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3.6.2. Generalities Introduction

reStructuredText is an easy-to-read, what-you-see-is-what-you-get plaintext markup syntax and parser system. It is useful for in-line program documentation (such as Python docstrings), for quickly creating simple web pages, and for standalone documents.


like Python, reST syntax is sensitive to indentation !


reST requires blank lines between paragraphs Text syntax: bold, italic, verbatim and special characters `

basic usage:
  • use one asterisk on each side of a text you want to emphasize in italic and 2 asterisks in you want to make it bold:

  • double backquotes are used to make a text verbatim. For instance, it you want to use special characters such as *:

    This ``*`` character is not interpreted
  • Finally, the single backquote is used for reST special commands (e.g., hyper links with spaces):

    This is how to create hyperlinks (see later)  `OpenAlea wiki <>`_


    If asterisks or backquotes appear in running text and could be confused with inline markup delimiters, they have to be escaped with a backslash.

advanced usage:

Be aware of some restrictions of this markup:

  • it may not be nested,
  • content may not start or end with whitespace: * text* is wrong,
  • it must be separated from surrounding text by non-word characters.

Use a backslash escaped space to work around that:

  • this is a *longish* paragraph is correct and gives longish.
  • this is a long*ish* paragraph is not interpreted as expected. You should use this is a long\ *ish* paragraph to obtain longish paragraph


In Python docstrings it will be necessary to escape any backslash characters so that they actually reach reStructuredText. The simplest way to do this is to use raw strings:

Python string Typical result
r"""\*escape* \`with` "\\"""" *escape* `with` "\"
"""\\*escape* \\`with` "\\\\"""" *escape* `with` "\"
"""\*escape* \`with` "\\"""" escape with "" Headings

In order to write a title, just underline it:



and so on

Two rules:

  • use at least as many characters as the length of the title
  • characters usage is quite flexible but be consistent

Normally, there are no heading levels assigned to certain characters as the structure is determined from the succession of headings. However, for the Python documentation, this convention is used which you may want to follow :

  • # with overline, for parts
  • * with overline, for chapters
  • =, for sections
  • -, for subsections
  • ^, for subsubsections
  • , for paragraphs Directives

reST is mainly based on directives that are defined as follows:

.. <name>:: <arguments>
    :<option>: <option values>



.. image:: ../images/test.png
    :width: 200pt


note the space between the directive and its argument as well as the blank line between the option and the content

There are many directives which are extended thanks to plugin (e.g., math plugin for latex equations). Some of them are described here below. list and bullets

The following code:

* This is a bulleted list.
* It has two items, the second
  item uses two lines. (note the indentation)

1. This is a numbered list.
2. It has two items too.

#. This is a numbered list.
#. It has two items too.


  • This is a bulleted list.
  • It has two items, the second item uses two lines. (note the indentation)
  1. This is a numbered list.
  2. It has two items too.
  3. This is a numbered list.
  4. It has two items too.


if two lists are separated by a blanck line only, then the two lists are not differentiated as you can see above. tables

There are several ways to write tables. Use standard reStructuredText tables as explained here. They work fine in HTML output, however, there are some gotchas when using tables for LaTeX output.

simple table:

Simple tables can be written as follows:

| 1       |  2      |  3        |

which gives:




complex table:
| Header 1   | Header 2   | Header 3  |
| body row 1 | column 2   | column 3  |
| body row 2 | Cells may span columns.|
| body row 3 | Cells may  | - Cells   |
+------------+ span rows. | - contain |
| body row 4 |            | - blocks. |


Header 1

Header 2

Header 3

body row 1

column 2

column 3

body row 2

Cells may span columns.

body row 3

Cells may span rows.

