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Proposed for Java 23: Markdown Javadoc Support

·3 mins

An interesting JEP is in-progress currently on OpenJDK to target Java 23: Markdown Comments. Markdown support would enable Javadocs to generate HTML through the use of embedded Markdown, rather than through the historically supported HTML+@tag support of the Javadoc tool today.

The proposal suggests, to enable Markdown parsing for a comment rather than the existing Javadoc parser, the comment should use a triple slash: ///, and must be positionally placed where a regular Javadoc comment would be supported (e.g. as a prologue to a class/package member).

Summarizing the other interesting details from the JEP, all of which match choices made in other languages:

  • Unordered and ordered lists move from <ul> and <ol> to Markdown -, * and #. syntax
  • {@code ...} is replaced by the regular Markdown backticks: ...
  • {@link ...} is replaced by unqualified Markdown link syntax, e.g. [java.util.HashMap]
  • Other inline style elements map accordingly, such as <b>...</b> becoming **...**
  • Line breaks naturally create paragraph tags, as per normal Markdown

As an example, here is a simple HTML-based Javadoc comment:

 * Enables configuration via the use of a {@link java.util.Map} input
 * <p>
 * This method supports configuration by a map with certain restrictions:
 * <ul>
 * <li>All entries must be strings
 * <li>Null values will be treated as unset
 * <li>Null keys are not supported
 * </ul>
 * <p>
 * Example: {@code configure(Map.of("host", "localhost")) }
void configure(Map<String, String> configuration) { ... }

Here is the Markdown variant based on the proposal:

/// Enables configuration via the use of a [java.util.Map] input
/// This method supports configuration by a map with certain restrictions:
/// - All entries must be strings
/// - Null values will be treated as unset
/// - Null keys are not supported
/// Example: `configure(Map.of("host", "localhost"))`
void configure(Map<String, String> configuration) { ... }

There is open discussion on the JEP on a few other key aspects of the proposal:

  • As an implementation detail, the JEP indicates the use of the CommonMark Java library as the third-party library for support, ensuring reference compatibility with CommonMark.
  • The JEP leaves open the idea of support for syntax highlighting via a tool like Prism, as well as inline diagram rendering with Mermaid (using the expected code fence naming, e.g. mermaid ... )
  • The proposal discusses the reasoning for using a different comment prologue sentinel for Markdown Javadocs, and what the consequences would be for supporting Markdown in traditional /** */ tags - notably that it would almost always mangle some form of existing markdown
  • The future work section has a few interesting ideas including: semantic discovery of tag values (like a # Returns heading section mapping to the @returns tag)

Aside from the inevitable lagging support this will introduce for IDEs, tree-sitter, and other Java syntax systems, this feels like a very welcome change. Many other languages use Markdown (or a simplified variant of Markdown) as the default markup syntax for comments, including: Kotlin KDocs, Golang Godocs, and Rust Doc Comments (to name a few). Supporting Markdown would help modernize Java in context to other popular current language platforms. As an additional anecdote, the /// prefix matches those used by Rust to distinguish doc comments, as well.

R.J. Lorimer
R.J. Lorimer
R.J. is a highly respected software development lead and architect, with over twenty years of deep experience in a variety of roles and technologies, and a passion for getting things done quickly, the right way.

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