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sphinxserve is a tool to effectively document projects

Since the internet adopted HTML, many communities are trying to find ways to write web pages in ways that can be pleasantly readable and writable. In our python community, reStructuredText and Sphinx have been created to author beautiful documentation. The goal of sphinxserve is to make them more accessible, interactive, and convenient to use.

Examples of projects using sphinx

Read The Docs
Projects using sphinx

Design considerations

sphinxserve was originally conceived as a Python and Linux project that can visualize sphinx document modifications in real time while working on them. At its core, sphinxserve uses the awesome projects gevent to provide concurrency and event coordination, bottle for web communication, watchdog for filesystem events, Sphinx for reStructucturedText rendering and of course Python.


release 0.8: sphinxserve fully supports python3. bottle replaces flask and ajax long polling replaces websockets to simplify even more the web server logic. Isolate each build using multiprocessing for reliable rendering when using sphinx extensions. Major log improvements including colors.

release 0.7.4: sphinxserve is able to run in other platforms as OSX and Windows for example.

release 0.7: sphinxserve decoupled from xdotool using flask-sockets python package. The tradeoff was to temporarily drop python3 support until the gevent ecosystem officially supported python3. Also, the filesystem notification tool was upgraded to watchdog, removing another system dependency and making the code more generic and cleaner.

release <0.7: sphinxserve used to control browser reloading with xdotool, a complex system tool dependency only available on Unix systems and tested on Linux.


sphinxserve can be installed either as a python package, or as a docker application. On linux and OSX, it can also be installed as a pex python executable

Python executable (PEX)

This is the easiest (no compilation or fancy tooling needed) and smallest (~9 MB) way to install sphinxserve using the excellent PEX tool. In itself, it is a zipfile containing all python package dependencies and only requires the python interpreter. This pex is verified to work at least in Debian>=7, Ubuntu>=14, Centos>=7 and Arch distros on Linux and in Yosemite on OSX.


System dependencies: glibc linux>=3, python>=2.7 and a web browser supporting websockets (Firefox, Chrome, etc) on Linux:

$ wget -O ~/bin/sphinxserve
$ chmod 755 ~/bin/sphinxserve


Yosemite already has all needed dependencies:

$ wget -O ~/bin/sphinxserve
$ chmod 755 ~/bin/sphinxserve

Python package

Linux system dependencies: glibc linux>=3, python>=2.7, the C toolchain (package names dependent on linux distro) to compile gevent and a web browser supporting javascript. pip automatically downloads sphinxserve and its python dependencies, compiles and builds wheel binary packages as needed and finally install sphinxserve.

OSX system dependencies: Verified to work on Yosemite, python >=2.7 and a web browser supporting javascript ajax with just pip installing.

Windows system dependencies: Verified to work on Windows 7, python >=2.7 and a web browser supporting javascript ajax with just pip installing.

In all systems:

$ pip install sphinxserve

Docker application

Docker is an extraordinary tool that simplifies the entire dependency tree by including it in a system image. This makes the installation experience much more pleasant and the ability to run on OSX, Windows and Linux with the same image, assuming proper setup of the docker network and volume. Another advantage is that a running image cannot see your filesystem by default. Sharing directories and which ones is an explicit setup. This method is verified to work on Linux so far.

System dependencies: docker and a web browser supporting websockets.

This installation command automatically downloads sphinxserve image (~40 MB) and creates a small shell script ~/bin/sphinxserve that simplifies the running interface with the following command:

$ docker run mzdaniel/sphinxserve install | bash


Launching sphinxserve is as simple as:

$ sphinxserve [OPTIONAL_SPHINX_PATH]

By default, it assumes the sphinx project is in the current directory. A sphinx project needs to have the configuration file, and if not found, sphinxserve will automatically create 2 new files: and a restructuredtext index.rst.

To change host and/or port, and other options, check the help with:

$ sphinxserve serve --help


After launching sphinxserve, it will build the sphinx pages and serve them by default on localhost:8888. To see the rendered documentation, just point your browser to localhost:8888. Any saved changes on rst or txt files will trigger docs rebuild.

Local test/build

Assumptions for this section: A unix system, python2.7, 3.4 or 3.5, and pip >= 8.1. Although git is recommended, it is not required.

We use tox to test sphinxserve in virtualenvs for python2.7, 3.4 and 3.5 Tox is a generic virtualenv manager and test command line tool. It handles the creation of virtualenvs with proper python dependencies for testing, pep8 checking and building:

$ git clone; cd sphinxserve $ pip install tox $ tox



sphinxserve renders sphinx docs monitoring file changes






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