How-To Quire

Greg Albers The J. Paul Getty Trust
Erin Dunigan J. Paul Getty Center


Getty began development work on Quire, a multiformat digital publishing tool, in 2016. We have since produced 14 publications, with another 15 on the way. Each publication starts with a single set of files which we then output as an open-access website, a print-on-demand book, and a downloadable e-book, with the website serving as the primary version of the publication.

Beyond our own success with the tool, we have a growing community of users within the arts and cultural heritage sector and have recently launched version 1.0 of Quire as fully open source. Because Quire is so feature-rich and extensible, our community has used it to publish everything from collection catalogues and conference proceedings to journals, student research, and even a personal family history.

As an open-source tool, Quire is available for anyone to use for free. In this hour-and-a-half-long how-to session, we will walk attendees through the fundamentals of working in Quire, from running the command line application to using a text editor and previewing a publication in real time. We will also present examples of Quire publications and a sample workflow to serve as practical guideposts for using the tool. The goal of this session is to familiarize participants with the inner workings of Quire, so they leave feeling confident and empowered to start a digital publishing project of their own.

Look at the Quire Interface

There is no graphical user interface in Quire. This is an intentional decision. The transparency of Quire’s backend provides more flexibility and opportunity for customization. For that reason, as you get started with Quire, it is important to familiarize yourself with the three core components that you will use to create, edit, and output your project:

  • Command-Line Shell – Use your computer’s built-in command-line shell to tell Quire what to do (like “quire preview” to preview your project)
  • Text Editor – Use a freely available text editor to edit your publication files
  • Web Browser – Use a Web browser to preview your work in real-time

Animated gif of a text editor, command-line shell, and browser pop-up one-by-one on screen.

Figure 1: When you work in Quire, you’ll be using a text editor (left), a command-line shell (center), and a Web browser (right).

In the following sections, you’ll learn more about these interconnected components and get hands-on experience working on a Quire project.

Understand the Command-Line Shell

The first thing you’ll need is a command-line shell, an interface that allows you to control your computer through text. Macs and PCs already have good shells installed. On macOS, it’s called Terminal, and on Windows, it’s called PowerShell.

In addition to telling Quire what to do, the command-line shell is an effective text-based way of viewing and navigating your computer’s files. You can use the command-line shell to move between different directories (or folders) and list the contents of a particular directory in the same way you would use Finder or File Explorer. When you open your shell, by default, you will be in your home directory.

Screenshot of a terminal that shows black text against a white background and a Finder window that shows blue folders against a white background. Both screenshots show the same files.

Figure 2: The command-line shell (left) and the Finder window (right) are views of the same directory on your computer. In this case, we are in the computer’s home directory with a user account called “workstation.”

We will go into Quire-specific commands shortly, but here are a few general shell commands you may find helpful:

Command Action
ls “List”: Lists all the files in the directory you’re in
cd “Change directory”: cd followed by a space and a directory name will move you into that directory. Typing cd and then dragging and dropping a directory icon into your shell will copy the full file path.
~ Return you to your home directory
!! Run the last command you entered
Control+C (macOS) / Command+C (windows) Stop any command-line shell process from running

For a deeper dive into the command line, check out a Really Friendly Command Line Intro (Osborn, 2018) or the Programming Historian’s “Introduction to the Bash Command Line” (Baker & Milligan, 2014).

Try it for Yourself

  1. Open your computer’s command-line shell. On Macs, go into your Applications/Utilities folder and find the Terminal. On PCs, right-click Start and select Windows PowerShell.
  2. Type ls to list the folders and files in your home directory.
  3. Type cd followed by the name of a directory you want to navigate to. For example, cd Downloads will take you to the Downloads directory.
  4. Run ls again to view the contents of that folder.
  5. Pull up your Finder or File Explorer to compare the listed files.
  6. Type cd ~ to go back to your home directory.

Install Quire

Now that you understand how to use the command-line shell, follow the steps in the documentation links below and use it to install Quire:

On both operating systems, you will first install Node.js which allows you to run JavaScript programs on your computer. Quire is written in JavaScript.

Create a New Project

Once you’ve successfully installed Quire, it’s time to create a new project to work on. When you run the command quire new [project-name] in the command-line shell, Quire will create a new folder in your home directory. This folder includes a starter publication with demo content (text, images, and relevant metadata) that you can use as a template for your own project.

Here we use the example my-project, but you can call your project anything you want as long as you use hyphens rather than spaces and no special characters. We also recommend all lowercase text.

Two screenshots of Finder windows that show blue folders on white backgrounds. The bottom-most screenshot shows the files included in a new Quire project.

Figure 3: Running the command quire new creates a starter publication with demo content in your computer’s home directory. This new project includes text, images, and other important files.

Try it for Yourself

  1. Open your command-line shell.
  2. Run the command quire new my-project.
  1. When your starter project has finished installing, you will see your computer username appear with a cursor. This means you are ready to preview your project.

Preview Your Project

Quire lets you preview your publication in your browser as you work on it. Your project will not be visible to anyone other than you. The preview lives locally on your computer and can be viewed even if you are not connected to the Internet.

A browser window shows a new Quire project called “New Deal Photography: The Works of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans” by Judith Keller. The project's cover page has a gradient that is blue, purple, and red with a white spiral overlay.

Figure 4: You can preview your new project locally in your browser by running the command ‘quire preview’. Your new project comes loaded with demo content called “New Deal Photography.”

Try it for Yourself

  1. Type cd my-project in your command-line shell and press enter. This will move you from your home directory into your new “my-project” folder.
  2. Once you are in the “my-project” folder, type quire preview and press enter.
  3. You will know your project is ready to be viewed when you see the URL http://localhost:8080. Cut and paste that link into your browser to preview your project.

Work in a Text Editor

To edit the demo content created by running quire new, you’ll need a text editor. As its name implies, a text editor is simply a program used to edit text. It’s like Microsoft Word, but instead of dealing with text formatted for print, text editors use human-readable code and markup to format the text for conversion to HTML.

Macs and PCs come with some simple text editors built in, but we recommend using one that offers more in terms of auto-formatting as well as being able to see and work in multiple text files at a time. Visual Studio Code (, Brackets (, and Sublime Text ( are good options.

A screenshot of the Visual Studio Code text editor shows a list of project files ready to edit in a sidebar at the left.

Figure 5: When working on a Quire project in a text editor you can see and access all your project files from the sidebar at the left.

Try it for Yourself

  1. If you haven’t already, download and install the text editor of your choosing.
  2. Open your text editor.
  3. Click “File” at the top of your screen and navigate to your home directory.
  4. Click your “my-project” folder.
  5. Select the “content” folder and open it in your text editor.

Enter Publication Metadata

The metadata for your publication (its title, subtitle, contributors, publication date, etc.) is used under the hood for search engine optimization (SEO). It is also used in various areas of your site including headings, navigation labels, and on your About or Copyright page. All publication metadata is in the publication.yaml file of your project. You can find this file in the _data folder of your content directory. The format of how the metadata is stored is called YAML (yam-ul). It’s designed to be a plain-text way of capturing information that appears in multiple places throughout your project and is therefore treated as data. As much as possible, Quire works on the principle of having information exist in only one place and using code to display it elsewhere.

Three screenshots of a new Quire project, “New Deal Photography,” showing the project open in a browser, a pdf, and a browser with the sidebar menu open at the right. The general format of YAML is the name of a data item followed by a colon, a space, and then the data item’s value. For example

Figure 6: Basic publication information lives in the publication.yaml file, and is used throughout the site. Here we see the title being used on the cover, in the PDF version of the publication, and in the side navigation.

The general format of YAML is the name of a data item followed by a colon, a space, and then the data item’s value. For example

title: "New Deal Photography"
subtitle: "The Works of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans"
  • Certain character combinations can cause issues with how the YAML data is processed and may cause your site preview to fail. It is recommended always to wrap YAML information in straight quotes to prevent these types of errors.
  • Changes made to YAML files sometimes don’t preview immediately in the browser. If refreshing the browser doesn’t work, stop and restart the quire preview process in your command-line shell.
  • If you can’t pinpoint what’s causing an error, copy and paste your YAML text into an online YAML validator like Code Beautify (, which will alert you to any formatting issues.

