Sphinx-based documentation for the Open Microscopy Environment
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Documentation files to be linked under the docs/sphinx directory of https://github.com/openmicroscopy/openmicroscopy.


Getting Started With Sphinx

Initial setup


Sphinx depends on the sphinx-build Python script. As such, it can be installed on any system with a working Python installation and PIP. On Windows, make sure that the Scripts directory under the Python installation directory (e.g. C:\Python26\Scripts) is configured in your PATH. On OS X/Linux, sphinx-build has to be accessible from the command line.

The Sphinx documentation system can be obtained by issuing:

pip install Sphinx

Most Linux distributions will also provide it in a python-sphinx package (or similar).


You will also need ant for building the documentation. This can be installed on Mac OSX by using homebrew:

brew install ant

Structure and organization

The OME documentation is organized into multiple folders:

  • the OMERO documentation is under the omero folder,
  • the OME Contributing Developer documentation is under the contributing folder,
  • the shared configuration and themes are under the common folder.

The structure of each documentation folder follows the Sphinx system guidelines. A quick overview:

  • source *.rst files with reST markup live in the root of the folder and under subfolders,
  • images/screenshots are placed under images,
  • downloadable files are placed under downloads,
  • compiled output is placed in _build,
  • compiled visual themes are automatically placed in _static,
  • Sphinx configuration is held in conf.py,
  • goals for make and make.bat are held in Makefile.

A reference of reStructuredText (reST) is available at https://thomas-cokelaer.info. It is recommended to familiarise oneself with the syntax outlined there.

A tutorial covering Sphinx, which enhances working with reST documents, can be found at http://sphinx.pocoo.org.

Building the documentation

The documentation may be built with make or ant. Note that ant requires ant-contrib to be on the classpath.

Basic build commands

To build a set of documentation, first move to the documentation folder. To build the OMERO documentation:

cd omero/

or to build the Contributing Developer documentation:

cd contributing/

To clean the build directory of any previous builds, use one of:

make clean
ant clean

To build the documentation locally in the form of HTML pages, use one of:

make html
ant html

To check the links (internal and external) of the documentation, use one of:

make linkcheck
ant linkcheck

By default, make will build the documentation locally in the form of HTML pages.

Top-level build command

The top-level directory Makefile also defines targets for building both the OMERO and Contributing sets of documentation at once.

To clean the build directories of any previous builds, use one of:

make clean
ant clean

To build the sets of documentation locally in the form of HTML pages, use one of:

make html
ant html

By default, running make will build the documentation locally in the form of HTML pages.

Makefile options

Additional options for sphinx-build can be passed using the SPHINXOPTS variable. The -W option turns all warnings into errors:

SPHINXOPTS=-W make clean html
SPHINXOPTS=-W ant clean html

Release number

The release number of the OMERO documentation is UNKNOWN by default. To modify this value set the environment variable OMERO_RELEASE e.g.:

cd omero && OMERO_RELEASE=5.4.0 make clean html
cd omero && OMERO_RELEASE=5.4.0 ant clean html

This variable needs to be set to build all the version-dependent content used in the system administrator documentation correctly.

The Contributing Developer documentation has the release version removed as the intention is to update these files as and when necessary, so that they always reflect our current practices.

Zip bundles

To build the documentation as a zipped bundle, use:

ant zip

By default, running ant will build as a zipped bundle.

From the top level directory:

OMERO_RELEASE=5.4.0 ant zip -Domero.release="5.4.0"

will generate the HTML documentation for OMERO and Contributing and bundle just the OMERO documentation into an OMERO.doc-5.4.0.zip under omero/_build.

From omero directory:

OMERO_RELEASE=5.4.0 ant zip -Domero.release="5.4.0"

will generate the HTML documentation for OMERO and create an OMERO.doc-5.4.0.zip under omero/_build.

From the contributing directory:

ant zip -Domero.release="5.4.0"

will generate the HTML documentation for Contributing and create a CONTRIBUTING.doc-5.4.0.zip under contributing/_build.

Auto-generated content

Some parts of the OMERO documentation are auto-generated from the OMERO deliverables (e.g. templates, command-line output...). This auto-generation is usually done via Continuous Integration builds. To generate these components manually, download the OMERO.server and run the auto-generation script as:

WORSKSPACE=/path/to/OMERO/deliverables ./omero/autogen_docs

Conventions Used

Part of the conventions used here is based on work by Benoît Bryon.

File names

reST source file names should carry the rst suffix and use lowercase alphanumeric characters and the - (minus) symbol.


Most reST directives do not need indentation, unless contents or options have to be supplied. For consistency, please use 4 space indentation whenever needed. Do not use indentation for the start of directives (start them at the edge of the new line). Any content under a reST directive has to be indented the same way as the options.


.. toctree::
    :maxdepth: 2

    Some content here...

Line wrapping

reST source files should use 78 lines for wrapping text. Please consult the manual of your favourite text editor to see how to switch on text wrapping.

Blank lines

Two new lines should be put before top-lined, top-level section names, i.e. before H1 and H2. One new line in any other case.


Part title (H1)

Introduction text.
Chapter title (H2)

Title headings

Every reST source file should begin with an H2 (level two) title. H1 titles are reserved for the index files (index.rst).

The following symbols should be used to create headings:

  • # with top line for parts
  • * with top line for chapters
  • = for sections
  • - for subsections
  • ^ for subsubsections
  • " for paragraphs


Part Title (H1)

H1 only in indexes.

Chapter Title (H2)

Sample file content.

Another chapter (H2)

Section title (H3)

Subsection title (H4)

Subsubsection title (H5)

Paragraph title (H6)

And some text.

Page labels and references

Every page can be uniquely referenced using the sphinx doc directive. Like other directives, you can use the absolute file path, i.e. relative to the top-level directory: :doc: `/path/name-of-the-page` or :doc: `link to my page </path/name-of-the-page>`.

Only when a good reason exists, a document can also start with a label:

.. _page-label:

Title Of The Page

Use of labels to refer to whole files is discouraged. References to labels above tables and images are encouraged. The :ref: Sphinx role is advised over standard reST links, as it works across files and reference names are automatically generated (e.g. from caption of an image).

Images vs. figures

reST allows for two types of image embedding: using the image and figure directive. It is recommended to use the latter, as legends and captions can be added easier.

All images referenced in a reST document shall be placed in an images folder in the top-level directory of the documentation.

Please do not use relative (../../../images/foo.jpg) paths to refer to images. Sphinx does a good job at creating paths, so one can use /images/foo.jpg


Please do not use tables for collections of links and figures, and leave them solely for use as actual tables. While it can be used in HTML to shoehorn content into boxes, it does not work too well for other output.

Big tables (typically wider than 50 characters) should be managed as external files using the comma-separated values (CSV) format. These tables can then be included in the documentation with the csv-table directive. If tables are saved using the tab-separated values (TSV) format use the delim option to set the table delimiter to tab e.g.:

.. csv-table::
    :widths: 20 80
    :header-rows: 1
    :file: searchfieldnames.tsv
    :delim: tab

Substitutions, aliases and hyperlinks

reST allows for using substitutions in cases where a piece of markup is used more than once, e.g.:

Please visit Python.org_


.. _Python.org: https://www.python.org

If a hyperlink appears only once, please use anonymous, "one-off" hyperlinks (two underscores):

`RFC 2396 <https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc2396.txt>`__ and `RFC
2732 <https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc2732.txt>`__ together
define the syntax of URIs.

Finally, please avoid using here as the hyperlink name, as in:

(...) go `here <http://www.google.com>`_.

Common markups

Please try to follow the rules outlined in Inline Markup. This allows for improving the semantics of the document elements.

  • Notes should be formatted using the note directive: .. note::
  • Definition lists can be created and cross-referenced using the glossary directive: .. glossary::. Each definition can be referenced anywhere in the documentation using the :term: role and an entry will be added for every term in the generated index.
  • References to external documentation can be formatted using: .. seealso::
  • Menu selections should be marked using the appropriate role: :menuselection: `Start --> Programs`
  • Environment variables should be formatted using the :envvar: role. This role will add an entry for the variable in the generated index.
  • CLI Commands can be formatted using the following role: :omerocmd: `admin start` This role will render as omero admin start and add an entry for the command in the generated index.
  • Other commands should be formatted using the literal markup: :literal: `command` or double back quoted markup
  • Configuration properties for OMERO.server and OMERO.web are marked using the custom property directive and can be cross referenced e.g. using :property: `omero.data.dir`
  • Other useful inline markups include: :option: and :guilabel:
  • Do not use inline highlighting or other markups in headings or subheadings

Global substitutions

Some substitutions have been implemented using rst_epilog in conf.py. They can be used in all pages of the documentation.


The table below lists targets for common hyperlinks.

