Sphinx uses interpreted text roles to insert semantic markup into documents. They are written as :rolename:`content`.


The default role (`content`) has no special meaning by default. You are free to use it for anything you like, e.g. variable names; use the default_role config value to set it to a known role – the any role to find anything or the py:obj role to find Python objects are very useful for this.

See Domains for roles added by domains.

Cross-referencing syntax

Cross-references are generated by many semantic interpreted text roles. Basically, you only need to write :role:`target`, and a link will be created to the item named target of the type indicated by role. The link’s text will be the same as target.

There are some additional facilities, however, that make cross-referencing roles more versatile:

  • You may supply an explicit title and reference target, like in reST direct hyperlinks: :role:`title <target>` will refer to target, but the link text will be title.

  • If you prefix the content with !, no reference/hyperlink will be created.

  • If you prefix the content with ~, the link text will only be the last component of the target. For example, :py:meth:`~Queue.Queue.get` will refer to Queue.Queue.get but only display get as the link text. This does not work with all cross-reference roles, but is domain specific.

    In HTML output, the link’s title attribute (that is e.g. shown as a tool-tip on mouse-hover) will always be the full target name.

Cross-referencing anything


New in version 1.3.

This convenience role tries to do its best to find a valid target for its reference text.

  • First, it tries standard cross-reference targets that would be referenced by doc, ref or option.

    Custom objects added to the standard domain by extensions (see Sphinx.add_object_type()) are also searched.

  • Then, it looks for objects (targets) in all loaded domains. It is up to the domains how specific a match must be. For example, in the Python domain a reference of :any:`Builder` would match the class.

If none or multiple targets are found, a warning will be emitted. In the case of multiple targets, you can change “any” to a specific role.

This role is a good candidate for setting default_role. If you do, you can write cross-references without a lot of markup overhead. For example, in this Python function documentation:

.. function:: install()

   This function installs a `handler` for every signal known by the
   `signal` module.  See the section `about-signals` for more information.

there could be references to a glossary term (usually :term:`handler`), a Python module (usually :py:mod:`signal` or :mod:`signal`) and a section (usually :ref:`about-signals`).

The any role also works together with the intersphinx extension: when no local cross-reference is found, all object types of intersphinx inventories are also searched.

Cross-referencing objects

These roles are described with their respective domains:

Cross-referencing arbitrary locations


To support cross-referencing to arbitrary locations in any document, the standard reST labels are used. For this to work label names must be unique throughout the entire documentation. There are two ways in which you can refer to labels:

  • If you place a label directly before a section title, you can reference to it with :ref:`label-name`. For example:

    .. _my-reference-label:
    Section to cross-reference
    This is the text of the section.
    It refers to the section itself, see :ref:`my-reference-label`.

    The :ref: role would then generate a link to the section, with the link title being “Section to cross-reference”. This works just as well when section and reference are in different source files.

    Automatic labels also work with figures. For example:

    .. _my-figure:
    .. figure:: whatever
       Figure caption

    In this case, a reference :ref:`my-figure` would insert a reference to the figure with link text “Figure caption”.

    The same works for tables that are given an explicit caption using the table directive.

  • Labels that aren’t placed before a section title can still be referenced, but you must give the link an explicit title, using this syntax: :ref:`Link title <label-name>`.


Reference labels must start with an underscore. When referencing a label, the underscore must be omitted (see examples above).

Using ref is advised over standard reStructuredText links to sections (like `Section title`_) because it works across files, when section headings are changed, will raise warnings if incorrect, and works for all builders that support cross-references.

Cross-referencing documents

New in version 0.6.

There is also a way to directly link to documents:


Link to the specified document; the document name can be specified in absolute or relative fashion. For example, if the reference :doc:`parrot` occurs in the document sketches/index, then the link refers to sketches/parrot. If the reference is :doc:`/people` or :doc:`../people`, the link refers to people.

If no explicit link text is given (like usual: :doc:`Monty Python members </people>`), the link caption will be the title of the given document.