Try it for Yourself

  1. Open the content/_data/publication.yaml file.
  2. Change the title and subtitle.
  3. Save the changes.
  4. Preview the work in your browser and notice the changes to the navigation bar and expandable sidebar menu.
  5. If you do not see the changes immediately, use Control-C to stop the preview and rerun quire preview.

Edit Content

One of the most important directories in your Quire project, and where you will spend most of your time, is the aptly named content directory. In addition to the _data, _assets, and _computed folders, the content directory contains the editable Markdown (.md) files that comprise the bulk of your publication’s content. Each .md file represents a page of your website/book. These files are populated with page YAML and Markdown.


Just as the overall publication has metadata, each page has metadata that is also stored in YAML. You will notice the page YAML, surrounded by three dashes (—) at the top of each .md file. The three most basic types of page YAML that you’ll always want to include are the title, layout, and order. The layout determines how the page will be structured, and order determines the overall page order of your publication. Without order, the pages will default to being displayed alphabetically.

title: Introduction
subtitle: A Tale of Two Photographers
layout: splash
order: 10
image: figures/lange-house.jpg

Try it For Yourself

  1. Open the project’s file.
  2. Change the .md file name to Do this by right-clicking the file in your text editor and selecting “Rename.” Notice that this will also change the URL of the page.
  3. In the page YAML, change the title from Introduction to Preface.
  4. Change the layout type from splash to page. This change will eliminate the image that appears across the top of the Preface. (You can also delete the YAML image: figures/lange-house.jpg as it is no longer necessary.)
  5. Open the file.
  6. Change the order in the file to 7. If you look at the sidebar menu, you will see this places About directly after the Table of Contents which has an order of 6, and before Preface which has an order of 10.
  7. If you do not see the changes immediately, use Control-C to stop the preview and rerun quire preview.


In addition to the page YAML, .md files also contain Markdown. Markdown is a simple, plain-text markup language that uses basic symbols, such as hash marks, asterisks, and brackets, to format content for easy conversion into HTML.

A text editor with the file open showing black text written in Markdown against a white background. The other project files are listed in a sidebar at the left.

Figure 7: Your project’s content appears as Markdown that is formatted for easy conversion to HTML.

Here are some of the things you can do with Markdown:

  • Add italics to a word or phrase by surrounding it with single asterisks: *a phrase in italics* = a phrase in italics 
  • Add bold to a word or phrase by surrounding it with double asterisks: **a phrase in bold** = a phrase in bold 
  • Add a second-level heading by putting the text on its own line, preceded by two hash marks: ## Heading 2.
  • Add a link by putting the link text in square brackets followed by the URL in parentheses: [click here]( = click here.

Try it for Yourself

  1. In the file, delete all the text that falls below the page YAML, starting with “This starter theme…”.
  2. With your page now empty, aside from the page YAML, copy-and-paste the following text that has been formatted with Markdown:
    ## A Riotous Energy
    There are many canvases the subjects of which are more pathologic than artistic, subjects 
    only fit for the confessional or the privacy of the clinic. But, apart from these *disagreeable 
    episodes*, the main note of the [Salon]( 
    is a riotous energy, the noisy ebullition of a gang of students let loose in the halls of art.
  3. View the changes in your browser preview.

Add Images

To add more specialized features to your publication, such as images, multimedia, or citations, Quire extends Markdown’s capabilities with shortcodes. Shortcodes are small snippets of code that pull data from the YAML files found in the _data folder and insert them into your .md files. The figures.yaml file contains YAML values for things like caption, src, and id, among others as in the example below.

- id: “fig-1”
  label: “Figure 1”  src: figures/evans-legionnaire.jpg 
  caption: “Walker Evans. *[American Legionnaire]*, 1935.” 
  credit: “The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles”

The id is critical and is used in the shortcode as an identifier. It pulls the image and any additional information in the relevant figures.yaml entry into the .md file that includes the shortcode. Keep in mind if you update the information stored in figures.yaml, it will update on all pages where that id is referenced.

