ox-html-stable-ids: Stable IDs for ox-html.el

Ox-html-stable-ids is an Org export extension package that generates HTML with stable ID attributes instead of the random IDs Org’s exporter uses by default.


When publishing HTML with Org mode’s exporters, the headlines in the resulting documents get assigned ID attributes. These are used as anchors, amongst other things. By default, these are random, so a headline might get assigned org81963c6 as its ID:

<h2 id="org81963c6">Hello, world!</h2>

Because subsequent exports of the same Org file produce different IDs, there’s no way to link to a headline from an external page. Ox-html-stable-ids provides stable IDs based on the titles of the headlines they’re attached to. In the example above, the headline’s ID would be “hello-world”.


Ox-html-stable-ids is disabled by default, even after requiring and enabling the library. It only replaces IDs in exported HTML documents when org-html-stable-ids is non-nil:

(defgroup org-export-html-stable-ids nil
  "Options for org-html-stable-ids."
  :tag "Org Markdown Title"
  :group 'org-export
  :version "24.4"
  :package-version '(Org . "8.0"))

(defcustom org-html-stable-ids nil
  "Non-nil means to use stable IDs in the exported document."
  :group 'org-export-html-stable-ids
  :version "24.4"
  :package-version '(Org . "8.0")
  :type 'boolean)

The function that generates headlines in Org’s HTML exporer (org-html-headline) calls a function called org-export-get-reference to generate a unique reference for the headline. Ox-html-stable-ids adds an advice to overrides that function to return stable IDs, based on the headline’s contents, instead.1

First, the org-html-stable-ids--extract-id helper function takes a headline and returns a stable ID:

(defun org-html-stable-ids--extract-id (datum)
  "Extract a reference from a DATUM.

Return DATUM's `:CUSTOM_ID` if set, or generate a reference from its
`:raw-value` property.  If the DATUM does not have either, return
   (org-element-property :CUSTOM_ID datum)
   (let ((value (org-element-property :raw-value datum)))
     (when value
       (org-html-stable-ids--to-kebab-case value)))))

If the headline has a :CUSTOM_ID property, that’s immediately returned. If not, the ID is created by taking the headline’s contents and converting them to “kebab case”.

The org-export-get-reference is overridden by a function named org-html-stable-ids--get-reference, which calls the org-html-stable-ids--extract-id to extract IDs for headlines. It uses an internal propetry list named :internal-references as a cache to store generated IDs in. If a generated ID matches one that’s already in the cache, an error is returned, and the export is aborted:

(defun org-html-stable-ids--get-reference (orig-fun datum info)
  "Return a reference for DATUM with INFO.

    Raise an error if the ID was used in the document before."
  (if org-html-stable-ids
      (let ((cache (plist-get info :internal-references))
	    (id (org-html-stable-ids--extract-id datum)))
	(or (car (rassq datum cache))
	    (if (assoc id cache)
		(user-error "Duplicate ID: %s" id)
	      (when id
		(push (cons id datum) cache)
		(plist-put info :internal-references cache)
    (funcall orig-fun datum info)))

Org’s HTML exporter doesn’t call the org-export-get-reference function directly, but has an internal function named org-html--reference that’s called whenever a reference is needed. To ensure all ids are checked against the internal references list, this package overrides org-html--reference to always call org-export-get-reference directly:2

(defun org-html-stable-ids--reference (datum info &optional named-only)
  "Call `org-export-get-reference` to get a reference for DATUM with INFO.

If `NAMED-ONLY` is non-nil, return nil."
  (unless named-only
    (org-export-get-reference datum info)))

Finally, the advise is added (and possibly removed) through the org-html-stable-ids-add and org-html-stable-ids-remove functions:

(defun org-html-stable-ids-add ()
  "Enable org-html-stable-ids."
  (advice-add #'org-export-get-reference :around #'org-html-stable-ids--get-reference)
  (advice-add #'org-html--reference :override #'org-html-stable-ids--reference))

(defun org-html-stable-ids-remove ()
  "Disable org-html-stable-ids."
  (advice-remove #'org-export-get-reference #'org-html-stable-ids--get-reference)
  (advice-remove #'org-html--reference #'org-html-stable-ids--reference))


Now, all headlines in the file get assigned IDs that match their contents:

<h2 id="hello-world">Hello, world!</h2>
<h2 id="another-headline">Another headline!</h2>

If a headline has a CUSTOM_ID, that’s used instead of the generated one:

* Hello, world!
* Another headline!
:CUSTOM_ID: custom-id
<h2 id="hello-world">Hello, world!</h2>
<h2 id="custom-id">Another headline!</h2>

Now, the function raises an error when two headlines resolve to the same ID:

* Hello, world!
* Hello, world!
Duplicate ID: hello-world

As expected, the error is also raised when a custom ID is duplicated:

* Hello, world!
* Another headline!
:CUSTOM_ID: hello-world
Duplicate ID: hello-world


Ox-html-stable-ids is currently not available through any of the package registries. Instead, install it from the repository direcly. Install the package with use-package and straight.el, and enable it by calling org-html-stable-ids-add:

(use-package ox-html-stable-ids
  (ox-html-stable-ids :type git :host github :repo "jeffkreeftmeijer/ox-html-stable-ids.el")

After calling org-html-stable-ids-add, set the org-html-stable-ids variable to to enable the package while exporting:

(let ((org-html-stable-ids t))

Get stable IDs:

<h2 id="hello-world">Hello, world!</h2>

  1. This is based on Adam Porter’s useful anchors example, which differs in a couple of ways:

    Adam’s example uses URL encoded IDs, instead of stripping all non-alphabetic and non-numeric characters and converting it to kebab-case. For non-unique IDs, it prepends the ancestors’ IDs and appends numbers until each ID is unique instead of raising an error and forcing the user to use custom IDs. It’s the better choice if you need stable IDs that sort themselves out and won’t break your publishing.

  2. : The org-html--reference function has added logic to check the html-prefer-user-labels attribute. By calling out to org-export-get-reference directly, that functionality is lost, meaning this library implies the html-prefer-user-labels setting.