Target name Link
Python https://www.python.org
Matplotlib https://matplotlib.org/
Pillow https://pillow.readthedocs.org
Hibernate http://www.hibernate.org
ZeroC https://zeroc.com
Ice https://zeroc.com
Jenkins https://jenkins.io/
roadmap https://trac.openmicroscopy.org/ome/roadmap
Open Microscopy Environment https://www.openmicroscopy.org
Glencoe Software, Inc. https://www.glencoesoftware.com/
PyPI https://pypi.org


The table below lists substitutions for common abbreviations. These substitutions use the :abbr: Sphinx role meaning they are shown as tool-tip in HTML.

Name Abbreviation Explanation
|SSH| SSH Secure Shell
|VM| VM Virtual Machine
|OS| OS Operating System
|SSL| SSL Secure Socket Layer
|HDD| HDD Hard Disk Drive
|CLI| CLI Command Line Interface

OMERO page references

The table below lists substitutions that can be used to create references to sections of the OMERO documentation.

Name Path
|OmeroPy| developers/Python
|OmeroCpp| developers/Cpp
|OmeroJava| developers/Java
|OmeroMatlab| developers/Matlab
|OmeroApi| developers/Modules/Api
|OmeroWeb| developers/Web
|OmeroClients| developers/GettingStarted
|OmeroGrid| sysadmins/grid
|OmeroSessions| developers/Server/Sessions
|OmeroModel| developers/Model
|ExtendingOmero| developers/ExtendingOmero
|BlitzGateway| developers/Python

For the most up-to-date list, please consult conf.py (section rst_epilog).

Common URLs

Some URLs are widely used across the OME documentation. Using the Sphinx extlinks extension, a dictionary of aliases to base URLs has been defined for the following:

  • Trac tickets: :ticket: `3442`, displayed as <a>#3442</a>
  • Snapshots: :snapshot: `omero/myzip.zip`
  • Website pages: :omero: `OMERO <>`
  • OME Forums: :forum: `viewforum.php?f=3`
  • Downloads: :downloads: `OMERO downloads <>`

For the most up-to-date list, please consult conf.py (section extlinks). Note that there are separate conf.py files for each set of documentation, as well as a shared one under common/.

Source code links

Links to the OMERO source code hosted on Github can be created using the source alias for single files, e.g. :source: `etc/grid/default.xml` or the sourcedir alias for directories, e.g. :sourcedir: `etc`.

By default, these links will point at the code under the develop branch or https://github.com/openmicroscopy/openmicroscopy. To specify a specific fork and/or branch, set the SOURCE_USER and SOURCE_BRANCH environment variables, e.g.:

SOURCE_USER=sbesson SOURCE_BRANCH=my_branch make clean html
SOURCE_USER=sbesson SOURCE_BRANCH=my_branch ant clean html

Jenkins links

Links to the continuous integration server can be created using the jenkins alias for the main server, e.g. :jenkins: `Jenkins server <>`, the jenkinsjob alias for a given job, e.g. :jenkinsjob: `OMERO-4.4` or the jenkinsview alias for a given view, e.g. :jenkinsview: `4.4`.

Mailing-list links

Links to the OME mailing lists can be created using the mailinglist alias, e.g. :mailinglist:`ome-users/`. To point at specific discussion threads, two aliases have been defined ome-users and ome-devel, e.g. :ome-users:`ome-users thread <2009-June/001839.html>`.

Inclusion of content

When a specific type of content (e.g. code snippet) repeats itself among many pages, it is advised to store it in a separate file without the default .txt extension. This file can then be later included using the literalinclude directive.

Writing Conventions

  • Do not use contractions (can't, isn't, I'll, etc.) or '&' in the documentation.
  • All H1 and H2 level headings should have a capital letter at the start of each word.
  • All sub-headings (H3 +) should begin with a capital letter for the first word and continue in lowercase, except where they refer to terms which are abbreviated in the text e.g. Virtual Machine.
  • Use the full product name, e.g. OMERO.insight instead of Insight.
  • Avoid using resp. in brackets to refer to alternative file names etc. Just use 'or'.
  • Use full words rather than symbols in headings if possible.
  • When giving instructions, address the user as 'you' and try to maintain a professional attitude - i.e. no random asides about making coffee or smilies!
  • Bullet point lists should begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop if each point is a complete sentence, or more than one sentence. If not, no punctuation is necessary (see https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/bullet-points).
  • Note that if you are giving an example link which is phrased like a hyperlink but not formatted as one because it does not actually exist, you need to prepend it with a '\' to escape the link and stop the link-checker from reporting it as broken (e.g. \http://your_host/webclient/login/), unless you use the literal mark-up.