A screenshot of a text editor with content written in Markdown juxtaposed with a screenshot showing that same page rendered as HTML in a browser. The content is the same, but the appearance is different. The browser screenshot includes a photo of a man in a military uniform.

Figure 8: Figures are added with a {% figure %} shortcode referencing an id. The id is listed in your project’s figures.yaml file along with a caption and other YAML values.

Try it for Yourself

  1. Type the following figure image shortcode on a new line in your file:
    {% figure 'fig-1' %}
  2. Save the change and check the preview in your browser. A new image should appear on the Preface page.
  3. Navigate to your project’s figures.yaml file and look for the id value of fig-1.
  4. Make edits to the caption value for fig-1 and preview your changes.
  5. If you do not see the changes immediately, use Control-C to stop the preview and rerun quire preview.

Customize Styles

There are several ways to customize the look and feel of your Quire publication without digging deep into the code. These “out of the box” customizations include updating the cover image or altering the colors and styles of different interface elements (like the menu, navigation bar, and links).

Cover Image

A background image can be added to pages with a layout type of either splash or cover by indicating the image path in the page YAML. The image itself is stored as a .jpg or .png file in the content/_assets/images/figures/ directory of your project. This is also where images are stored for use with the {% figure %} shortcode.

A screenshot showing a browser open to the homepage of “New Deal Photography.” The blue, purple, and red cover is now replaced with a sepia-toned photograph of a wooden shack in a desert landscape.

Figure 1: A background image can be added to the cover by including the image path in the page YAML of your file.

Try it for Yourself

  1. Open the file found in the main content directory. This is your cover page.
  2. Delete pattern-spiral-overlay.png and replace it with the text below:
  3. Save the file and preview the results in the browser.
  4. If you do not see the changes immediately, use Control-C to stop the preview and rerun quire preview.

CSS Variables

Variables that control the appearance and format of your project are stored inside the content/_assets/styles folder in a file called variables.scss. Here you’ll find variables, prefixed with a dollar sign $, that are descriptive of what they control.

A screenshot showing a browser open to the homepage of “New Deal Photography.” The sepia-toned photograph of a wooden shack in a desert landscape now has a dusty pink navigation bar running across the top of the screen just below the URL.

Figure 10: Colors and other styles can be customized in the variables.scss file of your project’s theme

Try it for Yourself

  1. Navigate to the variables.scss file in your text editor.
  2. Find the variable called $accent-color and change the color from null to rosybrown. This will update the color of links, navigation buttons, the progress bar, and other project areas.
  3. Then scroll down to the section labeled // Declare navbar colors.
  4. Now change the $quire-navbar-color value to rosybrown. This will update the navigation bar color at the top of the project screen.
  5. Save the changes in your text editor and preview them in your browser.
  6. If you do not see the changes immediately, use Control-C to stop the preview and rerun quire preview.

Output Your Project

Once you’ve played around with adding content and customizing your project, it’s time to output it. One of the most significant differences between Quire and other digital publishing tools is the ability to produce your project in multiple formats, including website, e-book, and print. You can create these different versions of your project by running the command quire build which will create the site files used to build the PDF and EPUB. Those formats are then generated with the commands quire pdf or quire epub.

Try it For Yourself

  1. Use Control-C to stop the preview of your project.
  2. While you are still in the project folder, run the command quire build.
  3. Once that process is done, run the command quire pdf.
  4. Open your Finder and go into your “my-project” folder, you should see the PDF for your project there as pagedjs.pdf.

Congratulations! You’ve completed installing Quire, starting a new project, editing metadata and content, previewing changes, and outputting your sample project as a PDF. Quire can be used out of the box, or it can be extensively customized. To learn more about Quire and what it’s capable of visit


Baker, J., & I. Milligan. (2014). “Introduction to the Bash Command Line.” In Programming Historian. Last updated February 3, 2022. Consulted February 10, 2023.

Osborn, T. (2018). Really Friendly Command Line Intro. Self-published. Consulted February 10, 2023.

  1. Paul Getty Trust. (2023). Quire. Consulted February 10, 2023. Available

0 Greg Albers The J. Paul Getty Trust
0 Erin Dunigan J. Paul Getty Center
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