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Should the markdown renderer treat a single line break as <br>?

Quoth http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/001317.html

Item #3, the conversion of returns to linebreaks, is somewhat more debatable. I'm on the fence on that one, but I do believe it's significant enough to warrant an explicit choice either way.

Who really prefers that hitting Enter (without two spaces on the end of the line) be treated like a space instead of a line-break? Jeff appears to be under the impression that Enter-as-space is preferable in some circumstances. I'd please love to know what those cases are.

Thanks, billpg.


I suspect the actual reason for this behavior, this feature, comes from Markdown's reliance on USENET and plain-text email traditions for its formatting hints. On these systems, breaking each line at 70 characters was commonly used to ensure such text would be readable on older systems; clients would then reformat the text for display on the client system, ignoring single, intra-paragraph line-breaks and using an empty line as a cue that the author intended the previous paragraph to end.

While no longer strictly necessary, this is still not that uncommon among users composing text in editors that do not automatically wrap text, including many fine "programmer's editors".

Personally, I have no strong feelings either way; I've used systems that do insert a hard break for every line-break, and still found them annoying in some instances (primarily those where I wanted double line breaks while composing the text in places where this resulted in too much vertical whitespace in the final text). I think the users who suffer the most are those who never bothered to read instructions anyway and are unfamiliar with either the old text-only traditions or modern HTML.


I favour <p> over <br>, but still would like some way to get <br> if, and only if, really needed. The current Markdown works fine for me.

As a user/visitor of whatever site I think it's good to adhere to the layout that is (currently) defined by its owners, like the CSS whitespace formatting many sites have defined for paragraphs. I feel one should not try to use <br> to change that. Doing so might also break any future layout changes.

I like the blank line while editing, as that makes it much clearer that I really started a new paragraph, especially when the last line of the previous paragraph extends all the way to the end of that last line.

I also like the explicit two-spaces for <br>, as that makes it just a bit more difficult to get such <br>.

If anything is changed, then I'd still like <br> to be an exception. For example: I would not mind if both a single and multiple Returns are converted into a single <p>. (I would still be pressing Return twice then, while others might happily use only one. I am not sure if that affects usage of the data dump in any way? Or other usage like screen readers or the API?) But I'd not like each Return to become a <br>.

(And am I wrong to think that whoever doesn't look at the preview, or does not click "edit" after seeing the result, does not really care about any formatting anyway...?)

  • I tend to think that not looking at the preview is a sign of being a reasonable human. – billpg Dec 29 '09 at 14:47
  • Actually, @billpg, you might be right. I'm far too focussed on the end-result. Like I often reformat code, or even switch to using a quote rather than a pre-formatted block, if a pre-formatted block gives me horizontal scrollbars... I need help! ;-) – Arjan Dec 29 '09 at 15:37

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