Directives are Laika's extension hook for both, templates and text markup. They allow to add new tag-like constructs without touching the existing parsers.

Each directive expects a configurable combination of attributes or body elements, where some of them may be required, while others may be optional. Laika takes care of parsing and validating these directive parts based on your declarations and then passes these values to your directive function (in a type-safe way) that produces a node element to add to the document tree result.

Directive Types

Due to subtle differences in the node types they produce, there is a distinction between three directive types:

  • Template directives, which produce TemplateSpan elements (or alternatively simple strings if you do not mind that your directive can only be used with one output format)
  • Directives for block elements in markup, which produce Block elements
  • Directives for inline elements in markup, which produce Span elements

If you want to create a directive that can be used in all three locations you can usually easily reuse parts of your logic. If your directive version for inline elements generates a simple ExternalLink node for example, you can simply wrap that same node in a Paragraph node for a block-level directive.

Directive Syntax

A very minimal example is the toc directive for inserting a table of contents. Since all its attributes are optional, it can simply be used like this:


A directive always starts with @: followed by the name of the directive. When there are no further attributes or body elements you can close it with a .

A more complete example is the use of the for directive:

@:for "document.sections": {
  <li><a href="#{{id}}">{{title.content}}</a></li>

Here for is the name of the directive, "document.sections" is an unnamed attribute (where in this case the value is interpreted as a variable reference), and finally, enclosed in curly braces the body of the directive. The opening declaration with directive name and attributes ends with a : and not with . if it is followed by body elements.

Example Implementation

You can browse the source of the built-in directives here: directive-api But the logic required for the toc or for directives is probably much more complicated than what you would usually do for a little custom helper tag that you need to unclutter your templates.

Therefore we'll show and explain a very simple example here that should be sufficient to get you started.

Our ticket directive constructs an external link to our bugtracker. Since the base URL is always the same, we want to only write:

@:ticket 456.

to get the output:

<a href="">#456</a>

Or optionally specify a different project than the main one:

@:ticket 456 project=pineapple.

to get the output:

<a href="">#456</a>

The following sections explain how to implement the tag and then how to add it either to the Markdown or reStructuredText parser or to the template parser.

Directive Implementation

val directive = Spans.create("ticket") {
  (attribute(Default) ~ attribute("project").optional) { 
    (ticketNo, project) => 
      val base = ""
      val url = base + project.getOrElse("main-project") + "/" + ticketNo
      val linkText = Seq(Text("#"+ticketNo))
      ExternalLink(linkText, url, options = Styles("ticket"))

Let's examine the code:

With Spans.create("ticket") we specify the name of the directive (ticket) which is also the name we are going to use in markup files (@:ticket).

The Spans object let's us create a directive for an inline element as that has a different node type as the final result of the directive and the API is typesafe. For block level markup directives you'd use the Blocks object, for template directives the Templates object. The features and APIs are identical, but there are subtle differences in return types.

With attribute(Default) we specify that we expect a default (unnamed) attribute which is required. When a required attribute is missing our directive function will never be invoked. Instead Laika inserts a node of type InvalidSpan into the document tree (which we may then choose to render or not).

With attribute("project").optional we specify that we expect an attribute with the name project which is optional. In case it is missing our directive function will still be invoked.

The ~ method chains our declarations together. This operator is fairly common in Scala lands, you've very likely seen it in other APIs already.

(ticketNo, project) are the parameters that the parser will pass to our function after parsing and validating the directive. They have a type corresponding to our configuration. ticketNo is of type String (you can also specify converters to other types, but that is not needed here). project is of type Option[String] since we declared it as optional.

The rest is just plain Scala code. The result is of type ExternalLink which is one type of Laika's rich tree model. It mixes in the Span trait and thus satisfies the requirement of an inline directive.

Directive Registration

Finally all we need to do is register our directive before parsing. All the examples below refer to the directive variable we declared in the example in the previous section.

sbt Plugin:

laikaSpanDirectives += directive

This registers the directive for both Markdown and reStructuredText parsers.

The directive implementation itself usually requires some amount of logic, so is usually best kept separately in a .scala file in the project directory and then referenced from your build.sbt. Reusable directives are best packaged as a library and then added as a dependency of your build.


Transform from Markdown.withSpanDirectives(directive) to 
  HTML fromFile "" toFile "hello.html"   

The directive variable refers to the instance we created above. We can now use our ticket directive in Markdown files!


Transform from ReStructuredText.withLaikaSpanDirectives(directive) to 
  HTML fromFile "" toFile "hello.html"  

The only difference here is that the method name is withLaikaSpanDirectives as reStructuredText comes with its own concept of directives which is only supported in the reStructuredText parser.


Transform from Markdown to HTML fromDirectory 
  "source" withTemplateDirectives directive toDirectory "target" 

When you also want to use the directive in templates you need to create a very similar declaration like the one above, just starting with Templates.create instead and wrapping the ExternalLink node in a TemplateElement. You can extract the rest of the logic into a shared function.

Therefore the type of the variable directive is Templates.Directive, and not Spans.Directive like in the previous examples.

API Reference

The example implementation only showed a few options for declaring the expected parts of your directive. Even though there is full scaladoc for the API, the combinators and converters are a bit scattered over different objects, so we assemble them here for easier reference.

