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Would you like them?

You could have Markdown to have a popup appear to insert the footnote's text [*].

EDIT: you can use a symbol and then <sub></sub>, but that won't give you a link between the place where the footnote occurs and its body text.

[*]: A popup similar to when inserting links (and here having a different, smaller, font)

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Just as a reference: footnote extension to PHP-Markdown at rephrase.net/box/word/footnotes/syntax –  Arjan Feb 23 '10 at 10:21
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And: PHP Markdown Extra seems to be used quite often too (like in Drupal filters), and uses the same [^n] syntax. –  Arjan Feb 1 '11 at 13:14
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Related feature request: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5199/… –  Mechanical snail Nov 22 '12 at 6:19
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Then we need <small>, @Shog9... ;-) –  Arjan Apr 5 '14 at 10:37
    
clickable footnote links. clickable back-to-reference links at footnotes. These would make it very useable. nice to have: automatic collection of references. –  naxa Apr 17 at 15:16
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@naxa I'd rather see in-place popups than ones at the bottom of the page, although I can see the use of a list of references — maybe an optional way to also list all notes at the end. –  mattdm Apr 19 at 11:12

9 Answers 9

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I don't think you need those. This isn't Wikipedia [citation needed], so generally a footnote can consist of just a *. No reason to try to formalize* it. You can then use <sub> to make it a smaller font [rcar].

*: AKA Eating up the dev team's time.

See, works great! Just remember, use \* when posting those. Otherwise, you get italics.

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[citation] Page Name: Podcast #17 (responses); Primary Author: Jeff Atwood; Secondary Author: Unknown; Citation: "Again, I know you are not Wikipedia..." –  Robert Cartaino Jul 14 '09 at 13:56
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@rcar: Brilliant. Simply, brilliant. –  Eric Jul 14 '09 at 14:26
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Yes, I only wanted a different font for footnotes –  John the Seagull Jul 14 '09 at 15:59
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@Vinko Vrsalovic - An horizontal rule (<hr>) followed by a subscript tag (<sub>) would probably do nicely. –  Robert Cartaino Jul 14 '09 at 19:28
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The <hr> was way too spaced out, but the <sub> tag worked great. Good call. –  Eric Jul 14 '09 at 19:51
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No need for <hr> - a few dashes works too... --- –  Marc Gravell Jul 14 '09 at 20:15
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I dislike using <sub> or <sup> to format text -- for me that breaks separating content from design. –  Arjan Nov 9 '09 at 11:48
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@Arjan <sup> and <sub> are content tags. –  random Dec 9 '09 at 14:09
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@random, indeed. That's why I dislike using them for formatting... The text of a footnote is not the same as superscript or subscript. –  Arjan Jan 16 '10 at 19:08
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Well, bold or links aren't needed either, are they? It's not about need, but convenience. The ability to make footnotes using markdown would be useful, whether or not it is essential. Asterisks, or <sup> can *look ok, but it'd be nice to have the functionality too. Links back and forth between the footnote and the text it refers to –  jalf Jun 21 '11 at 19:13
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The correct HTML element to use would probably be <small>, as <sub> is intended for semantic subscripts, that is, removing the <sub> tag would result in a change in meaning. –  chharvey Jul 22 '13 at 6:00
    
While this pretty much works, and it's what I've done for years, there are multiple reasons why it's far from ideal. Too many to put in a comment, so I wrote an answer. –  abarnert Apr 17 at 15:16
    
@random They're only legit content tags when used to indicate superscripts and subscripts semantically. When using them just to fiddle fonts size, that's (mis)using content tags as presentation tags and does break content/design separation. HTML footnotes should be formatted by the stylesheet. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 19 at 22:35

I would definitely like them. Although they could be hacked on via font-work, it would definitely enhance usability.

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And visual consistency. –  Prof. Falken May 2 '13 at 6:48
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It would certainly have spared me a lot of time looking up markdown footnotes, only to find out on meta that they are not supported. Don't forget to vote this up if you feel the same. –  Maarten Bodewes Jun 22 '13 at 13:41
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Like others, maybe not needed for SO, but for my *.SE contributions, I could often use them. Also, if the PHP Markdown Extra solution was adopted, it would mean that you wouldn't need to worry about manually adjusting footnote reference numbers when adding a new note "above" existing ones. AND you would have the note and intext reference hyperlinked. SO many plusses! What's the down-side? I can't think of one. –  Davïd Jan 14 '14 at 1:18
    
@Davïd The downside is having to extend the site's markdown flavour with something non-standard, which isn't impossible, but is definitely something developers are not super-excited to tackle. I would love to have footnote support, but I do understand why the foot-dragging. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 19 at 22:38

Here's what I do1 to simulate footnotes:

These lines are _going to_ intersect<sup>1</sup>!

...

--------

**Footnotes:**

1. See Euclid's 5<sup>th</sup> postulate.

It's not that hard to do, but it's still a pain and the results aren't ideal. There's no easy way to set up links from the footnote mark to the footnote text and back again. Also, the footnote text ought to be smaller than then text in the body, but adding <sub>...</sub> tends to break the numbered items and I don't bother to play with it usually. It also gets tricky when editing in a new footnote since you need to manually adjust the numbering of notes that come after. Compared to using advanced links, roll-your-own footnotes seems practically barbaric.2

PHP Markdown Extra has a really cool footnote syntax3 that I'd like to have available on Stack Exchange:

These lines are _going to_ intersect[^1]!

