Markdown hiding: syntax highlighting vs. rich text

hey folks! there are a few posts here and there about the ability to disable markdown hiding (which was available in panda). bear’s unique design choice to display markdown metacharacters is a major reason* i chose it in the first place years ago, so i wanted to make a slightly longer post about it—this feature (i.e., markdown showing) is important to me and i don’t want it to get lost in the noise!

(*there are two major reasons; the other was the tag system.)

to me, what set bear apart from other note-taking apps is that it was not simply yet-another-rich-text-editor. before bear, i took all my notes directly in vim. this had the upside of making it very easy to both edit and scan through my notes visually. the major downside was that it looked very flat; even with some syntax highlighting, vim does not make for the best document-reading experience due to the constraints of living in a terminal.

bear doesn’t have vim’s streamlined modal editing, but note-taking is not as jumpy a task as programming, and it was well worth the tradeoff for the much improved reading experience. but what i especially liked about bear was how few sacrifices to editing it made to provide this reading experience—it remained approximately WYSIWYG, and it didn’t compromise the editing experience with the sort of “random visual formatting events” that plague the entire ecosystem of rich text editor-style note apps.

with forced markdown hiding, editing bear notes now feel as clunky as editing any other formatted text in any other environment. i type out my intent exactly as i want, a bunch of mysterious visual events occur on my screen, and i end up with something which i did not type.

every rich text editor provides this experience. what made bear unique to me was that it was uniquely streamlined for note authoring while still offering a very compelling reading experience—i.e., it was not just an RTE, but instead was the best markdown syntax highlighter in the world. maybe i’m in the minority, but i spend way more time taking my notes than revisiting them. i would love it if bear could retain a markdown showing option for users like me.

cheers on the beta release, and fingers crossed that the markdown hiding checkbox returns soon.


I am happy not to see the markups anymore. But they indeed helped me in ulysses and then bear to get used with markdown. I do not need the option but I support it


simply not true—but you know this, if you read my comment. obviously, many people, yourself included, enjoy having markdown rendered away immediately, but that doesn’t make doing so inherently more elegant nor more delightful. why not have both options so that both of us can have the experience we want? (notably, somewhat recently both modes were supported in the panda editor.)

i think perhaps you are? or at least i’m not sure what you’re trying to say. markdown isn’t a programming language and so it doesn’t have programming semantics. it obviously still does have semantic meaning! we all know that single underscore delimiters means “emphasis” and double asterisks means “strong” or “bold”. you don’t seem to be suggesting otherwise either, so i don’t know what your point is.


Your doctrinal manner has the potential to provoke people very strongly. I speak from experience. I’m telling you this to make you aware, not to offend you. You seem to lack the empathic ability to put yourself in the perspective of others. At times it seems as if you just discover the opportunity for yourself to give a lecture. But please keep in mind that we cannot communicate on an equal footing here because English is not everyone’s native language. To put it more simply: even if it’s not your motivation, it is your effect that makes people feel stupid. Try not to treat us here as your pupils :slight_smile:


If an option were provided to see it either way, you wouldn’t have to.

Why argue to deny how someone else prefers to use Bear just because you do not prefer it that way, if addressing their request need not affect you?


But it does affect me. An app full of options to try to please everyone would not have the simplicity, clarity of design and purpose that I think is Bear’s essence and what makes it delightful. I loved Bear’s original opinionated, focused approach and was very sad when it seemed to be out of development and pleased to see a push for Bear 2. I think the developers are on the right track with the choices they have made so far and I would not like it if they were pressured to “put back” (even as options) lots of things they have decided to change from Bear 1.

At the end of the day, the devs will do what they decide to do, and we can all decide what we think, but I really want to see Bear 2 pretty close to how it is right now, please.

I do not even know how to respond to that.

I was raised to always look for ways to advocate so everyone wins as much of what they need as possible, even if it means that the outcome wouldn’t be what I would consider to be perfection.

Sadly, it seems not everyone chooses to approach things in that same manner.


In families, work teams, politics and many, many other things, I’d share that view. In creative work like software design, not so much. Of course there’s compromise and never “perfection” but all the software I love to use is true to a vision.

Actually the question here, like in an other discussion, is not: „should an option be added?“ but about removal of features known from bear 1 or especially panda. It can be damn hard for people to loose exactly that feature that attracted them as they decided to switch to bear. Furthermore I see the problem if you would add one feature after an other just to suit all needs. The character of an app can be changed drastically. As far as I have read here that happened with craft which I do not know from its early stage. But on the other side I cannot see how the option provided in panda to show markdown syntax is able to cause that.


I’d like to see an option to toggle on showing the markdown syntax. I understand how many users would like to hide the markdown, and it won’t be a problem for me if the default is to hide markdown syntax, as long as it’s possible to toggle them on/off.

It’s never a problem for me to see them, but I also didn’t feel strongly one way or the other until I started using Typora (another markdown editor pioneered at dynamically hiding markdown syntax) and recently using Bear 2 beta. The main problems are pretty much mentioned on this forum, but in short:

  1. Not being able to see the syntax makes modifying existing text/markdown slightly confusing sometimes, depending on the complexity of the syntax used. It doesn’t help that texts get expanded as the markdown being “un-hide” changes how things are temporarily rendered in the editor. I find myself needing to make a couple of attempts to modify something, which wasn’t the case when I could see all the syntax at all times.

  2. Selecting styled texts to copy and paste into another program also becomes less simple because one might accidentally not include the underlying markdown syntax. Perhaps this could be remedied by using “Copy as rich text” instead of just “Copy”? I haven’t tried, but if there’s an option where I could toggle off markdown hiding so I could always just copy and not think about copy vs copy as rich text, I would love that.

Obviously, whether the above two points are considered issues depends on one’s workflow. I completely understand some users just won’t find these problematic and would prefer to hide markdown using the mechanism implemented in the current Bear 2 beta. That’s all good - but I’m just asking to have a checkbox for those of us who would like to see the syntax, and who never objected to the requests – where people asked to optionally hide the markdown – made in the past


I haven’t yet installed the beta, and after reading the no-going-back warning, I’m afraid to do so. Hiding the markdown markup while writing without an option to force its display is a problem. I love Bear’s ability to preview a note Marked 2. On the other hand, I have Typora installed, which allows you to write in markdown but immediately hides the markup. I find it annoying, and I often make errors as the hashtags disappear from headings. I would prefer a choice, and I would hope I can still preview in Marked 2, one of my favorite markdown tools. Another question is whether Bear 2.0 will allow custom style sheets (CSS) to customize the appearance of previews as Marked 2 and Typora do.


The idea that simple apps can’t have settings has been proven wrong in time. There’s countless apps that prided itself on that now has user preferences.

There is one crucial thing though: you don’t have to touch them if you don’t want to!

As long as Bear has really good defaults (which I assume it will) and don’t force those settings upon people having more settings should not be problematic in cases where it’s needed.

And to be clear: I think this is one of those cases. I like many things about the Bear 2 beta, but I hate how things jumps around when I move my text cursor close to formatting. I like markdown. I want to see the markdown. Let me see it!.


To answer more broadly: I would very much like to have the option to always show the markdown. In fact, now that it hides by default I think you could go one further and just show all the markdown. Show the lists as dashes (or stars if that is what someone used). Show me the hashes to the left. iA Writer is basically the standard for how this ought to be done imo (and is my dedicated writing app of choice, Bear is strictly for notes for me… and that’s not a slight, for me my note taking app is far more important than my writing app).

The very reason I like markdown so much is that it removes a lot of the confusing and mysterious behaviour from formatting. Traditional formatting (rich text, etc) is very confusing and thing jumps around. Markdown feels stable, it just sits there, not messing with you. So, for me, forcing hidden markdown upon me will be a clear regression.

