed at the beginning of the non-whitespace portion of a line.

markdown-mode supports outline-minor-mode as well as org-mode-style visibility cycling for atx- or hash-style headings. There are two types of visibility cycling: Pressing S-TAB cycles globally between the table of contents view (headings only), outline view (top-level headings only), and the full document view. Pressing TAB while the point is at a heading will cycle through levels of visibility for the subtree: completely folded, visible children, and fully visible. Note that mixing hash and underline style headings will give undesired results.


Although no configuration is necessary there are a few things that can be customized. The M-x customize-mode command provides an interface to all of the possible customizations:

  • markdown-command - the command used to run Markdown (default: markdown). This variable may be customized to pass command-line options to your Markdown processor of choice.

  • markdown-command-needs-filename - set to t if markdown-command does not accept standard input (default: nil). When nil, markdown-mode will pass the Markdown content to markdown-command using standard input (stdin). When set to t, markdown-mode will pass the name of the file as the final command-line argument to markdown-command. Note that in the latter case, you will only be able to run markdown-command from buffers which are visiting a file.

  • markdown-open-command - the command used for calling a standalone Markdown previewer which is capable of opening Markdown source files directly (default: nil). This command will be called with a single argument, the filename of the current buffer. A representative program is the Mac app Marked, a live-updating MultiMarkdown previewer which has a command line utility at /usr/local/bin/mark.

  • markdown-hr-strings - list of strings to use when inserting horizontal rules. Different strings will not be distinguished when converted to HTML—they will all be converted to <hr/>—but they may add visual distinction and style to plain text documents. To maintain some notion of promotion and demotion, keep these sorted from largest to smallest.

  • markdown-bold-underscore - set to a non-nil value to use two underscores for bold instead of two asterisks (default: nil).

  • markdown-italic-underscore - set to a non-nil value to use underscores for italic instead of asterisks (default: nil).

  • markdown-indent-function - the function to use for automatic indentation (default: markdown-indent-line).

  • markdown-indent-on-enter - set to a non-nil value to automatically indent new lines when the enter key is pressed (default: t)

  • markdown-wiki-link-alias-first - set to a non-nil value to treat aliased wiki links like [[link text|PageName]] (default: t). When set to nil, they will be treated as [[PageName|link text]].

  • markdown-uri-types - a list of protocol schemes (e.g., “http”) for URIs that markdown-mode should highlight.

  • markdown-enable-math - syntax highlighting for LaTeX fragments (default: nil). Set this to t to turn on math support by default. Math support can be toggled later using the function markdown-enable-math."

  • markdown-css-path - CSS file to link to in XHTML output (default: "").

  • markdown-content-type - when set to a nonempty string, an http-equiv attribute will be included in the XHTML <head> block (default: ""). If needed, the suggested values are application/xhtml+xml or text/html. See also: markdown-coding-system.

  • markdown-coding-system - used for specifying the character set identifier in the http-equiv attribute when included (default: nil). See markdown-content-type, which must be set before this variable has any effect. When set to nil, buffer-file-coding-system will be used to automatically determine the coding system string (falling back to iso-8859-1 when unavailable). Common settings are utf-8 and iso-latin-1.

  • markdown-xhtml-header-content - additional content to include in the XHTML <head> block (default: "").

  • markdown-xhtml-standalone-regexp - a regular expression which markdown-mode uses to determine whether the output of markdown-command is a standalone XHTML document or an XHTML fragment (default: "^\\(<\\?xml\\|<!DOCTYPE\\|<html\\)"). If this regular expression not matched in the first five lines of output, markdown-mode assumes the output is a fragment and adds a header and footer.

  • markdown-link-space-sub-char - a character to replace spaces when mapping wiki links to filenames (default: "_"). For example, use an underscore for compatibility with the Python Markdown WikiLinks extension. In gfm-mode, this is set to "-" to conform with GitHub wiki links.

  • markdown-reference-location - where to insert reference definitions (default: header). The possible locations are the end of the document (end), after the current block (immediately), before the next header (header).

  • markdown-footnote-location - where to insert footnote text (default: end). The set of location options is the same as for markdown-reference-location.

Additionally, the faces used for syntax highlighting can be modified to your liking by issuing M-x customize-group RET markdown-faces or by using the “Markdown Faces” link at the bottom of the mode customization screen.


Besides supporting the basic Markdown syntax, markdown-mode also includes syntax highlighting for [[Wiki Links]] by default. Wiki links may be followed by pressing C-c C-o when the point is at a wiki link. Use M-p and M-n to quickly jump to the previous and next links (including links of other types). Aliased or piped wiki links of the form [[link text|PageName]] are also supported. Since some wikis reverse these components, set markdown-wiki-link-alias-first to nil to treat them as [[PageName|link text]].

