ArtifiShell Intelligence

Fonts and more


Pandoc Bash Blog has experienced a few upgrades since the addition of CSS. Some are conveniences when using pbb on the command line, some change the appearance of the published result.

Tab completion

pbb knows only a bunch of subcommands (five, to be precise); now, when typing pbb, tab completion suggests them. That is, if the completion file is in the right place, which a (forthcoming) installation script has to take care of.

Language setting

Pandoc’s default HTML has an empty lang property in the opening <html> tag, which is bad for screen readers. Previously, pbb would default to inserting en-CA; now, it tries to infer the language from environment variables. This is surprisingly non-straightforward; I settled on the same priority order as gettext, which collapses to this beautiful declaration:


Some special characters have to be replaced to make for a valid language tag; if none of these variables have a value, pbb defaults to en-US. I guess eventually, there should be an option to make the language a configuration value.

Local server

To look at the built site before deploying it, I used to use the Python one-liner that spins up an HTTP server on localhost; for convenience, this is now done by pbb serve, which just calls

python3 -m http.server --directory artifacts

under the hood.


pbb build now checks if there is an image with a name that matches favicon.* in the assets directory. If so, it gets converted to a 32x32 PNG file and included as the favicon on each page.

The actual conversion is quite flexible: as long as ImageMagick can handle the input format, the favicon gets created. The input file can even be an animated GIF; in that case, the first frame is used. The command is this one:

convert "${infile[0]}[0]" -resize 32x32^ -gravity center \
    -background none -extent 32x32 artifacts/favicon.png

infile is an array of all files matching favicon.*; at this point, there’s already been a test to make sure that its length is 1.

The rest of the command takes care of all the details:

Web fonts

I wanted to have pretty fonts instead of the system defaults. A convenient way for doing so is to include fonts via Google web fonts. I want pbb to be minimal and privacy respecting, and the pages should load fast, so I wondered if I should host the fonts myself or fetch them from Google.

Regarding the privacy aspect, Google says they only log aggregate data, and in a recent discussion on Hacker News, a member of the original team that launched Google Fonts says that there are lower hanging fruits than fonts if you really wanted to track users. For whatever that’s worth, I guess.

Regarding performance, I found a great article covering about everything I could have wondered. It’s not actually that clear cut; for example: using Google instead of self-hosting gets you updates to the fonts and lets you benefit from technological improvements such as variable fonts once they become more commonplace, without having to change anything at all. On the other hand, Google can change your font and break your page in the process.

Google is also smart in how it delivers the font: the CSS returned contains a font format tailored to the user agent, and the fonts contain hints or not based on the OS. Replicating this when self-hosting is not trivial.

As a negative, because requesting CSS from a third party is involved, rendering is blocked until all the CSS has been loaded. This was the reason for a substantial performance improvement for the author of the article and why he ended up self-hosting.

In the end, I decided to load the fonts from Google for now, as it keeps my CSS a lot simpler. I optimized the requests as far as possible with a preconnect resource hint, and I suspect for my tiny page, the difference isn’t noticeable anyway. Later on, I may want to self-host the fonts, though.

Until then, Google serves my fonts of choice, Source Sans Pro for text and Source Code Pro for code.