Gentoo GuideXML Guide

GuideXML basics

GuideXML design goals

The guideXML syntax is lightweight yet expressive, so that it is easy to learn yet also provides all the features we need for the creation of web documentation. The number of tags is kept to a minimum -- just those we need. This makes it easy to transform guide into other formats, such as DocBook XML/SGML or web-ready HTML.

The goal is to make it easy to create and transform guideXML documents.


Basic structure

Let's start learning the GuideXML syntax. We'll start with the the initial tags used in a GuideXML document:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE guide SYSTEM "/dtd/guide.dtd">
<!-- $Header$ -->

<guide lang="en">
<title>Gentoo Documentation Guide</title>

<author title="Author">
  <mail link="">Your Name</mail>

This guide shows you how to compose web documentation using
our new lightweight Gentoo GuideXML syntax.  This syntax is the official
format for Gentoo web documentation, and this document itself was created
using GuideXML.

<!-- The content of this document is licensed under the CC-BY-SA license -->
<!-- See -->
<license version="3.0"/>


On the first lines, we see the requisite tag that identifies this as an XML document and specifies its DTD. The <!-- $Header$ --> line will be automatically modified by the CVS server and helps to track revisions. Next, there's a <guide> tag -- the entire guide document is enclosed within a <guide> </guide> pair. The lang attribute should be used to specify the language code of your document. It is used to format the date and insert strings like "Note", "Content", etc. in the specified language. The default is English.

Next, there's a <title> tag, used to set the title for the entire guide document.

Then, we come to the <author> tags, which contain information about the various authors of the document. Each <author> tag allows for an optional title element, used to specify the author's relationship to the document (author, co-author, editor, etc.). In this particular example, the authors' names are enclosed in another tag -- a <mail> tag, used to specify an email address for this particular person. The <mail> tag is optional and can be omitted, and at least one <author> element is required per guide document.

Next, we come to the <abstract>, <version> and <date> tags, used to specify a summary of the document, the current version number, and the current version date (in YYYY-MM-DD format) respectively. Dates that are invalid or not in the YYYY-MM-DD format will appear verbatim in the rendered document.

This sums up the tags that should appear at the beginning of a guide document. Besides the <title> and <mail> tags, these tags shouldn't appear anywhere else except immediately inside the <guide> tag, and for consistency it's recommended (but not required) that these tags appear before the content of the document.

Finally we have the <license version="3.0"/> tag, used to publish the document under the Creative Commons - Attribution / Share Alike license as required by the Documentation Policy. Historically, the tag <license /> was used, which denoted the 2.5 version of the license. This is still accepted/allowed.

Chapters and sections

Once the initial tags have been specified, you're ready to start adding the structural elements of the document. Guide documents are divided into chapters, and each chapter can hold one or more sections. Every chapter and section has a title. Here's an example chapter with a single section, consisting of a paragraph. If you append this XML to the XML in the previous excerpt and append a </guide> to the end of the file, you'll have a valid (if minimal) guide document:

<title>This is my chapter</title>
<title>This is section one of my chapter</title>

This is the actual text content of my section.


Above, I set the chapter title by adding a child <title> element to the <chapter> element. Then, I created a section by adding a <section> element. If you look inside the <section> element, you'll see that it has two child elements -- a <title> and a <body>. While the <title> is nothing new, the <body> is -- it contains the actual text content of this particular section. We'll look at the tags that are allowed inside a <body> element in a bit.

An example <body>

Now, it's time to learn how to mark up actual content. Here's the XML code for an example <body> element:

This is a paragraph.  <path>/etc/passwd</path> is a file.
<uri></uri> is my favorite website.
Type <c>ls</c> if you feel like it.  I <e>really</e> want to go to sleep now.

<pre caption="Code Sample">
This is text output or code.
# <i>this is user input</i>

Make HTML/XML easier to read by using selective emphasis:

This is a note.

This is a warning.

This is important.

Now, here's how the <body> element above is rendered:

This is a paragraph. /etc/passwd is a file. is my favorite web site. Type ls if you feel like it. I really want to go to sleep now.

This is text output or code.
# this is user input

Make HTML/XML easier to read by using selective emphasis:
This is a warning. This is important.

The <body> tags

We introduced a lot of new tags in the previous section -- here's what you need to know. The <p> (paragraph), <pre> (code block), <note>, <warn> (warning) and <impo> (important) tags all can contain one or more lines of text. Besides the <table>, <ul>, <ol> and <dl> elements (which we'll cover in just a bit), these are the only tags that should appear immediately inside a <body> element. Another thing -- these tags should not be stacked -- in other words, don't put a <note> element inside a <p> element. As you might guess, the <pre> element preserves its whitespace exactly, making it well-suited for code excerpts. You must name the <pre> tag with a caption attribute:

<pre caption="Output of uptime">
# <i>uptime</i>
16:50:47 up 164 days,  2:06,  5 users,  load average: 0.23, 0.20, 0.25

<c>, <b>, and <e>

The <c> element is used to mark up a command or user input. Think of <c> as a way to alert the reader to something that they can type in that will perform some kind of action. For example, all the XML tags displayed in this document are enclosed in a <c> element because they represent something that the user could type in that is not a path. By using <c> elements, you'll help your readers quickly identify commands that they need to type in. Also, because <c> elements are already offset from regular text, it is rarely necessary to surround user input with double-quotes. For example, don't refer to a "<c>" element like I did in this sentence. Avoiding the use of unnecessary double-quotes makes a document more readable -- and adorable!

As you might have guessed, <b> is used to boldface some text.