SmartyPants support is possible by customizing markdown-command. If you install SmartyPants.pl at, say, /usr/local/bin/smartypants, then you can set markdown-command to "markdown | smartypants". You can do this either by using M-x customize-group markdown or by placing the following in your .emacs file:

(defun markdown-custom ()
  (setq markdown-command "markdown | smartypants"))
(add-hook 'markdown-mode-hook '(lambda() (markdown-custom)))

Syntax highlighting for mathematical expressions written in LaTeX (only expressions denoted by $..$, $$..$$, or \[..\]) can be enabled by setting markdown-enable-math to a non-nil value, either via customize or by placing (setq markdown-enable-math t) in .emacs, and then restarting Emacs or calling markdown-reload-extensions.

GitHub Flavored Markdown

A GitHub Flavored Markdown (GFM) mode, gfm-mode, is also available. The GitHub implementation of differs slightly from standard Markdown. The most important differences are that newlines are significant, triggering hard line breaks, and that underscores inside of words (e.g., variable names) need not be escaped. As such, gfm-mode turns off auto-fill-mode and turns on visual-line-mode (or longlines-mode if visual-line-mode is not available). Underscores inside of words (such as test_variable) will not trigger emphasis.

Wiki links in this mode will be treated as on GitHub, with hyphens replacing spaces in filenames and where the first letter of the filename capitalized. For example, [[wiki link]] will map to a file named Wiki-link with the same extension as the current file.

GFM code blocks, with optional programming language keywords, will be highlighted. They can be inserted with C-c C-s P. If there is an active region, the text in the region will be placed inside the code block. You will be prompted for the name of the language, but may press enter to continue without naming a language.

For a more complete GitHub-flavored markdown experience, consider adding README.md to your auto-mode-alist:

(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("README\\.md\\'" . gfm-mode))

For GFM preview can be powered by setting markdown-command to use Docter. This may also be configured to work with Marked for markdown-open-command.


markdown-mode has benefited greatly from the efforts of the following people:

  • Cyril Brulebois for Debian packaging.
  • Conal Elliott for a font-lock regexp patch.
  • Edward O’Connor for a font-lock regexp fix and GitHub Flavored Markdown mode (gfm-mode).
  • Greg Bognar for menus and running markdown with an active region.
  • Daniel Burrows for filing Debian bug #456592.
  • Peter S. Galbraith for maintaining emacs-goodies-el.
  • Dmitry Dzhus for undefined reference checking.
  • Carsten Dominik for org-mode, from which the visibility cycling functionality was derived, and for a bug fix related to orgtbl-mode.
  • Bryan Kyle for indentation code.
  • Ben Voui for font-lock face customizations.
  • Ankit Solanki for longlines.el compatibility and custom CSS.
  • Hilko Bengen for proper XHTML output.
  • Jose A. Ortega Ruiz for Emacs 23 fixes.
  • Nelson Minar for html-helper-mode, from which comment matching functions were derived.
  • Alec Resnick for bug reports.
  • Joost Kremers for footnote-handling functions, bug reports regarding indentation, and fixes for byte-compilation warnings.
  • Peter Williams for fill-paragraph enhancements.
  • George Ogata for fixing several byte-compilation warnings.
  • Eric Merritt for wiki link features.
  • Philippe Ivaldi for XHTML preview customizations and XHTML export.
  • Jeremiah Dodds for supporting Markdown processors which do not accept input from stdin.
  • Werner Dittmann for bug reports regarding the cl dependency and auto-fill-mode and indentation.
  • Scott Pfister for generalizing the space substitution character for mapping wiki links to filenames.
  • Marcin Kasperski for a patch to escape shell commands.
  • Christopher J. Madsen for patches to fix a match data bug and to prefer visual-line-mode in gfm-mode.
  • Shigeru Fukaya for better adherence to Emacs Lisp coding conventions.
  • Donald Ephraim Curtis for fixing the fill-paragraph regexp, refactoring the compilation and preview functions, heading font-lock generalizations, list renumbering, and kill ring save.
  • Kevin Porter for wiki link handling in gfm-mode.
  • Max Penet and Peter Eisentraut peter_e@gmx.net for an autoload token for gfm-mode.
  • Ian Yang for improving the reference definition regex.
  • Akinori Musha for an imenu index function.
  • Michael Sperber for XEmacs fixes.
  • Francois Gannaz for suggesting charset declaration in XHTML output.
  • Zhenlei Jia for smart exdention function.
  • Matus Goljer for improved wiki link following and GFM code block insertion.
  • Peter Jones for link following functions.
  • Bryan Fink for a bug report regarding externally modified files.
  • Vegard Vesterheim for a bug fix related to orgtbl-mode.
  • Makoto Motohashi for before- and after- export hooks and unit test improvements.
  • Michael Dwyer for gfm-mode underscore regexp.
  • Chris Lott for suggesting reference label completion.


Although markdown-mode is developed and tested primarily using GNU Emacs 24, compatibility with earlier Emacsen is also a priority.

If you find any bugs in markdown-mode, please construct a test case or a patch and email me at jrblevin@sdf.org.


markdown-mode was written and is maintained by Jason Blevins. The first version was released on May 24, 2007.

  1. The theme used in the screenshot is color-theme-twilight.