Gemini Compatible Markdown

author: Nathan Acks
date: 2022-02-16

Gemini uses a syntax that is almost a subset of CommonMark.

Be aware that Gemini treats all line breaks literally and clients are expected to wrap text. Line breaks are also rendered literally. So, one paragraph = one line!

Allowed Formatting Elements

The trick with Gemini formatting is to remember that the protocol is line oriented, so all formatting (including linking) is applied to the entire block. Inline formatting isn’t supported, but can be used to the extent that raw markdown is easily readable.

Headings

Gemini allows H1 - H3 (# - ###) headings.

Unlike HTML, Gemini specifically allows multiple H1 tags, as headings are treated purely as an outlining tool. This should probably be avoided in cases where a document might be rendered in both HTML and Gemini, as semantic HTML expects only a single H1 per content block.

In some cases, the first H1 tag in Gemini is treated as the page header (if it is not preceded by any other text with the exception of empty lines) and the following H2 is treated as a sub header (again, if there is no other intervening text except for blank lines).

Strong/Emphasis & Inline Code

Gemini doesn’t explicitly support any formatting tags within a line. However, the convention of using single stars (*) to denote emphasis and back-ticks (`) to quote code is well established and can be used even in a “plain text” line without looking weird.

Instead of using two stars (**) to denote bolded text, it’s probably better to use UPPER CASE for documents destined for Gemini.

Since Markdown requires that these characters be escaped, so text destined for Gemini will need to be processed to remove back-slashed escapes (\). Note that md2gmi can handle this automatically.

That said, when writing with Gemini in mind it’s probably best to take a minimalist approach to inline formatting. Use when required to clarify, but otherwise let your words speak for themselves!

Lists

Only unordered lists are permitted in Gemini, and no indentation is allowed. Lists must use star characters (*) as their leaders.

Quotes

Quote blocks cannot be nested in Gemini, and all interior formatting is preserved as-is. This means that in practice, quote blocks also can’t contain lists, code blocks, etc.

“Code” Blocks

Gemini allows code blocks. In Gemini the code block type (normally something like bash or html in Markdown) is used by clients as “alt text”. Unfortunately, many Markdown processors (including Jekyll) don’t handle arbitrary strings in the code block type gracefully, so we need to stick with Markdown’s conventions here.

Tables

The md2gmn utility handles tables by converting them into code blocks, which works for my purposes.

Links & Images

Gemini doesn’t support Markdown links or images, though tools like md2gmn can handle the conversion into Gemini’s format.

=>[<whitespace>]<URL>[<whitespace><USER-FRIENDLY LINK NAME>]

I’ve yet to run into a Markdown-to-Gemini converter that handles inline links in a completely sensible way. That said, md2gmn does a good job if and only if links are presented as unordered lists or on singleton lines. Note that when using this convention, no non-link characters (except perhaps for the leading * in unordered lists) may be used. This means that presenting links in unordered lists is probably the best option.

As an example, suppose we have the following markdown:

This is a sentence.

* [necopinus.xyz](https://necopinus.xyz)
* [Cardboard Iguana Security](https://cardboard-iguana.com)

An image follows.

![This is some image alt-text](../02779186c69ce442260bd67d3bd11b3e.webp)

Then md2gmn will output:

This is a sentence.

=> https://necopinus.xyz necopinus.xyz
=> https://cardboard-iguana.com Cardboard Iguana Security

An image follows.

=> ../02779186c69ce442260bd67d3bd11b3e.webp This is some image alt-text

Incidentally, this gives good guidance as to how to write image alt-text - alt-text should be thought of as the linked text for the image.