Pandoc   a universal document converter

Getting started with pandoc

This document is for people who are unfamiliar with command line tools. Command-line experts can go straight to the User’s Guide or the pandoc man page.

Step 1: Install pandoc

First, install pandoc, following the instructions for your platform.

Step 2: Open a terminal

Pandoc is a command-line tool. There is no graphic user interface. So, to use it, you’ll need to open a terminal window:

  • On OS X, the Terminal application can be found in /Applications/Utilities. Open a Finder window and go to Applications, then Utilities. Then double click on Terminal. (Or, click the spotlight icon in the upper right hand corner of your screen and type Terminal – you should see Terminal under Applications.)

  • On Windows, you can use either the classic command prompt or the more modern PowerShell terminal. If you use Windows in desktop mode, run the cmd or powershell command from the Start menu. If you use the Windows 8 start screen instead, simply type cmd or powershell, and then run either the “Command Prompt” or “Windows Powershell” application.

  • On Linux, there are many possible configurations, depending on what desktop environment you’re using:

    • In Unity, use the search function on the Dash, and search for Terminal. Or, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Alt-T.
    • In Gnome, go to Applications, then Accessories, and select Terminal, or use Ctrl-Alt-T.
    • In XFCE, go to Applications, then System, then Terminal, or use Super-T.
    • In KDE, go to KMenu, then System, then Terminal Program (Konsole).

You should now see a rectangle with a “prompt” (possibly just a symbol like %, but probably including more information, such as your username and directory), and a blinking cursor.

Let’s verify that pandoc is installed. Type

pandoc --version

and hit enter. You should see a message telling you which version of pandoc is installed, and giving you some additional information.

Step 3: Changing directories

First, let’s see where we are. Type


on linux or OSX, or

echo %cd%

on Windows, and hit enter. Your terminal should print your current working directory. (Guess what pwd stands for?) This should be your home directory.

Let’s navigate now to our Documents directory: type

cd Documents

and hit enter. Now type


(or echo %cd% on Windows) again. You should be in the Documents subdirectory of your home directory. To go back to your home directory, you could type

cd ..

The .. means “one level up.”

Go back to your Documents directory if you’re not there already. Let’s try creating a subdirectory called pandoc-test:

mkdir pandoc-test

Now change to the pandoc-test directory:

cd pandoc-test

If the prompt doesn’t tell you what directory you’re in, you can confirm that you’re there by doing


(or echo %cd%) again.

OK, that’s all you need to know for now about using the terminal. But here’s a secret that will save you a lot of typing. You can always type the up-arrow key to go back through your history of commands. So if you want to use a command you typed earlier, you don’t need to type it again: just use up-arrow until it comes up. Try this. (You can use down-arrow as well, to go the other direction.) Once you have the command, you can also use the left and right arrows and the backspace/delete key to edit it.

Most terminals also support tab completion of directories and filenames. To try this, let’s first go back up to our Documents directory:

cd ..

Now, type

cd pandoc-

and hit the tab key instead of enter. Your terminal should fill in the rest (test), and then you can hit enter.

To review:

  • pwd (or echo %cd% on Windows) to see what the current working directory is.
  • cd foo to change to the foo subdirectory of your working directory.
  • cd .. to move up to the parent of the working directory.
  • mkdir foo to create a subdirectory called foo in the working directory.
  • up-arrow to go back through your command history.
  • tab to complete directories and file names.

Step 4: Using pandoc as a filter



and hit enter. You should see the cursor just sitting there, waiting for you to type something. Type this:

Hello *pandoc*!

- one
- two

When you’re finished, type Ctrl-D on OS X or Linux, or Ctrl-Z on Windows. You should now see your text converted to HTML!

<p>Hello <em>pandoc</em>!</p>

What just happened? When pandoc is invoked without specifying any input files, it operates as a “filter,” taking input from the terminal and sending its output back to the terminal. You can use this feature to play around with pandoc.

By default, input is interpreted as pandoc markdown, and output is HTML 4. But we can change that. Let’s try converting from HTML to markdown:

pandoc -f html -t markdown

Now type:

<p>Hello <em>pandoc</em>!</p>

and hit Ctrl-D (or Ctrl-Z on Windows). You should see:

Hello *pandoc*!

Now try converting something from markdown to LaTeX. What command do you think you should use?

Step 5: Text editor basics

You’ll probably want to use pandoc to convert a file, not to read text from the terminal. That’s easy, but first we need to create a text file in our pandoc-test subdirectory.

Important: To create a text file, you’ll need to use a text editor, not a word processor like Microsoft Word. On Windows, you can use Notepad (in Accessories). On OS X, you can use TextEdit (in Applications). On Linux, different platforms come with different text editors: Gnome has GEdit, and KDE has Kate.

Start up your text editor. Type the following:

# Test!

This is a test of *pandoc*.

- list one
- list two

Now save your file as in the directory Documents/pandoc-test.

Note: If you use plain text a lot, you’ll want a better editor than Notepad or TextEdit. You might want to look at Sublime Text or (if you’re willing to put in some time learning an unfamiliar interface) Vim or Emacs.

Step 6: Converting a file

Go back to your terminal. We should still be in the Documents/pandoc-test directory. Verify that with pwd.

Now type


(or dir if you’re on Windows). This will list the files in the current directory. You should see the file you created,

To convert it to HTML, use this command:

pandoc -f markdown -t html -s -o test1.html

The filename tells pandoc which file to convert. The -s option says to create a “standalone” file, with a header and footer, not just a fragment. And the -o test1.html says to put the output in the file test1.html. Note that we could have omitted -f markdown and -t html, since the default is to convert from markdown to HTML, but it doesn’t hurt to include them.

Check that the file was created by typing ls again. You should see test1.html. Now open this in a browser. On OS X, you can type

open test1.html

On Windows, type


You should see a browser window with your document.

To create a LaTeX document, you just need to change the command slightly:

pandoc -f markdown -t latex -s -o test1.tex

Try opening test1.tex in your text editor.

Pandoc can often figure out the input and output formats from the filename extensions. So, you could have just used:

pandoc -s -o test1.tex

Pandoc knows you’re trying to create a LaTeX document, because of the .tex extension.

Now try creating a Word document (with extension docx).

If you want to create a PDF, you’ll need to have LaTeX installed. (See MacTeX on OS X, MiKTeX on Windows, or install the texlive package in linux.) Then do

pandoc -s -o test1.pdf

Step 7: Command-line options

You now know the basics. Pandoc has a lot of options. At this point you can start to learn more about them by reading the User’s Guide.

Here’s an example. The -S or --smart option (you can use either form) causes pandoc to produce curly quotes and proper dashes. Try it using pandoc as a filter. Type

pandoc --smart

then enter this text, followed by Ctrl-D (Ctrl-Z on Windows):

"Hello there," she said---and Sam didn't reply.

Now try the same thing without --smart. See the difference in output?

If you forget an option, or forget which formats are supported, you can always do

pandoc --help

to get a list of all the supported options.

On OS X or Linux systems, you can also do

man pandoc

to get the pandoc manual page, or

man pandoc_markdown

to get a description of pandoc’s markdown syntax. All of this information is also in the User’s Guide.

If you get stuck, you can always ask questions on the pandoc-discuss mailing list. But be sure to check the FAQs first, and search through the mailing list to see if your question has been answered before.