Docutils FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Date: 2013-07-03
Revision: 7677
Web site:
Copyright: This document has been placed in the public domain.


This is a work in progress. If you are reading a local copy, the master copy might be newer. This document uses are relative links; if they don't work, please use the master copy.

Please feel free to ask questions and/or provide answers; send email to the Docutils-users mailing list. Project members should feel free to edit the source text file directly.

1   Docutils

1.1   What is Docutils?

Docutils is a system for processing plaintext documentation into useful formats, such as HTML, XML, and LaTeX. It supports multiple types of input, such as standalone files (implemented), inline documentation from Python modules and packages (under development), PEPs (Python Enhancement Proposals) (implemented), and others as discovered.

The Docutils distribution consists of:

For an overview of the Docutils project implementation, see PEP 258, "Docutils Design Specification".

Docutils is implemented in Python.

1.2   Why is it called "Docutils"?

Docutils is short for "Python Documentation Utilities". The name "Docutils" was inspired by "Distutils", the Python Distribution Utilities architected by Greg Ward, a component of Python's standard library.

The earliest known use of the term "docutils" in a Python context was a fleeting reference in a message by Fred Drake on 1999-12-02 in the Python Doc-SIG mailing list. It was suggested as a project name on 2000-11-27 on Doc-SIG, again by Fred Drake, in response to a question from Tony "Tibs" Ibbs: "What do we want to call this thing?". This was shortly after David Goodger first announced reStructuredText on Doc-SIG.

Tibs used the name "Docutils" for his effort "to document what the Python docutils package should support, with a particular emphasis on documentation strings". Tibs joined the current project (and its predecessors) and graciously donated the name.

For more history of reStructuredText and the Docutils project, see An Introduction to reStructuredText.

Please note that the name is "Docutils", not "DocUtils" or "Doc-Utils" or any other variation. It is pronounced as in "DOCumentation UTILitieS", with emphasis on the first syllable.

1.3   Is there a GUI authoring environment for Docutils?

DocFactory is under development. It uses wxPython and looks very promising.

1.4   What is the status of the Docutils project?

Although useful and relatively stable, Docutils is experimental code, with APIs and architecture subject to change.

Our highest priority is to fix bugs as they are reported. So the latest code from the repository (or the snapshots) is almost always the most stable (bug-free) as well as the most featureful.

1.5   What is the Docutils project release policy?

It's "release early & often". We also have automatically-generated snapshots which always contain the latest code from the repository. As the project matures, we may formalize on a stable/development-branch scheme, but we're not using anything like that yet.

2   reStructuredText

2.1   What is reStructuredText?

reStructuredText is an easy-to-read, what-you-see-is-what-you-get plaintext markup syntax and parser system. The reStructuredText parser is a component of Docutils. reStructuredText is a revision and reinterpretation of the StructuredText and Setext lightweight markup systems.

If you are reading this on the web, you can see for yourself. The source for this FAQ is written in reStructuredText; open it in another window and compare them side by side.

A ReStructuredText Primer and the Quick reStructuredText user reference are a good place to start. The reStructuredText Markup Specification is a detailed technical specification.

2.2   Why is it called "reStructuredText"?

The name came from a combination of "StructuredText", one of reStructuredText's predecessors, with "re": "revised", "reworked", and "reinterpreted", and as in the regular expression module. For a detailed history of reStructuredText and the Docutils project, see An Introduction to reStructuredText.

"reStructuredText" is ONE word, not two!

2.3   What's the standard abbreviation for "reStructuredText"?

"RST" and "ReST" (or "reST") are both acceptable. Care should be taken with capitalization, to avoid confusion with "REST", an acronym for "Representational State Transfer".

The abbreviations "reSTX" and "rSTX"/"rstx" should not be used; they overemphasize reStructuredText's precedessor, Zope's StructuredText.

2.4   What's the standard filename extension for a reStructuredText file?

It's ".txt". Some people would like to use ".rest" or ".rst" or ".restx", but why bother? ReStructuredText source files are meant to be readable as plaintext, and most operating systems already associate ".txt" with text files. Using a specialized filename extension would require that users alter their OS settings, which is something that many users will not be willing or able to do.

