Using Markdown with WordPress

Since writing this article, Michel Fortin has announced that he is going to stop including WordPress plugin functionality in Markdown Extra. Click here to read a more recent article that explains how to cope with this news.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting hits for Markdown-related searches on Google, ever since I wrote a blog post about the browser extension called Footnotify. When I saw Footnotify I instantly knew I wanted to have that functionality on my own website, and so I started searching for a WordPress plugin that provided footnotes. Eventually, I decided that it would be worth using Markdown to achieve this effect, after seeing the footnotes on Daring Fireball, and set about getting this arranged.

The first step was finding a way to install Markdown on WordPress1. I searched on the website for an extension to do this, but couldn’t find an ‘official’ one, so I searched on Markdown-Discuss (the mailing list set up by John Gruber) to see whether I was mistaken. It turned out I was, although the plugin that I’d recommend isn’t listed on the WordPress website: since WordPress is based in PHP, and since Michel Fortin has written Markdown Extra for PHP, one can just download PHP Markdown Extra from his website and upload it to WordPress as a plugin.

A screenshot of an FTP client displaying the file path of PHP Markdown Extra in my WordPress configuration.

The process is easy. Once the zip file has downloaded, simply unzip it. You’ll be presented with a folder containing three files: two in .text format (one of the accepted file extensions for plaintext files that contain Markdown syntax) and one PHP file. I renamed the folder to php-markdown-extra and then uploaded it to my WordPress installation (the filepath is wordpress/wp-content/plugins). WordPress then sees this as a plugin, and so you’re ready to roll!

But what should you use to edit your Markdown text? Initially, I tried a Mac app for Markdown called Valletta, which didn’t impress me. One of the key features of Markdown that I adore is its ability to turn -- into — and turn 'typewriter quotation marks' into ‘typographic quotation marks’. Valletta doesn’t implement this part of Markdown, so I don’t recommend it. However, the beauty of Markdown is that it’s just plain text with specific syntax, and so you can feel free to use the plaintext editor of your choice. Personally, I flit between Textwrangler, on the Mac and Notepad++, on Windows. Both apps can be configured to highlight Markdown syntax2, and I’m actually using TextWrangler to write this post.

A screenshot of this article, being rendered by Elements, the iOS plain text editor.

Although I don’t use a specific app on my computers, I have found a rather good app on my iPhone. An iOS app by the name of Elements, it started life as a simple plaintext editor that supported Dropbox as a filesystem, but has since gained the ability to preview Markdown-formatted text and also copy the HTML generated as a result, for use in other apps.3 Elements is really good in a variety of ways: Dropbox sync is chief amongst them, but the ability to choose what file extension you give to Markdown files is also a very nice touch. It allows you to choose which folder on your Dropbox you want to synchronise4, too. Find it on the App Store here (£2.99/$4.99).

Lastly, let’s return to Footnotify. Markdown Extra allows for easy footnote creation, and Footnotify complements this brilliantly — I use both the Chrome extension and the JavaScript that provides the overlays on this blog. It will work whether you’re using Markdown on your blog directly or generating footnotes on your own. If you like what it’s doing for your browsing experience on my blog, you should definitely download it and give it a try with your own website!

I am glad that I got the desire to try Markdown because I feel it really has enhanced my writing. For me, the main benefits are the syntax, which makes certain tasks (bullet points, linking, footnotes) much easier. For the reader, the better formatted text brings something to the design of the website, whereas the footnotes mean that my frequent desire to wander off the topic is nowhere near as aggravating as it might be. I’d definitely recommend Markdown to anyone who writes online, even if it’s relatively infrequently.


  1. If you’re using WordPress.com, installing plugins is not possible and so this won’t apply to you — sorry! However, you can still use a Markdown app to export HTML and paste it into WordPress, so keep reading. 
  2. Notepad++ may need you to roll a user-defined language definition, but there are such things available online. There’s even this handy article on how to generate HTML from Markdown
  3. I mostly use this feature when posting to my LiveJournal, but if you’re running a WordPress.com blog then it will also be very useful! 
  4. I have all my text files in a folder called PlainText, named after the free editor that also syncs with Dropbox. I recommend that one, if you’re just looking for an editor without Markdown editing. Find it on the App Store here (free).