Obviously some people want it hidden and others not. I think you ought to support your entire existing user base in that.


The Mac Beta is a little ahead of the iPad and IOS right now so this is my experience on the Mac.

You can currently set editor (“Typography”) preferences which are:

  • Text font, Headings font and Code font. You can set any weight of font you have on your system so all headings in semibold and text in light, for example
  • font size (10-30 pt with Headings etc. scaled from that)
  • Line height (1 - 2 em in 0.1 em increments)
  • Line width (32em - 130em)

I’ve been happy with how the editor looks with my choice of settings, and without visible markdown tags, and I am not sure I’d gain too much from routinely previewing in marked2, though marked2 can give you a wider range of preview options, of course. “Preview in Marked” is already there in the Mac app (Note>Preview in Marked) and works fine.

Currently the editor does not show markdown, except for what you are currently editing or have selected where it’s a bit similar to Bear 1: you see the markdown tags, rather greyed out, but you can edit them. This means that the line “moves” slightly when you click to edit if or if you select it, if it has any markdown tags (e.g. if the line of text is bold the line is slightly longer when being edited to accommodate the ** tags) I thought it slightly odd at first, but the little “jump” now feels like confirmation that I have started to edit.

I hope that helps. Like anything, you have to experience what it’s like for you (and it’s a beta so might change)

It feels very different to Bear 1 for me (which was pretty close to perfect, though I find iA Writer slightly better than that since it never hid anything at all).

The text jumping around as the text cursor is touch and not touching links drives me batty. I absolutely hate it. I really don’t want any of the text to jump around unless I’m actually editing it myself.


A good example of how you can design features without impacting those who don’t use them is folding in Bear itself. Until I now looked up I didn’t even notice it existed in Bear.

I used it this once, but it’s not a feature for me. And I’ll happily keep on working with Bear as it doesn’t have folding.

In the meantime people who truly need it can use it. Everybody wins!

Except the developers (and therefore, indirectly, the users), who might easily end up trying to maintain and develop several different pathways within the app, hidden behind options and the additional complexity that happens when those options interact. That’s why the devs have to make decisions some of which we might not like.

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I just can agree. There are apps that offer an bloated arsenal of options that can be overhelming since they require pre-knowledge from the user. But in this case it is an simple ceck-on/off option placeed in the main menu

That’s interesting! Would you prefer minimal formatting, f.e. bolded text to appear bold and coloured? Or do you want it raw? But however raw, tables should never be displayed in markdown syntax because that makes life hard


This might interest some, and maybe give some wider perspective.

There’s a discussion on the “Under the Radar” Podcast 262 Marco Arment and David _Smith, both independent developers worthy of respect (Overcast, Instapaper, Widgetsmith, Watchsmith, Pedometer++), discuss how difficult it is to bring changes to any app that people are invested in and the difficult task of making decisions about what to do. What emerges very quickly is that you can’t please everyone or do everything. There are no neat answers, but it made me think.

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I just can agree. There are apps that offer an bloated arsenal of options that can be overhelming since they require pre-knowledge from the user. But in this case it is an simple ceck-on/off option placeed in the main menu

Obviously only the settings that are truly needed should be added. Having settings doesn’t mean having settings for everything. I think there are many apps that strike a good balance here. The key is to only have the settings you truly need (not merely include everything just because you can) and make sure that if a setting isn’t relevant to a user they’re not forced to care about it (good defaults and good design of the Preferences pane takes care of that).

That’s interesting! Would you prefer minimal formatting, f.e. bolded text to appear bold and coloured? Or do you want it raw? But however raw, tables should never be displayed in markdown syntax because that makes life hard

I would still like the formatting (it being bold, etc…), but I would also like to see the characters. Again, I quite like how iA Writer does it.

That being said, my main complaint here is that now text jumps around and before it didn’t. It was stable. I’d be happy enough with the previous system.

As for tables I’m not sure what my opinion is there as I don’t use them, but I suppose I might lean towards keeping the UI.

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