Also see What's the official MIME type for reStructuredText data?

2.6   How can I indicate the document title? Subtitle?

A uniquely-adorned section title at the beginning of a document is treated specially, as the document title. Similarly, a uniquely-adorned section title immediately after the document title becomes the document subtitle. For example:

This is the Document Title

This is the Document Subtitle

Here's an ordinary paragraph.


Here's an ordinary paragraph.

This is *not* a Document Title

The "ordinary paragraph" above the section title
prevents it from becoming the document title.

Another counterexample:

This is not the Document Title,  because...

Here's an ordinary paragraph.

... the title adornment is not unique

Another ordinary paragraph.

2.7   How can I represent esoteric characters (e.g. character entities) in a document?

For example, say you want an em-dash (XML character entity —, Unicode character U+2014) in your document: use a real em-dash. Insert concrete characters (e.g. type a real em-dash) into your input file, using whatever encoding suits your application, and tell Docutils the input encoding. Docutils uses Unicode internally, so the em-dash character is a real em-dash internally.

Emacs users should refer to the Emacs Support for reStructuredText document. Tips for other editors are welcome.

ReStructuredText has no character entity subsystem; it doesn't know anything about XML charents. To Docutils, "—" in input text is 7 discrete characters; no interpretation happens. When writing HTML, the "&" is converted to "&", so in the raw output you'd see "—". There's no difference in interpretation for text inside or outside inline literals or literal blocks -- there's no character entity interpretation in either case.

If you can't use a Unicode-compatible encoding and must rely on 7-bit ASCII, there is a workaround. New in Docutils 0.3.10 is a set of Standard Substitution Definition Sets, which provide equivalents of XML & HTML character entity sets as substitution definitions. For example, the Japanese yen currency symbol can be used as follows:

.. include:: <xhtml1-lat1.txt>

|yen| 600 for a complete meal?  That's cheap!

For earlier versions of Docutils, equivalent files containing character entity set substitution definitions using the "unicode" directive are available. Please read the description and instructions for use. Thanks to David Priest for the original idea.

If you insist on using XML-style charents, you'll have to implement a pre-processing system to convert to UTF-8 or something. That introduces complications though; you can no longer write about charents naturally; instead of writing "&mdash;" you'd have to write "&amp;mdash;".

For the common case of long dashes, you might also want to insert the following substitution definitons into your document (both of them are using the "unicode" directive):

.. |--| unicode:: U+2013   .. en dash
.. |---| unicode:: U+2014  .. em dash, trimming surrounding whitespace

Now you can write dashes using pure ASCII: "foo |--| bar; foo |---| bar", rendered as "foo – bar; foo—bar". (Note that Mozilla and Firefox may render this incorrectly.) The :trim: option for the em dash is necessary because you cannot write "foo|---|bar"; thus you need to add spaces ("foo |---| bar") and advise the reStructuredText parser to trim the spaces.

2.8   How can I generate backticks using a Scandinavian keyboard?

The use of backticks in reStructuredText is a bit awkward with Scandinavian keyboards, where the backtick is a "dead" key. To get one ` character one must press SHIFT-` + SPACE.

Unfortunately, with all the variations out there, there's no way to please everyone. For Scandinavian programmers and technical writers, this is not limited to reStructuredText but affects many languages and environments.

Possible solutions include

  • If you have to input a lot of backticks, simply type one in the normal/awkward way, select it, copy and then paste the rest (CTRL-V is a lot faster than SHIFT-` + SPACE).

  • Use keyboard macros.

  • Remap the keyboard. The Scandinavian keyboard layout is awkward for other programming/technical characters too; for example, []{} etc. are a bit awkward compared to US keyboards.

    According to Axel Kollmorgen,

    Under Windows, you can use the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator to easily map the backtick key to a real backtick (no dead key). took me five minutes to load my default (german) keyboard layout, untick "Dead Key?" from the backtick key properties ("in all shift states"), "build dll and setup package", install the generated .msi, and add my custom keyboard layout via Control Panel > Regional and Language Options > Languages > Details > Add Keyboard layout (and setting it as default "when you start your computer").

  • Use a virtual/screen keyboard or character palette, such as:

    • Web-based keyboards (IE only unfortunately).
    • Windows: Click-N-Type.
    • Mac OS X: the Character Palette can store a set of favorite characters for easy input. Open System Preferences, International, Input Menu tab, enable "Show input menu in menu bar", and be sure that Character Palette is enabled in the list.

If anyone knows of other/better solutions, please let us know.

2.9   Are there any tools for HTML/XML-to-reStructuredText? (Round-tripping)

People have tossed the idea around, and some implementations of reStructuredText-generating tools can be found in the Docutils Link List.

There's no reason why reStructuredText should not be round-trippable to/from XML; any technicalities which prevent round-tripping would be considered bugs. Whitespace would not be identical, but paragraphs shouldn't suffer. The tricky parts would be the smaller details, like links and IDs and other bookkeeping.

For HTML, true round-tripping may not be possible. Even adding lots of extra "class" attributes may not be enough. A "simple HTML" to RST filter is possible -- for some definition of "simple HTML" -- but HTML is used as dumb formatting so much that such a filter may not be particularly useful. An 80/20 approach should work though: build a tool that does 80% of the work automatically, leaving the other 20% for manual tweaks.

2.10   Are there any Wikis that use reStructuredText syntax?

There are several, with various degrees of completeness. With no implied endorsement or recommendation, and in no particular order:

Please let us know of any other reStructuredText Wikis.

The example application for the Web Framework Shootout article is a Wiki using reStructuredText.

2.11   Are there any Weblog (Blog) projects that use reStructuredText syntax?

With no implied endorsement or recommendation, and in no particular order:

Please let us know of any other reStructuredText Blogs.

2.12   How should I mark up lists?

Bullet & enumerated list markup is very intuitive but there are 2 points that must be noted:

  1. Lists should not be indented. This is correct:

    * list item 1
      * nested item 1.1
      * nested item 1.2
    * list item 2

    while this is probably incorrect:

      * list item 1
          * nested item 1.1
          * nested item 1.2
      * list item 2

    The extra indentation (of the list containing items 1.1 and 1.2) is recognized as a block quote. This is usually not what you mean and it causes the list in the output to be indented too much.

  2. There must be blank lines around list items, except between items of the same level, where blank lines are optional. The example above shows this.

Note that formatting of the output is independent of the input, and is decided by the writer and the stylesheet. For instance, lists are indented in HTML output by default. See How are lists formatted in HTML? for details.

2.13   Could lists be indented without generating block quotes?

Some people like to write lists with indentation but don't intend a blockquote context. There has been a lot of discussion about allowing this in reStructuredText, but there are some issues that would need to be resolved before it could be implemented. There is a summary of the issues and pointers to the discussions in the to-do list.

2.14   Could the requirement for blank lines around lists be relaxed?

Short answer: no.

In reStructuredText, it would be impossible to unambigously mark up and parse lists without blank lines before and after. Deeply nested lists may look ugly with so many blank lines, but it's a price we pay for unambiguous markup. Some other plaintext markup systems do not require blank lines in nested lists, but they have to compromise somehow, either accepting ambiguity or requiring extra complexity. For example, Epytext does not require blank lines around lists, but it does require that lists be indented and that ambiguous cases be escaped.

2.16   Is nested inline markup possible?

Not currently, no. It's on the to-do list (details here), and hopefully will be part of the reStructuredText parser soon. At that time, markup like this will become possible:

Here is some *emphasized text containing a `hyperlink`_ and
``inline literals``*.

There are workarounds, but they are either convoluted or ugly or both. They are not recommended.

  • Inline markup can be combined with hyperlinks using substitution definitions and references with the "replace" directive. For example:

    Here is an |emphasized hyperlink|_.
    .. |emphasized hyperlink| replace:: *emphasized hyperlink*
    .. _emphasized hyperlink:

    It is not possible for just a portion of the replacement text to be a hyperlink; it's the entire replacement text or nothing.

  • The "raw" directive can be used to insert raw HTML into HTML output:

    Here is some |stuff|.
    .. |stuff| raw:: html
       <em>emphasized text containing a
       <a href="">hyperlink</a> and
       <tt>inline literals</tt></em>

    Raw LaTeX is supported for LaTeX output, etc.

2.17   How to indicate a line break or a significant newline?

Line blocks are designed for address blocks, verse, and other cases where line breaks are significant and must be preserved. Unlike literal blocks, the typeface is not changed, and inline markup is recognized. For example:

| A one, two, a one two three four
| Half a bee, philosophically,
|     must, *ipso facto*, half not be.
| But half the bee has got to be,
|     *vis a vis* its entity.  D'you see?
| But can a bee be said to be
|     or not to be an entire bee,
|         when half the bee is not a bee,
|             due to some ancient injury?
| Singing...

Here's a workaround for manually inserting explicit line breaks in HTML output:

.. |br| raw:: html

   <br />

I want to break this line here: |br| this is after the break.

If the extra whitespace bothers you, |br|\ backslash-escape it.

2.18   A URL containing asterisks doesn't work. What to do?

Asterisks are valid URL characters (see RFC 2396), sometimes used in URLs. For example:*checkout*/module/file

Unfortunately, the parser thinks the asterisks are indicating emphasis. The slashes serve as delineating punctuation, allowing the asterisks to be recognized as markup. The example above is separated by the parser into a truncated URL, an emphasized word, and some regular text:

To turn off markup recognition, use a backslash to escape at least the first asterisk, like this:\*checkout*/module/file

Escaping the second asterisk doesn't hurt, but it isn't necessary.

2.19   How can I make a literal block with some formatting?

Use the parsed-literal directive.

Scenario: a document contains some source code, which calls for a literal block to preserve linebreaks and whitespace. But part of the source code should be formatted, for example as emphasis or as a hyperlink. This calls for a parsed literal block:

.. parsed-literal::

   print "Hello world!"  # *tricky* code [1]_

The emphasis (*tricky*) and footnote reference ([1]_) will be parsed.

2.20   Can reStructuredText be used for web or generic templating?

Docutils and reStructuredText can be used with or as a component of a templating system, but they do not themselves include templating functionality. Templating should simply be left to dedicated templating systems. Users can choose a templating system to apply to their reStructuredText documents as best serves their interests.

There are many good templating systems for Python (ht2html, YAPTU, Quixote's PTL, Cheetah, etc.; see this non-exhaustive list of some other templating systems), and many more for other languages, each with different approaches. We invite you to try several and find one you like. If you adapt it to use Docutils/reStructuredText, please consider contributing the code to Docutils or let us know and we'll keep a list here.

One reST-specific web templating system is rest2web, a tool for automatically building websites, or parts of websites.

2.21   How can I mark up a FAQ or other list of questions & answers?

There is no specific syntax for FAQs and Q&A lists. Here are two options:

  1. For a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions, usually with answers), a convenient way to mark up the questions is as section titles, with the answer(s) as section content. This document is marked up in this way.

    The advantages of using section titles for questions are: sections can be numbered automatically, and a table of contents can be generated automatically. One limitation of this format is that questions must fit on one line (section titles may not wrap, in the source text). For very long questions, the title may be a summary of the question, with the full question in the section body.

  2. Field lists work well as Q&A lists:

    :Q: What kind of questions can we
        put here?
    :A: Any kind we like!

    In order to separate questions, lists can be used:

    1. Q:What kind of question can we put here?
      A:Any kind we like!
    2. Q:

      How many answers can a question have?


      It can have one,


      or more.


      Answers can be numbered like this.

      1. Or like this.
      2. We're flexible!

    If you don't want to number or otherwise mark questions, you can use an empty comment between individual field lists to separate them:

    :Q: First question?
    :A: Answer.
    :Q: Second question?
    :A: Answer.

2.22   Can I produce documents in right-to-left languages?

Languages written from right to left, such as Arabic and Hebrew, must be reordered according to the Unicode Bidi Algorithm. This requires support from the editor and special markup in the output format.

The source format of reStructuredText is relatively bidi-friendly: most constructs are denoted by punctuation without intrusion of English and when you must write in English, it's usually on a separate line. So any editor that auto-detects direction per-line (like gedit or geresh) will suffice.

Moreover, it's possible to translate all reStructuredText keywords. This was not yet done for any RTL language, but when it is, it will be possible to write an RTL document with vitually no English. This will allow reasonable use of editors limited to a single base direction for the whole document (like Notepad, Vim and text boxes in Firefox).

The second problem is bidi markup of the output. There is an almost transparent implicit solution for HTML:

There is also an explicit way to set directions through CSS and classes in the HTML:

  • Copy default.css to a new file and add relevant parts of the following:

    /* Use these two if the main document direction is RTL */
    body { direction: rtl; }
    div.sidebar { float: left !important; }
    /* The next 3 rules are very useful in documents containing pieces
    of code in english */
    /* Use this if you all your literal blocks (::) are LTR */
    pre {direction: ltr; unicode-bidi: embed; }
    /* Use this if you all your inline literals (``) are LTR */
    tt {direction: ltr; unicode-bidi: embed; }
    /* Use this if you all your interpretted text (`) is LTR */
    cite {direction: ltr; unicode-bidi: embed; }
    /* Allow manual direction override by class directive and roles */
    .rtl { direction: rtl; }
    .ltr { direction: ltr; }
  • Select this new stylesheet with --stylesheet=<file> or the stylesheet setting.

  • Now if you need to override the direction of some element (from a paragraph to a whole section), write:

    .. class:: rtl


    .. class:: ltr

    before it (see the class directive for details).

  • To change the direction of some inline text fragment, you can use RLE/LRE/PDF control characters, or write :rtl:`RTL text` / :ltr:`RTL text`. To use the latter syntax, you must write this once at the beginning of your document:

    .. role:: ltr
    .. role:: rtl

LaTeX is quite hard to implement (it doesn't support the bidi algorithm, so all direction changes - even numbers in RTL text - must be explicitly marked). Other formats are more-or-less easy.

If you have any questions/problems/bugs related to bidi with docutils, ask Beni Cherniavsky directly or the Docutils-users mailing list.

2.23   What's the official MIME type for reStructuredText data?

While there is no registered MIME type for reStructuredText, the "official unofficial" standard MIME type is "text/x-rst". This was invented for the build system for PEPs (Python Enhancement Proposals), and it's used by the web site build system.

(The "x-" prefix means it's an unregistered MIME type.)

Also see What's the standard filename extension for a reStructuredText file?

3   HTML Writer

3.1   What is the status of the HTML Writer?

The HTML Writer module, docutils/writers/, is a proof-of-concept reference implementation. While it is a complete implementation, some aspects of the HTML it produces may be incompatible with older browsers or specialized applications (such as web templating). The sandbox has some alternative HTML writers, contributions are welcome.

3.2   What kind of HTML does it produce?

It produces XHTML compatible with the XHTML 1.0 specification. A cascading stylesheet is required for proper viewing with a modern graphical browser. Correct rendering of the HTML produced depends on the CSS support of the browser. A general-purpose stylesheet, html4css1.css is provided with the code, and is embedded by default. It is installed in the "writers/html4css1/" subdirectory within the Docutils package. Use the --help command-line option to see the specific location on your machine.

3.3   What browsers are supported?

No specific browser is targeted; all modern graphical browsers should work. Some older browsers, text-only browsers, and browsers without full CSS support are known to produce inferior results. Firefox, Safari, Mozilla (version 1.0 and up), Opera, and MS Internet Explorer (version 5.0 and up) are known to give good results. Reports of experiences with other browsers are welcome.

3.4   Unexpected results from tools/ H1, H1 instead of H1, H2. Why?

Here's the question in full:

I have this text:

Heading 1

All my life, I wanted to be H1.

