Autodetect Quarto formats with {quartostamp}. Or not.


September 1, 2023

Uno meme. On left, a card says 'think for 2 secs before coding or draw 25'. On the right is a man, labelled 'me' holding a huge number of cards.


I wrote a cunning solution to fix an issue in the {quartostamp} R package. Spoiler: it was completely unnecessary. A lesson!

Put it on my tab

{quartostamp} is an R package that contains an RStudio Addin to help insert and modify code in Quarto documents. I originally made it to help me write Quarto presentations: I kept forgetting the correct syntax for things like inserting speaker notes and column layouts.1

Zoë made a great, subtle point in a GitHub issue: the ‘Insert Tabset’ option uses level-3 Markdown headers (###) for its tab titles, but shouldn’t they be level 2 (##)?

To illustrate, here’s what {quartostamp} was inserting for a tabset:

::: {.panel-tabset}

### Tab A

Content for Tab A

### Tab B

Content for Tab B


Which would render like this:

Content for Tab A

Content for Tab B

So ### Tab A in the YAML should be ## Tab A, for example.

I think I’d used level 3 headers because second-level headers demarcate new slides in a Quarto presentation and the specific guidance for presentations appears to suggest ###.

So, obviously, an instance of ## in a tabset header could break someone’s slides and I should come up with some convoluted solution, right? What could go wrong? (This is a literary technique called ‘foreshadowing’, dear reader.)

A stab at the tabs

So, what to do? It seemed as though there were three options:

  1. Have two versions of the tabset function that insert ## or ###.
  2. Switch to ## only .
  3. Retain only ###.

Each is a relatively easy change. But number 1 is a non-starter because it’s confusing from a user’s perspective. Number 2 would disrupt people making presentations; they’d have to manually add the extra # each time. Number 3 is probably the least worst, but might be surprising for general Quarto users.

So, a bonus idea:

  1. Adapt the heading level automatically, based on the document format.

That sounds complicated. Is it?

A dash to hash

Quarto docs start with a text-based ‘YAML header’. This contains a bunch of key-value metadata like the document title, author, etc, between ‘fences’ given by triple hyphens (---). At simplest:

format: revealjs

Or more likely, something nested like this:

title: Chocolate Hobnobs
subtitle: The best biscuits
author: Matt Dray
    theme: [default, biscuits.scss]
    menu: false
  data-background-image: hobnob.png

So we have to somehow read the YAML header of the Quarto file we’re working on and then extract the format information to see if it’s a presentation or not.

So I ended up doing this:

  1. Detect information about the active Quarto document in the RStudio script pane with rstudioapi::getActiveDocumentContext().
  2. Isolate the text content.
  3. Detect the lower limit of the document’s YAML header (i.e. the second, closing instance of the --- YAML fence).
  4. Use yaml::yaml.load() to parse the YAML header.
  5. Detect if a format key-value pair is present
  6. Detect if at least one listed format is revealjs (the Javascript library Quarto uses to make presentations).
  7. If yes, construct a level 3 header (###), otherwise level 2 (##).
  8. Insert the tabset code into the Quarto file.

Hash in the trash

Except guess what? The presence of ## inside tabset code actually doesn’t create a new slide. I should’ve tested this before I started writing a solution. I think Quarto checks context: if Markdown is provided within ::: fences then it’s evaluated in that context. That makes sense!

Click for a Quarto reprex

Pop this in a qmd file and hit ‘render’.

title: "Testing tabset titles"
format: revealjs

## Using level 3

::: {.panel-tabset}

### Tab A

Content for Tab A

### Tab B

Content for Tab B


## Using level 2

::: {.panel-tabset}

## Tab A

Content for Tab A

## Tab B

Content for Tab B


On the plus side, I had fun solving the ‘problem’ and thinking creatively to extract and parse the YAML and write logic to handle each case. I don’t claim it’s optimised, but I’ve added it below for posterity.

