Why Quarto

Our reasons for using Quarto to build the website and write the general documentation.

June 25, 2023

Context and problem statement

A software project like Seedcase needs an easy way to communicate and share knowledge for those internal and external to Seedcase (including users and contributors), the most common way being to put these content (like documentation) on a website. In order to minimize the work the team needs to do, we would like to use the files we maintain in GitHub as the basis for a public website. The question then becomes:

How do we build a website based on the files in GitHub with minimal amount of overhead and that can be integrated into GitHub in some way?

Decision drivers

There are many different types of “static website generators”1, like Jekyll or Hugo. They all have their pros and cons, and we ultimately have to choose one to use when writing content for this website and to build it, as well as when writing the documentation for Seedcase software itself. We have the following needs when it comes to this decision:

  • Is generally programming language agnostic (e.g. doesn’t need knowledge of the language to build or manage).
  • Powerful enough to have some customizations with structure and organization of websites.
  • Good, beginner-friendly documentation on how to use the tool.
  • Relatively easy theming and aesthetic customization.
  • Uses Markdown as the basis for writing content (see Why Markdown for reasons on why).

Considered options

Based on the needs listed above, only a few tools are capable of meeting these needs. Resources like Jamstack and Awesome Static Generators provided a list of potential static site generators that we could use to build websites. The ones we compared are:


mdBook is a fairly recent tool that is built with Rust and is a very lightweight and simple static site generator. It is mainly used for writing books and documentation and includes some basic website features.


  • Can build websites very quickly because it is built with Rust.
  • Simple and clean website design.


  • While it isn’t required to know Rust, it is developed with using Rust in mind. For example, you can test if Rust code snippets compile correctly.
  • There is a good amount of technical knowledge and overhead needed to setup and build the website, for instance, there are at least 5 commands required for using the tool.
  • Adding extensions and customizing the website requires some knowledge and learning to use, and there aren’t many default or built-in themes to choose from.
  • Uses CommonMark as the Markdown specification, which isn’t as powerful or feature-filled as other Markdown flavors like Pandoc Markdown (which builds on CommonMark).
  • Main focus is on writing books and documentation, not general websites.


MkDocs is an established and widely used tool that is built with Python and installable through pip. It is a simple and fast website generator.


  • Very simple and easy to use, with a lot of documentation and tutorials available.
  • Very popular tool, especially within the Python community.
  • Beginner-friendly documentation.


  • Assumes and encourages placing content in the docs folder, which might not be the best way to organize content for some websites.
  • Setting up custom themes and extensions requires some work.
  • Is based on the original Markdown specification, which is fairly basic and has since evolved into more powerful and feature-rich versions like Pandoc Markdown.
  • While it is generally straight forward to use, features and layouts as well as extensibility and customization are limited.


Within the R world, a recent new tool came out called Quarto. While new, since its release, it has gained enormous popularity as a language-agnostic tool for writing books, documentation, and websites, especially within the data science community.


  • The documentation is fantastic and very friendly to beginners.
  • It is sponsored by an organization (Posit) with an established history of supporting and contributing to open source projects.
  • The software design is extremely well developed and structured, which makes it easier to use compared to other alternatives.
  • It has multi-language support (like R and Python), but is itself language-agnostic.
  • It has support for integration with other applications, like VS Code, which is also used by many software developers and data scientists.
  • It is built on top of Pandoc Markdown, which the de facto standard for writing Markdown, with strong historical use and community support.
  • It has a large number of built-in functionality and features, while still being easy to use.
  • It is very easy to customize and extend the website to fit ones needs, with themes and plugins that are easy to develop and install.


  • It is a relatively new tool, so there will be some bugs and issues that come up along the way.
  • Isn’t as fast to build as other tools, like mdBook.
  • While not necessary for most purposes, developing certain features when making a Quarto extension requires some knowledge of Lua.

Decision outcome

We have decided to go with Quarto as this seems to be the most accessible, as well as being a tool that there is already support for internally in the team. It has the most functionality when it comes to features, theming, and customization, while still being very easy to use if you have very basic knowledge of Pandoc Markdown, building websites, and file paths.


  1. A static website or blog generator is a framework for building websites based on pure, plain HTML files (unlike building websites from SQL databases and programming languages like PHP). “Static” meaning it is a simple file that is being shown by the browser as a webpage.↩︎