Referencing downloadable files

New in version 0.6.


This role lets you link to files within your source tree that are not reST documents that can be viewed, but files that can be downloaded.

When you use this role, the referenced file is automatically marked for inclusion in the output when building (obviously, for HTML output only). All downloadable files are put into a _downloads/<unique hash>/ subdirectory of the output directory; duplicate filenames are handled.

An example:

See :download:`this example script <../>`.

The given filename is usually relative to the directory the current source file is contained in, but if it absolute (starting with /), it is taken as relative to the top source directory.

The file will be copied to the output directory, and a suitable link generated to it.

Not to show unavailable download links, you should wrap whole paragraphs that have this role:

.. only:: builder_html

   See :download:`this example script <../>`.

Cross-referencing figures by figure number

New in version 1.3.

Changed in version 1.5: numref role can also refer sections. And numref allows {name} for the link text.


Link to the specified figures, tables, code-blocks and sections; the standard reST labels are used. When you use this role, it will insert a reference to the figure with link text by its figure number like “Fig. 1.1”.

If an explicit link text is given (as usual: :numref:`Image of Sphinx (Fig. %s) <my-figure>`), the link caption will serve as title of the reference. As placeholders, %s and {number} get replaced by the figure number and {name} by the figure caption. If no explicit link text is given, the numfig_format setting is used as fall-back default.

If numfig is False, figures are not numbered, so this role inserts not a reference but the label or the link text.

Cross-referencing other items of interest

The following roles do possibly create a cross-reference, but do not refer to objects:


An environment variable. Index entries are generated. Also generates a link to the matching envvar directive, if it exists.


The name of a grammar token (used to create links between productionlist directives).


The name of a keyword in Python. This creates a link to a reference label with that name, if it exists.


A command-line option to an executable program. This generates a link to a option directive, if it exists.

The following role creates a cross-reference to a term in a glossary:


Reference to a term in a glossary. A glossary is created using the glossary directive containing a definition list with terms and definitions. It does not have to be in the same file as the term markup, for example the Python docs have one global glossary in the glossary.rst file.

If you use a term that’s not explained in a glossary, you’ll get a warning during build.

Inline code highlighting


An inline code example. When used directly, this role just displays the text without syntax highlighting, as a literal.

By default, inline code such as :code:`1 + 2` just displays without

Displays: By default, inline code such as 1 + 2 just displays without highlighting.

Unlike the code-block directive, this role does not respect the default language set by the highlight directive.

To enable syntax highlighting, you must first use the Docutils role directive to define a custom role associated with a specific language:

.. role:: python(code)
   :language: python

In Python, :python:`1 + 2` is equal to :python:`3`.

To display a multi-line code example, use the code-block directive instead.



Role for inline math. Use like this:

Since Pythagoras, we know that :math:`a^2 + b^2 = c^2`.

Displays: Since Pythagoras, we know that \(a^2 + b^2 = c^2\).


Same as math:numref.

Other semantic markup

The following roles don’t do anything special except formatting the text in a different style:


An abbreviation. If the role content contains a parenthesized explanation, it will be treated specially: it will be shown in a tool-tip in HTML, and output only once in LaTeX.

For example: :abbr:`LIFO (last-in, first-out)` displays LIFO.

New in version 0.6.


The name of an OS-level command, such as rm.

For example: rm


Mark the defining instance of a term in the text. (No index entries are generated.)

For example: binary mode


The name of a file or directory. Within the contents, you can use curly braces to indicate a “variable” part, for example:

... is installed in :file:`/usr/lib/python3.{x}/site-packages` ...

Displays: … is installed in /usr/lib/python3.x/site-packages

In the built documentation, the x will be displayed differently to indicate that it is to be replaced by the Python minor version.


Labels presented as part of an interactive user interface should be marked using guilabel. This includes labels from text-based interfaces such as those created using curses or other text-based libraries. Any label used in the interface should be marked with this role, including button labels, window titles, field names, menu and menu selection names, and even values in selection lists.