  • Cells
  • contain
  • blocks.

body row 4

another way:
=====  =====  ======
   Inputs     Output
------------  ------
  A      B    A or B
=====  =====  ======
False  False  False
True   False  True
=====  =====  ======






A or B








table and latex documents are not yet compatible in sphinx, and you should therefore precede them with the a special directive (.. htmlonly::)

The previous examples work fine in HTML output, however there are some gotchas when using tables in LaTeX: the column width is hard to determine correctly automatically. For this reason, the following directive exists:

.. tabularcolumns:: column spec

This directive gives a “column spec” for the next table occurring in the source file. It can have values like:


which means three left-adjusted (LaTeX syntax). By default, Sphinx uses a table layout with L for every column. This code:

.. tabularcolumns:: |l|c|p{5cm}|

|  simple text | 2 | 3         |


simple text 2 3 Include other reST files and TOC

Since reST does not have facilities to interconnect several documents, or split documents into multiple output files, Sphinx uses a custom directive to add relations between the single files the documentation is made of, as well as tables of contents. The toctree directive is the central element.

.. toctree::
    :maxdepth: 2


Globbing can be used by adding the glob option:

.. toctree::


The name of the file is used to create the title in the TOC. You may want to change this behaviour by changing the toctree as follows:

.. toctree::

    Chapter1 description <chapter1> Comments and aliases


comments can be made by adding two dots at the beginning of a line as follows:

.. comments

The first method is to add at end of your reST document something like:

.. _Python:

Then, write your text inserting the keywrod Python_ . The final result will be as follows: Python .

A second method is as follows:

.. |longtext| replace:: this is a very very long text to include

and then insert |longtext| wherever needed.


Note that when you define the reference or alias, the underscore is before the keyword. However, when you refer to it, the underscore is at the end. The underscore after the keyword is also used for internal references, citations, aliases ...

3.6.3. Special directives colored boxes: note, seealso, todo and warnings

There are simple directives like seealso that creates nice colored boxes:

See also

This is a simple seealso note.

created using:

.. seealso:: This is a simple **seealso** note. Other inline directive may be included (e.g., math :math:`\alpha`) but not al of them.

You have also the note and warning directives:


This is a note box.


note the space between the directive and the text


a todo box

There is another nice dircective with the todo one but it requires to add sphinx.ext.todo extension in the file and these two lines of code:

todo_include_todos=True Inserting code and Literal blocks

simple code:

Literal code blocks are introduced by ending a paragraph with the special marker (double coulumn) ::. The literal block must be indented (and, like all paragraphs, separated from the surrounding ones by blank lines).

The two following codes:

This is a simple example::

    import math
    print 'import done'


This is a simple example:

    import math
    print 'import done'


This is a very simple example:

import math
print 'import done'

By default the syntax of the language is Python, but you can specify the language using the code-block directive as follows:

.. code-block:: html

   <h1>code block example</h1>


<h1>code block example</h1>

Then, it is also possible to include the contents of a file as follows:

.. literalinclude:: filename
    :language: python
    :lines: 1, 3-5
    :start-after: 3
    :end-before: 5
""" here is a dummy documentation"""

import os

def square(a):
    """short description of the function square

    longish explanation: returns the square of a: :math:`a^2`

    :param a: an input argument

    :returns: a*a
    return a*a

assert 4 == square(2) Maths and Equations with LaTeX

In order to include equations or simple Latex code in the text (e.g., \alpha \leq \beta ) use the following code:

:math:`\alpha > \beta`


The math markup can be used within reST files (to be parsed by Sphinx) but within your python’s docstring, the slashes need to be escaped ! :math:`\alpha` should therefore be written :math:`\\alpha` or put an “r” before the docstring

Note also, that you can easily more complex mathematical expressions using the math directive as follows:

.. math::

    n_{\mathrm{offset}} = \sum_{k=0}^{N-1} s_k n_k

n_{\mathrm{offset}} = \sum_{k=0}^{N-1} s_k n_k

It seems that there is no limitations to LaTeX usage:

s_k^{\mathrm{column}} = \prod_{j=0}^{k-1} d_j , \quad  s_k^{\mathrm{row}} = \prod_{j=k+1}^{N-1} d_j . Add tests with doctests quickstart

you may want to include test directly within your reSt documents or docstring as follows:

.. doctest::

    >>> import math
    >>> print math.sqrt(2.)

which will be displayed like that:

>>> import math
>>> print math.sqrt(2.)

and instead of compiling the HTML doc, type:

make doctest

See ` <>`_ for a complete description

Analysing the code above, the ‘>>>’ sign means run the command that follows. If a command returns a value then the next line must contain the expected results otherwise an error occurs. This is why we put the results of square root 2 above. +SKIP option

Now, you may say that you do not know the expecting result or do not care about it. In such case, add this comment: #doctest: +SKIP

>>> import math
>>> print math.log(20.) 

which will be displayed like that:

>>> import math
>>> math.log(20.) 

What’s happen here is that the first line is tested, the second one is ran but the validity of the result is not tested.

If you want to skip all the commands (better to use a code-block directive in such case though), then type:

.. doctest::
    :options: +SKIP

    >>> whatever code testsetup


explain the testsetup Auto-document your python code


more details here

Let us suppose you have a python file called with a function called square

.. module:: test
    :platform: Unix, Windows
    :synopsis: sample of documented python code

.. autofunction:: square


Platforms: Unix, Windows

Using the module creates an index (see top right of this page)


the python code must be in the PYTHONPATH. Image directive


.. image:: ../images/wiki_logo_openalea.png

to put an image

alternate text


As mentionned earlier, a directive may have options put between two columns:

.. image:: ../images/wiki_logo_openalea.png
    :width: 200px
    :align: center
    :height: 100px
    :alt: alternate text figure directive

.. figure:: ../images/wiki_logo_openalea.png
    :width: 200px
    :align: center
    :height: 100px
    :alt: alternate text
    :figclass: align-center

    figure are like images but with a caption

    and whatever else youwish to add

    .. code-block:: python

        import image


alternate text

figure are like images but with a caption

and whatever else youwish to add

import image Topic directive

A Topic directive allows to write a title and a text together within a box similarly to the note directive.

This code:

.. topic:: Your Topic Title

    Subsequent indented lines comprise
    the body of the topic, and are
    interpreted as body elements.


Your Topic Title

Subsequent indented lines comprise the body of the topic, and are interpreted as body elements. glossary, centered, index, download and field list

Field list:
Whatever:this is handy to create new field and the following text is indented
:Whatever: this is handy to create new field
.. glossary::

        at the top of the plant.



at the top of the plant.

.. centered::
.. index::
:download:`download <>`

gives download

3.6.4. Others Footnote

For footnotes, use [#name]_ to mark the footnote location, and add the footnote body at the bottom of the document after a “Footnotes” rubric heading, like so:

Some text that requires a footnote [#f1]_ .

.. rubric:: Footnotes

.. [#f1] Text of the first footnote.

You can also explicitly number the footnotes ([1]_) or use auto-numbered footnotes without names ([#]_). Here is an example [1]. Citations

Citation references, like [CIT2002] may be defined at the bottom of the page:

.. [CIT2002] A citation
          (as often used in journals).

and called as follows:

[CIT2002]_ More about aliases

Directives can be used within aliases:

.. |logo| image:: ../images/wiki_logo_openalea.png
    :width: 20pt
    :height: 20pt

Using this image alias, you can insert it easily in the text |logo|, like this logo. This is especially useful when dealing with complicated code. For instance, in order to include 2 images within a table do as follows:

| |logo|  | |logo|  | |longtext||
logo logo this is a longish text to include within a table and which is longer than the width of the column.


Not easy to get exactly what you want though. Cross-referencing syntax


to clarify

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 links’s text will be the same as target.

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.


instead of :role:, you can use :ref:


how to use intersphinx ? Adding raw html


check how it works

column 1 column 1


[1]this is a footnote aimed at illustrating the footnote capability.


[CIT2002]A citation (as often used in journals).