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Introducing Rpub, a simple ePub generation library

I am writing a book. A little book, but a book nonetheless. And when I started writing it, I knew I wanted to publish it as an ebook and write in Markdown. I found no easy solution to facilitate that, so I wrote my own.

Rpub is a very simple Ruby gem for converting a set of markdown input files into an ebook in .epub format. It is simple because it doesn’t do much:

  • it converts the markdown files to HTML using kramdown;
  • it combines the HTML files together with any referenced images and fonts into a .zip archive, together with some XML boilerplate files.

Additionally, it provides some helper functions to make life a little easier:

  • a package task to combine the .epub file with an arbitrary number of other files (e.g. a license or README) into a single archive for online distribution;
  • a preview task for generating a single HTML page for easy previewing-as-you-write.
  • a statistics task for counting words and stuff.
  • it can generate a table of contents for you based on headers in your text.


As valid .epub files require some metadata, a config.yml file is needed to generate your book. It is needed to specify book title, author, publisher, subject and all that malarkey. You can also use it to specify the cover image you want to use for the book or what files to include in the package.

The gem comes with default HTML and CSS files for layout, but you can easily override them. Using the generate task you can copy these files into your current project and tweak them to your taste.

Secret features

Because markdown files are converted using kramdown, we get a few nice extra features:

  • footnotes
  • syntax highlighting of code samples
  • automatic header ids
  • abbreviations

Find out more about those in the kramdown documentation.

Getting started

Rpub is distributed as a Ruby gem, so getting started is easy. Once you’ve got a working installation of Ruby and Ruby Gems set up, you can install Rpub:

$ gem install rpub

Then create a new directory for your project, write your next great novel in a .md file per chapter and set the title and author in a config.yml file:

creator: Arjan van der Gaag
language: en
version: 1.0.0
title: Absolutism in 18th century Cleves
publisher: Me!
subject: History
rights: copyright 2012. All rights reserved.
description: My awesome history thesis.

That should do it. Compile your ebook:

$ rpub compile

…and a new absolutism-in-the-18th-centruy-1.0.0.epub file will appear in your current directory. Open it in iBooks on your iPad or use an ebook reader on your computer and bask in your self-publishing glory.


Take the gem for a spin and report any issues you find on the Github issues tracker. Or better yet, fork it and send it some pull request love.

  • ruby
  • epub
  • ebooks
  • programming
  • markdown
Arjan van der Gaag

Arjan van der Gaag

A thirtysomething software developer, historian and all-round geek. This is his blog about Ruby, Rails, Javascript, Git, CSS, software and the web. Back to all talks and articles?


You cannot leave comments on my site, but you can always tweet questions or comments at me: @avdgaag.