Changed in version 1.0: An accelerator key for the GUI label can be included using an ampersand; this will be stripped and displayed underlined in the output (for example: :guilabel:`&Cancel` displays Cancel). To include a literal ampersand, double it.


Mark a sequence of keystrokes. What form the key sequence takes may depend on platform- or application-specific conventions. When there are no relevant conventions, the names of modifier keys should be spelled out, to improve accessibility for new users and non-native speakers. For example, an xemacs key sequence may be marked like :kbd:`C-x C-f`, but without reference to a specific application or platform, the same sequence should be marked as :kbd:`Control-x Control-f`, displaying C-x C-f and Control-x Control-f respectively.


The name of an RFC 822-style mail header. This markup does not imply that the header is being used in an email message, but can be used to refer to any header of the same “style.” This is also used for headers defined by the various MIME specifications. The header name should be entered in the same way it would normally be found in practice, with the camel-casing conventions being preferred where there is more than one common usage. For example: :mailheader:`Content-Type` displays Content-Type.


The name of a make variable.

For example: help


A reference to a Unix manual page including the section, e.g. :manpage:`ls(1)` displays ls(1). Creates a hyperlink to an external site rendering the manpage if manpages_url is defined.


Menu selections should be marked using the menuselection role. This is used to mark a complete sequence of menu selections, including selecting submenus and choosing a specific operation, or any subsequence of such a sequence. The names of individual selections should be separated by -->.

For example, to mark the selection “Start > Programs”, use this markup:

:menuselection:`Start --> Programs`

Displays: Start ‣ Programs

When including a selection that includes some trailing indicator, such as the ellipsis some operating systems use to indicate that the command opens a dialog, the indicator should be omitted from the selection name.

menuselection also supports ampersand accelerators just like guilabel.


The name of a MIME type, or a component of a MIME type (the major or minor portion, taken alone).

For example: text/plain


The name of a Usenet newsgroup.

For example: comp.lang.python


Is this not part of the standard domain?


The name of an executable program. This may differ from the file name for the executable for some platforms. In particular, the .exe (or other) extension should be omitted for Windows programs.

For example: curl


A regular expression. Quotes should not be included.

For example: ([abc])+


A piece of literal text, such as code. Within the contents, you can use curly braces to indicate a “variable” part, as in file. For example, in :samp:`print(1+{variable})`, the part variable would be emphasized: print(1+variable)

If you don’t need the “variable part” indication, use the standard code role instead.

Changed in version 1.8: Allowed to escape curly braces with backslash

There is also an index role to generate index entries.

The following roles generate external links:


A reference to a Python Enhancement Proposal. This generates appropriate index entries. The text “PEP number“ is generated; in the HTML output, this text is a hyperlink to an online copy of the specified PEP. You can link to a specific section by saying :pep:`number#anchor`.

For example: PEP 8


A reference to an Internet Request for Comments. This generates appropriate index entries. The text “RFC number“ is generated; in the HTML output, this text is a hyperlink to an online copy of the specified RFC. You can link to a specific section by saying :rfc:`number#anchor`.

For example: RFC 2324

Note that there are no special roles for including hyperlinks as you can use the standard reST markup for that purpose.


The documentation system provides three substitutions that are defined by default. They are set in the build configuration file.


Replaced by the project release the documentation refers to. This is meant to be the full version string including alpha/beta/release candidate tags, e.g. 2.5.2b3. Set by release.


Replaced by the project version the documentation refers to. This is meant to consist only of the major and minor version parts, e.g. 2.5, even for version 2.5.1. Set by version.


Replaced by either today’s date (the date on which the document is read), or the date set in the build configuration file. Normally has the format April 14, 2007. Set by today_fmt and today.

|translation progress|

Replaced by the translation progress of the document. This substitution is intented for use by document translators as a marker for the translation progress of the document.