Default Attributes

A default attribute is an attribute without a name. It has to be the first attribute before any named attributes. It allows for more concise syntax in all the cases where usually only one attribute is used and its meaning is obvious.

Markup example:

@:name arg.



Named Attributes

A named attribute can appear after the default attribute or right after the directory name in case there is no default attribute. The order of attributes does not matter, it does not need to match the order you declared them in (that's why they have names after all).

Markup example:

@:name myAttr=value.



Default Bodies

A default body is a body element without a name. It has to be the first body before any named body elements.

Markup example:

@:name: { 
  this is the content of the default body 



Named Bodies

A named body element usually appears after a default body (but it does not have to). In the example below the second body has the name empty.

Markup example:

@:for "documents.sections": { 
} ~empty: {
  <p>no sections</p>



Optional Elements

All the element types shown above, default and named attributes as well as default and named bodies can be marked as optional.



The parameter type of your directive function changes accordingly, from T to Option[T] where T is either the type returned by your converter (see below) or the default type (which is different for body and attribute elements (again see next section).


For any attribute or body element a converter can be specified. If it is left out the default types are as follows:

  • String for attributes in all directive types
  • Seq[Block] for body elements in block directives
  • Seq[Span] for body elements in inline directives
  • Seq[TemplateSpan] for body elements in template directives

This means that for body elements they are already parsed by default, as this is the most likely requirement for a directive.

The object Converters in the Directives object contains several pre-built converters, like positiveInt:

attribute("depth", Converters.positiveInt).optional

It will validate the attribute value and only invoke your directive function if it succeeds. The parameter type in your function changes to Option[Int] accordingly.

If you want to implement your own converter, it simply has to be a function of type (Parser, String) => Result[T] for which a type alias Converter[T] exists.

Access to the Parser

For block elements the default is to pre-parse the content for you, so there is rarely a need to parse something yourself. But if you need to, it wouldn't be a good idea to instantiate your own parser. Because it would not have access to any of the directives or other configuration options active for this operation (unless you manually duplicate it which is brittle). Therefore you can request a parser for your function in addition to the other values:

attribute(Default) ~ parser { (attrValue, parser) =>
  val parsedSpans = parser("["+attrValue+"]")

In this contrived example the attribute value is modified before being passed to the parser and then wrapped inside a sequence.

Access to the Document Context

Finally you can also request access to the document context. This gives you access to the structure, the title, sections and parent and root trees, in short, the full API for the AST built by the parser.

It is, for example, required for a directive like the toc directive, because for building a table of contents you have to look beyond your particular directive node.

attribute(Default) ~ context { (attrValue, context) =>
  val spans = Text("The title is: ") +: context.document.title

Differences between Directive Types

Directive Types already gave a quick overview over the available types. The sections Directive Implementation and Directive Registration showed a simple example for a span directive. Since there are three different directive types and different ways to register them depending on whether you use the sbt plugin or Laika embedded, this section gives a final overview over the API differences.

Span Directives

Use: in inline elements in text markup files


import laika.directive.Directives.Spans
import laika.util.Builders._
import laika.tree.Elements._
import Spans.Combinators._
import Spans.Converters._

val directive = Spans.create("name") {
  // implementation producing a `Span` element


// for Markdown and reStructuredText with sbt plugin:
laikaSpanDirectives += directive // in build.sbt

// for Markdown with Transform API or Parse API:
Transform from Markdown.withSpanDirectives(directive) to ...
Parse as Markdown.withSpanDirectives(directive) from ...

// for reStructuredText with Transform API or Parse API:
Transform from ReStructuredText.withLaikaSpanDirectives(directive) to ...
Parse as ReStructuredText.withLaikaSpanDirectives(directive) from ...

Block Directives

Use: in block elements in text markup files


import laika.directive.Directives.Blocks
import laika.util.Builders._
import laika.tree.Elements._
import Blocks.Combinators._
import Blocks.Converters._

val directive = Blocks.create("name") {
  // implementation producing a `Block` element


// for Markdown and reStructuredText with sbt plugin:
laikaBlockDirectives += directive // in build.sbt

// for Markdown with Transform API or Parse API:
Transform from Markdown.withBlockDirectives(directive) to ...
Parse as Markdown.withBlockDirectives(directive) from ...

// for reStructuredText with Transform API or Parse API:
Transform from ReStructuredText.withLaikaBlockDirectives(directive) to ...
Parse as ReStructuredText.withLaikaBlockDirectives(directive) from ...

Template Directives

Use: in template files


import laika.directive.Directives.Templates
import laika.util.Builders._
import laika.tree.Templates._
import Templates.Combinators._
import Templates.Converters._

val directive = Templates.create("name") {
  // implementation producing a `TemplateSpan` element


// for templates with sbt plugin:
laikaTemplateDirectives += directive // in build.sbt

// for Markdown in Transform API:
Transform from Markdown to HTML fromDirectory 
  "source" withTemplateDirectives directive toDirectory "target" 

// for reStructuredText in Transform API:
Transform from ReStructuredText to PDF fromDirectory 
  "source" withTemplateDirectives directive toFile "out.pdf"