Heading 1.1

But along came H1, and so shouldn't I be H2?
No!  I'm H1!

Heading 1.1.1

Yeah, imagine me, I'm stuck at H3!  No?!?

When I run it through tools/, I get unexpected results (below). I was expecting H1, H2, then H3; instead, I get H1, H1, H2:

<html lang="en">
<title>Heading 1</title>
<div class="document" id="heading-1">
<h1 class="title">Heading 1</h1>                <-- first H1
<p>All my life, I wanted to be H1.</p>
<div class="section" id="heading-1-1">
<h1><a name="heading-1-1">Heading 1.1</a></h1>        <-- H1
<p>But along came H1, and so now I must be H2.</p>
<div class="section" id="heading-1-1-1">
<h2><a name="heading-1-1-1">Heading 1.1.1</a></h2>
<p>Yeah, imagine me, I'm stuck at H3!</p>

What gives?

Check the "class" attribute on the H1 tags, and you will see a difference. The first H1 is actually <h1 class="title">; this is the document title, and the default stylesheet renders it centered. There can also be an <h2 class="subtitle"> for the document subtitle.

If there's only one highest-level section title at the beginning of a document, it is treated specially, as the document title. (Similarly, a lone second-highest-level section title may become the document subtitle.) See How can I indicate the document title? Subtitle? for details. Rather than use a plain H1 for the document title, we use <h1 class="title"> so that we can use H1 again within the document. Why do we do this? HTML only has H1-H6, so by making H1 do double duty, we effectively reserve these tags to provide 6 levels of heading beyond the single document title.

HTML is being used for dumb formatting for nothing but final display. A stylesheet is required, and one is provided; see What kind of HTML does it produce? above. Of course, you're welcome to roll your own. The default stylesheet provides rules to format <h1 class="title"> and <h2 class="subtitle"> differently from ordinary <h1> and <h2>:

h1.title {
  text-align: center }

h2.subtitle {
  text-align: center }

If you don't want the top section heading to be interpreted as a title at all, disable the doctitle_xform setting (--no-doc-title option). This will interpret your document differently from the standard settings, which might not be a good idea. If you don't like the reuse of the H1 in the HTML output, you can tweak the initial_header_level setting (--initial-header-level option) -- but unless you match its value to your specific document, you might end up with bad HTML (e.g. H3 without H2).

(Thanks to Mark McEahern for the question and much of the answer.)

3.5   How are lists formatted in HTML?

If list formatting looks strange, first check that you understand list markup.

  • By default, HTML browsers indent lists relative to their context. This follows a long tradition in browsers (but isn't so established in print). If you don't like it, you should change the stylesheet.

    This is different from how lists look in reStructuredText source. Extra indentation in the source indicates a blockquote, resulting in too much indentation in the browser.

  • A list item can contain multiple paragraphs etc. In complex cases list items are separated by vertical space. By default this spacing is omitted in "simple" lists. A list is simple if every item contains a simple paragraph and/or a "simple" nested list. For example:

    • text

      • simple
        • simple
        • simple
      • simple

      text after a nested list

    • multiple


    In this example the nested lists are simple (and should appear compacted) but the outer list is not.

    If you want all lists to have equal spacing, disable the compact_lists setting (--no-compact-lists option). The precise spacing can be controlled in the stylesheet.

    Note again that this is not exactly WYSIWYG: it partially resembles the rules about blank lines being optional between list items in reStructuredText -- but adding/removing optional blank lines does not affect spacing in the output! It's a feature, not a bug: you write it as you like but the output is styled consistently.

3.6   Why do enumerated lists only use numbers (no letters or roman numerals)?

The rendering of enumerators (the numbers or letters acting as list markers) is completely governed by the stylesheet, so either the browser can't find the stylesheet (try enabling the embed_stylesheet setting [--embed-stylesheet option]), or the browser can't understand it (try a recent Firefox, Mozilla, Konqueror, Opera, Safari, or even MSIE).