<e> is used to apply emphasis to a word or phrase; for example: I really should use semicolons more often. As you can see, this text is offset from the regular paragraph type for emphasis. This helps to give your prose more punch!

Code samples and colour-coding


The <uri> tag is used to point to files/locations on the Internet. It has two forms -- the first can be used when you want to have the actual URI displayed in the body text, such as this link to To create this link, I typed <uri></uri>. The alternate form is when you want to associate a URI with some other text -- for example, the Gentoo Forums. To create this link, I typed <uri link="">the Gentoo Forums</uri>. You don't need to write to link to other parts of the Gentoo web site. For instance, a link to the documentation main index should be simply <uri link="/doc/en/index.xml">documentation main index</uri>. You can even omit index.xml when you link to a directory index, e.g. <uri link="/doc/en/">documentation main index</uri>. Leaving the trailing slash saves an extra HTTP request.

Please avoid the click here syndrome as recommended by the W3C.


Here's how to insert a figure into a document -- <figure link="mygfx.png" short="my picture" caption="my favorite picture of all time"/>. The link attribute points to the actual graphic image, the short attribute specifies a short description (currently used for the image's HTML alt attribute), and a caption. Not too difficult :) We also support the standard HTML-style <img src="foo.gif"/> tag for adding images without captions, borders, etc.


GuideXML supports a simplified table syntax similar to that of HTML. To start a table, use a <table> tag. Start a row with a <tr> tag. However, for inserting actual table data, we don't support the HTML <td> tag; instead, use the <th> if you are inserting a header, and <ti> if you are inserting a normal informational block. You can use a <th> anywhere you can use a <ti> -- there's no requirement that <th> elements appear only in the first row.

Besides, both table headers (<th>) and table items (<ti>) accept the colspan and rowspan attributes to span their content across rows, columns or both.

Furthermore, table cells (<ti> & <th>) can be right-aligned, left-aligned or centered with the align attribute.

This title spans 4 columns
This title spans 6 rows Item A1 Item A2 Item A3
Item B1 Blocky 2x2 title
Item C1
Item D1..D3
Item E1..F1 Item E2..E3
Item F2..F3


To create ordered or unordered lists, simply use the XHTML-style <ol>, <ul> and <li> tags. Lists may only appear inside the <body> and <li> tags which means that you can have lists inside lists. Don't forget that you are writing XML and that you must close all tags including list items unlike in HTML.

Intra-document references

GuideXML makes it really easy to reference other parts of the document using hyperlinks. You can create a link pointing to Chapter One by typing <uri link="#doc_chap1">Chapter One</uri>. To point to section two of Chapter One, type <uri link="#doc_chap1_sect2">section two of Chapter One</uri>. To refer to figure 3 in chapter 1, type <uri link="#doc_chap1_fig3">figure 1.3</uri>. Or, to refer to code listing 2 in chapter 2, type <uri link="#doc_chap2_pre2">code listing 2.2</uri>.

Coding Style


Since all Gentoo Documentation is a joint effort and several people will most likely change existing documentation, a coding style is needed. A coding style contains two sections. The first one is regarding internal coding - how the XML-tags are placed. The second one is regarding the content - how not to confuse the reader.

Both sections are described next.

Internal Coding Style

Newlines must be placed immediately after every GuideXML-tag (both opening as closing), except for: <version>, <date>, <title>, <th>, <ti>, <li>, <i>, <e>, <uri>, <path>, <b>, <c>, <mail>.

Blank lines must be placed immediately after every <body> (opening tag only) and before every <chapter>, <p>, <table>, <author> (set), <pre>, <ul>, <ol>, <warn>, <note> and <impo> (opening tags only).

Word-wrapping must be applied at 80 characters except inside <pre>. You may only deviate from this rule when there is no other choice (for instance when a URL exceeds the maximum amount of characters). The editor must then wrap whenever the first whitespace occurs. You should try to keep the rendered content of <pre> elements within 80 columns to help console users.

Indentation may not be used, except with the XML-constructs of which the parent XML-tags are <tr> (from <table>), <ul>, <ol>, <dl>, and <author>. If indentation is used, it must be two spaces for each indentation. That means no tabs and not more spaces. Besides, tabs are not allowed in GuideXML documents.

In case word-wrapping happens in <ti>, <th>, <li> or <dd> constructs, indentation must be used for the content.

An example for indentation is:

  <ti>This is an example for indentation</ti>
    In case text cannot be shown within an 80-character wide line, you
    must use indentation if the parent tag allows it

  <li>First option</li>
  <li>Second option</li>

Attributes may not have spaces in between the attribute, the "=" mark, and the attribute value. As an example:

Wrong  :     <pre caption = "Attributes">
Correct:     <pre caption="Attributes">

External Coding Style

Inside tables (<table>) and listings (<ul>, <ol>) and <dl>, periods (".") should not be used unless multiple sentences are used. In that case, every sentence should end with a period (or other reading marks).

Every sentence, including those inside tables and listings, should start with a capital letter.

  <li>No period</li>
  <li>With period. Multiple sentences, remember?</li>

Code Listings should always have a caption.

Try to use <uri> with the link attribute as much as possible. In other words, the Gentoo Forums is preferred over


Start writing

GuideXML has been specially designed to be "lean and mean" so that developers can spend more time writing documentation and less time learning the actual XML syntax. Hopefully, this will allow developers who aren't unusually "doc-savvy" to start writing quality Gentoo documentation. You might be interested in our Documentation Development Tips & Tricks. If you'd like to help (or have any questions about GuideXML), please post a message to the gentoo-doc mailing list stating what you'd like to tackle. Have fun!