Development log of a life-long coder

Generating diagrams when building a static site (part 2)

In the last post, I looked at options for generating diagrams from text descriptions at build time for my static site. Here's my (failed) attempt at integrating Mermaid into my site.

Mermaid is browser-based

Mermaid is built on top of D3.js, which is designed to be used in the browser. It exposes a fluent API reminiscent of jQuery. It directly manipulates a DOM, which means you need a browser.

This is a problem for my scenario where I'm building my site outside of any browser in Node.

Mermaid provides a command line interface where you can pass in the text describing a diagram and get SVG back out, but rather than doing something sensible, it uses Puppeteer to spin up a headless Chromium browser DOM (enjoy that 200+ MB download!) that D3.js manipulates, and then gets everything back out. I guess this is fine for generating, say, a PNG image file, but for SVG it seems excessively wasteful. You shouldn't need a DOM or browser just to generate XML!

Sanity check

Just to make sure I'm not missing something obvious, let's try building a Mermaid diagram in Node without doing anything special.

Module woes...

The first problem I hit is that Mermaid 8.13.0 with D3.js 7.0.3 won't load in either a CommonJS or ES Module environment in Node 14.17.0. If, in CommonJS mode, I try to use require("mermaid"), Node rightly points out that D3.js is an ES Module. If, in an ES Module, I try to use import "mermaid";, then Mermaid tries to use require() on D3.js, which obviously doesn't work. This seems like a bug in Webpack's "universal module" pattern.

jsdom to the rescue?

jsdom provides a fake DOM implementation for use in Node. Sounds promising!

Unfortunately, Mermaid's dependencies require some SVG functionality that jsdom doesn't implement, e.g. SVGGraphicsElement.getBBox(). Alright, now it's making more sense why Mermaid has this dependency on a browser--it's using the browser's SVG API to measure text, compute transformations, and so on. I'm still not thrilled with this design, but I can see how one might need to measure text when generating diagrams (althoug embedding a full Chromium engine seems like overkill).

I did a bit of searching to see if anyone has implemented the SVG API for use in Node, but I couldn't find anything that looked promising. There was a library for the Canvas API that can be used in Node, which probably solved many similar problems (related to CSS and measuring fonts), but implementing SVG just so I can generate diagrams without downloading Chrome is beyond the amount of effort I'm willing to put into this endeavor.

Taking a step back

It's looking like using Mermaid on the back end is probably going to require either a significant amount of effort or a willingness to settle for using Chromium behind the scenes.

Rather than start investigating the performance characteristics of mermaid-cli, I think I'm going to take a step back and evaluate which of Mermaid, Graphviz, and MSAGL (which I just found) has syntax I find most comfortable (while still supporting the features I'm interested in). Honestly, this should have been the first step, but I was hoping that one option would be clearly easier to integrate, at which point I'd probably just make do with whatever syntax and features were available.