...

[^1]: See Euclid's 5<sup>th</sup> postulate.

Just writing that example makes me yearn for footnote support; even the Markdown code looks clean! The output is more professional looking than my manual footnote technique and includes all sorts of niceties like auto-numbering and inline footnote text.


Footnotes:

1. All the time!

2. So why not just use links or parentheticals instead of footnotes? Because we aspire to the sort of answers expected in academia where footnotes are de rigueur. Plus it looks like you know what you are talking about and therefore encourages upvoting.

3. Suggested in the comments by Arjan.

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Maybe they're not really useful on SO, but there are lots of places on *.SE where they could come in handy (e.g. cstheory).

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I would say science sites would find this especially useful when citing papers –  Rory Feb 28 '12 at 22:45
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cstheory, physics, history, linguistics, chemistry, biology Mi Yodeya (they do a lot of citation) and many others. –  TRiG is Timothy Richard Green Feb 13 '13 at 23:38

As we near the four-year mark since this Question was first asked, has the development team made any progress yet?

Footnotes are still a pain! And not only because jumping back and forth between text and footnote does not work. It is quite simply a usability nightmare! Here is an example where <sub> was used as a work-around to make footnote text:

Screenshot showing too-small footnote text circled in red

On a normal notebook screen, who can read the text circled in red without getting severe eyestrain? Not I.

While we wait for a footnoting feature to be introduced, how about enabling the <small> HTML attribute so that footnotes can be the exact same point size as the text in comments (small but still readable)?

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I would very, very much like footnotes as used in xkcd's What If. Very helpful for adding references or explanatory notes which otherwise detract from the main flow of an answer:

Popup for footnotes

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Also, this works nicely on mobile without scrolling. (The styling could be optimized; not sure if what-if.xkcd.com has a mobile version like m.xkcd.com does.) –  Arjan Apr 19 at 11:10

I definitely want this.

I've been using <sup>\*</sup> and <sup>\*\*</sup> and so on in the text and a --- rule followed by <sub>\*</sub> at the end, and it sort of works, but:

  • I want the footnotes to be smaller/less important-looking, but on many browsers, subscript text is too small, as Eugene Siedel's answer shows.
  • This is clearly an abuse of <sub>'s semantic meaning.
  • <sub> doesn't work in combination with some other kinds of formatting. Part of the reason I use asterisks instead of numbered footnotes is to remind myself that auto-numbered lists and <sub> don't work together.
  • <sub> does work with embedded code, but it looks ugly on most browsers.* And that definitely affects SO. I have brief bits of code in my footnotes all the time.
  • It would be much nicer for the reader if the footnotes were hyperlinked. (I know, I shouldn't be writing answers so long that it really matters. But the time I would spend editing one of them down, I could write book-sized answers on three other interesting questions I've found. :)
  • I frequently screw up the number of asterisks, which is one of the reasons I end up re-editing my answers too often and annoying other people.
  • I still catch myself using the years-obsolete <super> instead of the HTML5 <sup> tag, although that's probably just a problem with me. But it's kind of annoying that it actually works on some browsers, so I don't always notice it…

* How does this look for you? In particular, does the embedded code cause the lines to be spaced for full-sized text, even though the embedded code, like the rest of the text, is not full-sized?

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+1 I've been hoping that the developers would upgrade footnotes from sub-soup for a long, long time : ( –  Jonny Henly Apr 18 at 0:57
    
It would also be nice to have clickable footnote links and clickable back-to-reference links. About a year ago I feature-request'ed being able to Link to a Certain Part of an Answer/Question, which would enable this to be done manually. –  Jonny Henly Apr 18 at 1:02
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Indeed, @Jonny, and even more so for mobile which might need more scrolling to see the footnotes. Like for Eugene's example as seen on my phone. –  Arjan Apr 19 at 11:01

I don't know 1.

1 I just use superscript on it 2.
2 Looks nice to me.

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Not hyperlinked back and forth. And <a> element doesn't support neither "name" nor "id" attributes. –  Jakub Narębski Jul 17 '09 at 14:19
    
And what is preventing it to get supported? –  akarnokd Jul 17 '09 at 15:02
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+1 for not using <sup> in the text of the footnote. Still, like in the question, many abuse <sup> in the actual footnote itself. Also, using numbers implies one might need to re-number when inserting another footnote at a later time. –  Arjan Feb 23 '10 at 12:08
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@jakub-narebski <a href="#myid"> will point just fine to <div id="myid">. –  Jarkko Laine Aug 18 '11 at 7:07
    
@JarkkoLaine Until someone else in another answer uses the same id. Answer-writers should not have to maintain a unique namespace scheme or remember to search the page source just write a footnote that functions. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 19 at 22:42

Need footnotes in community wiki mode. You don't want to disrupt the flow of someone else's discussion unnecessarily.

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Do you have an example of this? –  random Dec 9 '09 at 14:08

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