Sphinx FAQ

This is a list of Frequently Asked Questions about Sphinx. Feel free to suggest new entries!

Como puedo…

… ¿crear archivos PDF sin LaTeX?

rinohtype provides a PDF builder that can be used as a drop-in replacement for the LaTeX builder.

… get section numbers?

They are automatic in LaTeX output; for HTML, give a :numbered: option to the toctree directive where you want to start numbering.

… customize the look of the built HTML files?

Use themes, see HTML Theming.

… add global substitutions or includes?

Add them in the rst_prolog or rst_epilog config value.

… display the whole TOC tree in the sidebar?

Use the toctree callable in a custom layout template, probably in the sidebartoc block.

… ¿escribir mi propia extensión?

See the Tutorials.

… convert from my existing docs using MoinMoin markup?

The easiest way is to convert to xhtml, then convert xhtml to reST. You’ll still need to mark up classes and such, but the headings and code examples come through cleanly.

For many more extensions and other contributed stuff, see the sphinx-contrib repository.

Usando Sphinx con…

Read the Docs

Read the Docs is a documentation hosting service based around Sphinx. They will host sphinx documentation, along with supporting a number of other features including version support, PDF generation, and more. The Getting Started guide is a good place to start.


There’s a third-party extension providing an api role which refers to Epydoc’s API docs for a given identifier.


Michael Jones is developing a reST/Sphinx bridge to doxygen called breathe.


Glenn Hutchings has written a SCons build script to build Sphinx documentation; it is hosted here: https://bitbucket-archive.softwareheritage.org/projects/zo/zondo/sphinx-scons.html


Jannis Leidel wrote a setuptools command that automatically uploads Sphinx documentation to the PyPI package documentation area at https://pythonhosted.org/.

GitHub Pages

Please add sphinx.ext.githubpages to your project. It allows you to publish your document in GitHub Pages. It generates helper files for GitHub Pages on building HTML document automatically.


See sphinx-wiki, a project by Kevin Dunn.

Google Analytics

Puede utilizar una plantilla personalizada layout.html, como esta:

{% extends "!layout.html" %}

{%- block extrahead %}
{{ super() }}
  var _gaq = _gaq || [];
  _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'XXX account number XXX']);
{% endblock %}

{% block footer %}
{{ super() }}
<div class="footer">This page uses <a href="https://analytics.google.com/">
Google Analytics</a> to collect statistics. You can disable it by blocking
the JavaScript coming from www.google-analytics.com.
  (function() {
    var ga = document.createElement('script');
    ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ?
              'https://ssl' : 'https://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js';
    ga.setAttribute('async', 'true');
{% endblock %}
Google Search

To replace Sphinx’s built-in search function with Google Search, proceed as follows:

  1. Go to https://cse.google.com/cse/all to create the Google Search code snippet.

  2. Copy the code snippet and paste it into _templates/searchbox.html in your Sphinx project:

       <h3>{{ _('Quick search') }}</h3>
          (function() {
             var cx = '......';
             var gcse = document.createElement('script');
             gcse.async = true;
             gcse.src = 'https://cse.google.com/cse.js?cx=' + cx;
             var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];
             s.parentNode.insertBefore(gcse, s);
  3. Add searchbox.html to the html_sidebars configuration value.

Sphinx vs. Docutils

tl;dr: docutils converts reStructuredText to multiple output formats. Sphinx builds upon docutils to allow construction of cross-referenced and indexed bodies of documentation.

docutils is a text processing system for converting plain text documentation into other, richer formats. As noted in the docutils documentation, docutils uses readers to read a document, parsers for parsing plain text formats into an internal tree representation made up of different types of nodes, and writers to output this tree in various document formats. docutils provides parsers for one plain text format - reStructuredText - though other, out-of-tree parsers have been implemented including Sphinx’s Markdown parser. On the other hand, it provides writers for many different formats including HTML, LaTeX, man pages, Open Document Format and XML.

docutils exposes all of its functionality through a variety of front-end tools, such as rst2html, rst2odt and rst2xml. Crucially though, all of these tools, and docutils itself, are concerned with individual documents. They don’t support concepts such as cross-referencing, indexing of documents, or the construction of a document hierarchy (typically manifesting in a table of contents).

Sphinx builds upon docutils by harnessing docutils” readers and parsers and providing its own Builders. As a result, Sphinx wraps some of the writers provided by docutils. This allows Sphinx to provide many features that would simply not be possible with docutils, such as those outlined above.

Epub info

The following list gives some hints for the creation of epub files:

  • Split the text into several files. The longer the individual HTML files are, the longer it takes the ebook reader to render them. In extreme cases, the rendering can take up to one minute.

  • Try to minimize the markup. This also pays in rendering time.

  • For some readers you can use embedded or external fonts using the CSS @font-face directive. This is extremely useful for code listings which are often cut at the right margin. The default Courier font (or variant) is quite wide and you can only display up to 60 characters on a line. If you replace it with a narrower font, you can get more characters on a line. You may even use FontForge and create narrow variants of some free font. In my case I get up to 70 characters on a line.

    You may have to experiment a little until you get reasonable results.

  • Test the created epubs. You can use several alternatives. The ones I am aware of are Epubcheck, Calibre, FBreader (although it does not render the CSS), and Bookworm. For Bookworm, you can download the source from https://code.google.com/archive/p/threepress and run your own local server.

  • Large floating divs are not displayed properly. If they cover more than one page, the div is only shown on the first page. In that case you can copy the epub.css from the sphinx/themes/epub/static/ directory to your local _static/ directory and remove the float settings.

  • Files that are inserted outside of the toctree directive must be manually included. This sometimes applies to appendixes, e.g. the glossary or the indices. You can add them with the epub_post_files option.

  • The handling of the epub cover page differs from the reStructuredText procedure which automatically resolves image paths and puts the images into the _images directory. For the epub cover page put the image in the html_static_path directory and reference it with its full path in the epub_cover config option.

  • kindlegen command can convert from epub3 resulting file to .mobi file for Kindle. You can get yourdoc.mobi under _build/epub after the following command:

    $ make epub
    $ kindlegen _build/epub/yourdoc.epub

    The kindlegen command doesn’t accept documents that have section titles surrounding toctree directive:

    Section Title
    .. toctree::
    Section After Toc Tree

    kindlegen assumes all documents order in line, but the resulting document has complicated order for kindlegen:

    ``parent.xhtml`` -> ``child.xhtml`` -> ``parent.xhtml``

    If you get the following error, fix your document structure:

    Error(prcgen):E24011: TOC section scope is not included in the parent chapter:(title)
    Error(prcgen):E24001: The table of content could not be built.

Texinfo info

There are two main programs for reading Info files, info and GNU Emacs. The info program has less features but is available in most Unix environments and can be quickly accessed from the terminal. Emacs provides better font and color display and supports extensive customization (of course).


The following notes may be helpful if you want to create Texinfo files:

  • Each section corresponds to a different node in the Info file.

  • Colons (:) cannot be properly escaped in menu entries and xrefs. They will be replaced with semicolons (;).

  • Links to external Info files can be created using the somewhat official URI scheme info. For example: