Better footnotes with bigfoot.js

Chris Sauvé on why footnotes on the web are a pain:

Footnotes on the web are a pain in the ass. You click on a tiny number, get transported somewhere near the bottom of the page, find the footnote you were looking for, and click on a link to go back to where you were on the page.

Chris created a solution to this problem in the form of a jQuery plugin called bigfoot. Bigfoot allows you to click on a footnote and instead of getting pushed down to your footnote at the bottom of the page, you get a nice little pop up. 1 I decided to implement these as part of a todo list which I am still working my way through. I’m not a heavy footnote user, but I’ve seen bigfoot used on enough websites now to know that I don’t want to go back to traditional footnotes.

Camel, the engine which powers this blog, already supports footnotes thanks to this update last year. Luckily it’s fairly easy to implement bigfoot on top of this. The first step is to download the project from the website into your Camel file system. Although they can be put together into one file I chose to separate the bigfoot CSS from my site CSS 2:

<!-- Stylesheets --> 
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/css/site.css">
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/css/bigfoot.css">

Next, I downloaded jQuery from the official website. Once it was downloaded I added it to my file system in a ‘js’ folder, along with the bigfoot resources. The last thing you need to do is add the following anywhere on the page to enable bigfoot:

<!-- jQuery -->
<script type="text/javascript" src="/js/jquery/jquery-2.2.3.min.js"></script>

<!-- Bigfoot Footnotes -->
<script type="text/javascript" src="/js/bigfoot/dist/bigfoot.min.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">

In order for bigfoot to work, you need to make sure that footnotes resemble something like this in your code:

    <sup id="fnref:1">
        <a href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a>

Luckily, Camel supports MultiMarkdown which displays footnotes like this. But if you are using a different engine/CMS this may be done differently.

I had to do a lot of tweaking of the CSS to make the footnotes look how I wanted. 3 Funnily enough that is what took me the longest to figure out, and it still isn’t perfect (CSS gradients are confusing). It’s also worth noting that there are several bigfoot options available to you, each of which are detailed on the website. I wanted to retain the footnotes with anchor links as the bottom of my posts. To do this you can use the actionOriginalFN: “ignore” option. This does exactly what you would think in that it ignores any original footnote markup. This can be added to the bigfoot script tag:

 <!-- Bigfoot Footnotes -->
<script type="text/javascript" src="/js/bigfoot/dist/bigfoot.min.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
        actionOriginalFN: "ignore"

And that’s it! This was an interesting exercise to undertake and I think it makes a big difference to the browsing experience on the website. I may revisit the CSS of the footnotes at a later stage but for now I am happy.

  1. Like this! 

  2. I changed the name of ‘bigfoot-default.css’ to ‘bigfoot.css’. 

  3. Like a lot of things on this site, they are heavily influenced by