3.7   There appear to be garbage characters in the HTML. What's up?

What you're seeing is most probably not garbage, but the result of a mismatch between the actual encoding of the HTML output and the encoding your browser is expecting. Your browser is misinterpreting the HTML data, which is encoded text. A discussion of text encodings is beyond the scope of this FAQ; see one or more of these documents for more info:

The common case is with the default output encoding (UTF-8), when either numbered sections are used (via the "sectnum" directive) or symbol-footnotes. 3 non-breaking spaces are inserted in each numbered section title, between the generated number and the title text. Most footnote symbols are not available in ASCII, nor are non-breaking spaces. When encoded with UTF-8 and viewed with ordinary ASCII tools, these characters will appear to be multi-character garbage.

You may have an decoding problem in your browser (or editor, etc.). The encoding of the output is set to "utf-8", but your browswer isn't recognizing that. You can either try to fix your browser (enable "UTF-8 character set", sometimes called "Unicode"), or choose a different encoding for the HTML output. You can also try --output-encoding=ascii:xmlcharrefreplace for HTML or XML, but not applicable to non-XMLish outputs (if using runtime settings/configuration files, use output_encoding=ascii and output_encoding_error_handler=xmlcharrefreplace).

If you're generating document fragments, the "Content-Type" metadata (between the HTML <head> and </head> tags) must agree with the encoding of the rest of the document. For UTF-8, it should be:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />

Also, Docutils normally generates an XML declaration as the first line of the output. It must also match the document encoding. For UTF-8:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>

3.8   How can I retrieve the body of the HTML document?

(This is usually needed when using Docutils in conjunction with a templating system.)

You can use the docutils.core.publish_parts() function, which returns a dictionary containing an 'html_body' entry.

3.9   Why is the Docutils XHTML served as "Content-type: text/html"?

Full question:

Docutils' HTML output looks like XHTML and is advertised as such:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
 " ml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">

But this is followed by:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />

Shouldn't this be "application/xhtml+xml" instead of "text/html"?

In a perfect web, the Docutils XHTML output would be 100% strict XHTML. But it's not a perfect web, and a major source of imperfection is Internet Explorer. Despite it's drawbacks, IE still represents the majority of web browsers, and cannot be ignored.

Short answer: if we didn't serve XHTML as "text/html" (which is a perfectly valid thing to do), it couldn't be viewed in Internet Explorer.

Long answer: see the "Criticisms of Internet Explorer" Wikipedia entry.

However, there's also Sending XHTML as text/html Considered Harmful. What to do, what to do? We're damned no matter what we do. So we'll continue to do the practical instead of the pure: support the browsers that are actually out there, and not fight for strict standards compliance.

(Thanks to Martin F. Krafft, Robert Kern, Michael Foord, and Alan G. Isaac.)

4   Python Source Reader

4.1   Can I use Docutils for Python auto-documentation?

Yes, in conjunction with other projects.

The Sphinx documentation generator includes an autodoc module.

Version 2.0 of Ed Loper's Epydoc supports reStructuredText-format docstrings for HTML output. Docutils 0.3 or newer is required. Development of a Docutils-specific auto-documentation tool will continue. Epydoc works by importing Python modules to be documented, whereas the Docutils-specific tool, described above, will parse modules without importing them (as with HappyDoc, which doesn't support reStructuredText).

The advantages of parsing over importing are security and flexibility; the disadvantage is complexity/difficulty.

  • Security: untrusted code that shouldn't be executed can be parsed; importing a module executes its top-level code.
  • Flexibility: comments and unofficial docstrings (those not supported by Python syntax) can only be processed by parsing.
  • Complexity/difficulty: it's a lot harder to parse and analyze a module than it is to import and analyze one.

For more details, please see "Docstring Extraction Rules" in PEP 258, item 3 ("How").

5   Miscellaneous

5.1   Is the Docutils document model based on any existing XML models?

Not directly, no. It borrows bits from DocBook, HTML, and others. I (David Goodger) have designed several document models over the years, and have my own biases. The Docutils document model is designed for simplicity and extensibility, and has been influenced by the needs of the reStructuredText markup.