TextKit 2 Introduces Block-Based Layout

I’ve just watched the TextKit 2 WWDC video. Without hands-on experience, I cannot say much about the tech, but judging from the presentation, all of the changes sound like an amazing step forward to make rich text-based interfaces nicer to work with. I didn’t particularly enjoy implementing some things in TextKit 1.

One thing that sticks out to me is the focus on blocks. TextKit 2 now comes with more ways to affect the layout and intersperse things based on the notion of inserting block-level elements; also called ‘paragraphs’ in some contexts. But not in the way you and I talk about paragraphs of text; in the technical understanding, we also treat empty lines between paragraphs of text as a spacing block element, and that’s also called a paragraph … So that’s why I prefer ‘block’, to avoid confusion.

The surprising element to me here is that this is somewhat in line with the syntax to format Gemini web pages about which I wrote last week. It’s an improvement over Markdown’s (accidental) edge cases and the use of inline styles. Gemini limits these to bold and italic text.

It’s no wonder that the writing app Ulysses switched from a pure-ish Markdown with all it’s weird cases and parsing problems to a structured format they call ‘Markdown XL’ see a comparison) where you can safely operate on the block-level first without having to look for the line above, below, or whatever to affect the result. (This also means it was introducing a new file format, but at least you can export easily.)

In a lot of cases (in most cases, maybe?), Markdown’s quirks aren’t relevant to users. – Does a novelist really need the ability to indent lists 4 levels deep with 4 spaces per level, and then mix in even further indented code blocks in between list items, but also wants to manually apply line breaking and thus manual indentation of the wrapping paragraphs that should not become code blocks? That’s a simple case to test your Markdown editor’s compliance with. And I think it’s utterly irrelevant in practice. In 3 years, I haven’t received a single complaint that The Archive’s syntax highlighting doesn’t support 100% of the original Markdown’s capabilities. Could be that people just want to write notes with a list or quote here and there, and this is inherently limiting the problem scope.

So TextKit 2 is going to be available to developers, soon, when macOS 12 hits, and working with text blocks is going to be simpler in a couple of years. That’ll mean easier insertion, nay, injection of images and other non-text attachments. I do wonder if this in turn will make non-block based decorations harder, like line numbers. I’ll report my findings.

– To kick things off, I’ve changed all my blog posts that were tagged #textkit to also carry a new #textkit1 tag. I don’t want to separate TextKit 2 and TextKit 1 tags completely, since there is overlap, so describing a superset #textkit with two subsets, #textkit1 and #textkit2, makes most sense. I also need a catchy name for block-based markups. I think we’ll be seeing more of these.

Further info: