1. Luke Plant
  2. sphinx


sphinx / doc / intro.rst


This is the documentation for the Sphinx documentation builder. Sphinx is a tool that translates a set of reStructuredText source files into various output formats, automatically producing cross-references, indices etc. That is, if you have a directory containing a bunch of reST-formatted documents (and possibly subdirectories of docs in there as well), Sphinx can generate a nicely-organized arrangement of HTML files (in some other directory) for easy browsing and navigation. But from the same source, it can also generate a LaTeX file that you can compile into a PDF version of the documents.

The focus is on hand-written documentation, rather than auto-generated API docs. Though there is limited support for that kind of docs as well (which is intended to be freely mixed with hand-written content), if you need pure API docs have a look at Epydoc, which also understands reST.

Conversion from other systems

This section is intended to collect helpful hints for those wanting to migrate to reStructuredText/Sphinx from other documentation systems.

  • Gerard Flanagan has written a script to convert pure HTML to reST; it can be found at BitBucket.
  • For converting the old Python docs to Sphinx, a converter was written which can be found at the Python SVN repository. It contains generic code to convert Python-doc-style LaTeX markup to Sphinx reST.
  • Marcin Wojdyr has written a script to convert Docbook to reST with Sphinx markup; it is at Google Code.


Sphinx needs at least Python 2.4 to run. If you like to have source code highlighting support, you must also install the Pygments library, which you can do via setuptools' easy_install. Sphinx should work with docutils version 0.4 or some (not broken) SVN trunk snapshot.

Setting up the documentation sources

The root directory of a documentation collection is called the :dfn:`source directory`. Normally, this directory also contains the Sphinx configuration file :file:`conf.py`, but that file can also live in another directory, the :dfn:`configuration directory`.

Sphinx comes with a script called :program:`sphinx-quickstart` that sets up a source directory and creates a default :file:`conf.py` from a few questions it asks you. Just run

$ sphinx-quickstart

and answer the questions.

Running a build

A build is started with the :program:`sphinx-build` script. It is called like this:

$ sphinx-build -b latex sourcedir builddir

where sourcedir is the :term:`source directory`, and builddir is the directory in which you want to place the built documentation (it must be an existing directory). The :option:`-b` option selects a builder; in this example Sphinx will build LaTeX files.

The :program:`sphinx-build` script has several more options:

If given, always write all output files. The default is to only write output files for new and changed source files. (This may not apply to all builders.)
Don't use a saved :term:`environment` (the structure caching all cross-references), but rebuild it completely. The default is to only read and parse source files that are new or have changed since the last run.
-t tag
Define the tag tag. This is relevant for :dir:`only` directives that only include their content if this tag is set.
-d path
Since Sphinx has to read and parse all source files before it can write an output file, the parsed source files are cached as "doctree pickles". Normally, these files are put in a directory called :file:`.doctrees` under the build directory; with this option you can select a different cache directory (the doctrees can be shared between all builders).
-c path
Don't look for the :file:`conf.py` in the source directory, but use the given configuration directory instead. Note that various other files and paths given by configuration values are expected to be relative to the configuration directory, so they will have to be present at this location too.
Don't look for a configuration file; only take options via the -D option.
-D setting=value
Override a configuration value set in the :file:`conf.py` file. The value must be a string or dictionary value. For the latter, supply the setting name and key like this: -D latex_elements.docclass=scrartcl.
-A name=value
Make the name assigned to value in the HTML templates.
Do not do colored output. (On Windows, colored output is disabled in any case.)
Do not output anything on standard output, only write warnings and errors to standard error.
Do not output anything on standard output, also suppress warnings. Only errors are written to standard error.
-w file
Write warnings (and errors) to the given file, in addition to standard error.
Turn warnings into errors. This means that the build stops at the first warning and sphinx-build exits with exit status 1.
(Useful for debugging only.) Run the Python debugger, :mod:`pdb`, if an unhandled exception occurs while building.

You can also give one or more filenames on the command line after the source and build directories. Sphinx will then try to build only these output files (and their dependencies).