First, a function that uses {rstudioapi} to read the active Quarto doc in the RStudio source pane and outputs TRUE if it’s a revealjs presentation.

.check_revealjs <- function() {

  # Fetch lines from the source
  active_doc <- rstudioapi::getActiveDocumentContext()
  contents <- active_doc[["contents"]]

  # Identify the lines that compose the YAML header
  yaml_end_index <- which(contents == "---")[2]
  yaml_only <- contents[seq(yaml_end_index)]

  # Parse the YAML header, detect 'format' key
  yaml_parsed <- yaml::yaml.load(yaml_only)
  has_format <- "format" %in% names(yaml_parsed)

  # Detect if the format is revealjs
  is_revealjs <- FALSE  # default

  if (has_format) {

    formats <- yaml_parsed[["format"]]

    # Format structure could differ, depends on YAML nesting
    formats_is_vec <- inherits(formats, "character")
    formats_is_list <- inherits(formats, "list")

    if (formats_is_vec) {
      is_revealjs <- "revealjs" %in% formats

    if (formats_is_list) {
      is_revealjs <- "revealjs" %in% names(formats)




The output from .check_revealjs() could then be used in a modified stamp_tabset() (the function that powers the ‘Insert Tabset’ option from the Addins menu) where TRUE inserts a level 3 header, otherwise a level 2 header.

stamp_tabset <- function() {

  is_revealjs <- .check_revealjs()

  # Set headers to level 2 by default
  heading_level <- 2

  # Set as level 3 if the active doc is a revealjs presentation
  if (is_revealjs) {
    heading_level <- 3

  # Generate tabset header Markdown depending on doc format
  tabset_heading_md <- paste(rep("#", heading_level), collapse = "")

  # Insert tabset code with appropriate heading level
    pre = paste0(
      "::: {.panel-tabset}\n",
      paste(tabset_heading_md, "Tab A\n"),
    body = "Content for Tab A\n",
    post = paste0(
      paste(tabset_heading_md, "Tab B\n"),
      "Content for Tab B\n",

You can see the actual current state of the code in the matt-dray/quartostamp GitHub repo, which also has the source for the .replace_text() function show in the code block above.

Hash and burn

Which leads us to a bonus bonus idea:

  1. Merge Zoë’s pull request that simply changes ### to ##.

And so {quartostamp} version 0.1.1 is now available!

I look forward to further developments. But less so for ‘antidevelopments’ like these, lol.


Session info
Last rendered: 2023-09-04 12:03:31 BST
R version 4.3.1 (2023-06-16)
Platform: aarch64-apple-darwin20 (64-bit)
Running under: macOS Ventura 13.2.1

Matrix products: default
BLAS:   /Library/Frameworks/R.framework/Versions/4.3-arm64/Resources/lib/libRblas.0.dylib 
LAPACK: /Library/Frameworks/R.framework/Versions/4.3-arm64/Resources/lib/libRlapack.dylib;  LAPACK version 3.11.0

[1] en_US.UTF-8/en_US.UTF-8/en_US.UTF-8/C/en_US.UTF-8/en_US.UTF-8

time zone: Europe/London
tzcode source: internal

attached base packages:
[1] stats     graphics  grDevices utils     datasets  methods   base     

loaded via a namespace (and not attached):
 [1] htmlwidgets_1.6.2 compiler_4.3.1    fastmap_1.1.1     cli_3.6.1        
 [5] tools_4.3.1       htmltools_0.5.5   rstudioapi_0.15.0 yaml_2.3.7       
 [9] rmarkdown_2.23    knitr_1.43.1      jsonlite_1.8.7    xfun_0.39        
[13] digest_0.6.33     rlang_1.1.1       evaluate_0.21    


  1. The package got some great feature requests: Indrajeet asked for callout boxes and Zoë suggested that the package could modify existing text as well as insert skeleton code.↩︎