Accessible anchor links with Markdown-it and Eleventy

I like to be able to link directly to a section in a long content. I wish every site provided anchor links associated to headings, even if Text Fragments might be a cross browser thing sometimes in the future. Here's how I made the anchor links of my Eleventy based site accessible.

I've been using the markdown-it-anchors plugin in my Eleventy configuration for a while, but even if I applied some settings different from the defaults (which heading levels to consider, how to generate a slug, which visual symbol to use, etc.), I never tried to change the rendering function, as I thought the default one was enough.

But a few weeks ago, I read this great detailed post where Amber Wilson explains how she figured out how to make such anchor links really accessible: Are your Anchor Links Accessible?

My anchor links were not accessible at all… 😱

Enhancing markdown-it-anchor's rendering

Permalink to heading Enhancing markdown-it-anchor's rendering

Amber also uses Eleventy and shared a new plugin to automate such accessible anchor links, but I wanted to keep the features I'm already using in markdown-it-anchor and enhance it with better accessibility.

Fortunately, markdown-it-anchor provides a large set of options, including a way to provide our own rendering function with the renderPermalink option. After a while diving into markdown-it and markdown-it-anchor documentation and code, I've been able to create a rendering function that generates accessible anchor links, which you should be able to use in any Eleventy project! 🎉

The code is primarily based on markdown-it-anchor's default renderPermalink function.

Here is my version:

renderPermalink: (slug, opts, state, idx) => {
// based on fifth version in
// https://amberwilson.co.uk/blog/are-your-anchor-links-accessible/
const linkContent = state.tokens[idx + 1].children[0].content;

// Create the openning <div> for the wrapper
const headingWrapperTokenOpen = Object.assign(
new state.Token('div_open', 'div', 1),
{
attrs: [['class', 'heading-wrapper']],
}
);
// Create the closing </div> for the wrapper
const headingWrapperTokenClose = Object.assign(
new state.Token('div_close', 'div', -1),
{
attrs: [['class', 'heading-wrapper']],
}
);

// Create the tokens for the full accessible anchor link
// <a class="deeplink" href="#your-own-platform-is-the-nearest-you-can-get-help-to-setup">
// <span aria-hidden="true">
// ${opts.permalinkSymbol}
// </span>
// <span class="visually-hidden">
// Section titled Your "own" platform is the nearest you can(get help to) setup
// </span>
// </a >
const anchorTokens = [
Object.assign(new state.Token('link_open', 'a', 1), {
attrs: [
...(opts.permalinkClass ? [['class', opts.permalinkClass]] : []),
['href', opts.permalinkHref(slug, state)],
...Object.entries(opts.permalinkAttrs(slug, state)),
],
}),
Object.assign(new state.Token('span_open', 'span', 1), {
attrs: [['aria-hidden', 'true']],
}),
Object.assign(new state.Token('html_block', '', 0), {
content: opts.permalinkSymbol,
}),
Object.assign(new state.Token('span_close', 'span', -1), {}),
Object.assign(new state.Token('span_open', 'span', 1), {
attrs: [['class', 'visually-hidden']],
}),
Object.assign(new state.Token('html_block', '', 0), {
content: `Section titled ${linkContent}`,
}),
Object.assign(new state.Token('span_close', 'span', -1), {}),
new state.Token('link_close', 'a', -1),
];

// idx is the index of the heading's first token
// insert the wrapper opening before the heading
state.tokens.splice(idx, 0, headingWrapperTokenOpen);
// insert the anchor link tokens after the wrapper opening and the 3 tokens of the heading
state.tokens.splice(idx + 3 + 1, 0, ...anchorTokens);
// insert the wrapper closing after all these
state.tokens.splice(
idx + 3 + 1 + anchorTokens.length,
0,
headingWrapperTokenClose
);
},

I hope there are enough comments in the code to understand how it works. The main markdown-it behavior I had to understand is that it uses an array of tokens to represent HTML nodes, instead of a more traditional Abstract Syntax Tree.

Adapting the CSS to the new HTML structure

Permalink to heading Adapting the CSS to the new HTML structure

If you're already using markdown-it-anchor, the anchor link is inside the heading:

<h3 id="were-my-anchor-links-accessible">
Were my Anchor Links Accessible?
<a class="deeplink" href="#were-my-anchor-links-accessible">#</a>
</h3>

With my new code, following Amber advice, it is now:

<div class="heading-wrapper">
<h2 id="were-my-anchor-links-accessible">Were my Anchor Links Accessible?</h2>
<a class="deeplink" href="#were-my-anchor-links-accessible">
<span aria-hidden="true">#</span>
<span class="visually-hidden">Section titled Were my Anchor Links Accessible?</span>
</a>
</div>

My actual code is a little more complex as I use a SVG for the anchor symbol, but the HTML structure is the same, so you can take some inspiration from my CSS code, which is heavily inspired from Stephanie Eckles' Smol Article Anchors:

// Anchor links
// Based on https://smolcss.dev/#smol-article-anchors
.heading-wrapper
{
display: grid;
// anchor link on the far right for long wrapping headings
grid-template-columns: minmax(auto, max-content) min-content;
align-items: stretch;
gap: 0.5rem;
}

.deeplink {
display: grid;
justify-content: center;
align-content: center;

&:link,
&:visited
{
padding: 0 0.25rem;
border-radius: 0.3em;
color: var(--color-meta);
text-decoration: none;

svg {
fill: none;
stroke: currentColor;
stroke-width: 2px;
stroke-linecap: round;
stroke-linejoin: round;
}
}

.heading-wrapper:hover &,
&:hover,
&:focus
{
color: var(--color-link-hover);
background-color: var(--color-link-hover-bg);
}
}

@media (min-width: 65rem) {
.heading-wrapper {
// Anchor link in the left margin on larger viewports
grid-template-columns: min-content auto;
margin-left: -2rem; // 1rem width + .25rem * 2 paddings + 0.5rem gap
}

.deeplink {
grid-row-start: 1;
}
}

On viewports < 65rem, the anchor link is inside the content container, at the right of the heading. If a long heading wraps on multiple lines, the anchor link is located on the far right, but if the heading is short, the anchor link follows it directly. I'm not sure setting grid-template-columns: minmax(auto, max-content) min-content; is the best way to do it, feel free to suggest an enhancement.

On viewports >= 65rem, there is space around the content, so I move the anchor link in the margin on the left.

Enhancing markdown-it-anchor for everyone

Permalink to heading Enhancing markdown-it-anchor for everyone

I asked Valérian Galliat, maintainer of markdown-it-anchor, if he would be open to merge a pull request providing this enhancement: https://github.com/valeriangalliat/markdown-it-anchor/issues/82

But I think this would break (at least visually) all current uses of the plugin, so I believe it would require a new option to activate it. We'll discuss this before I provide the PR.