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Documentation Guidelines


For instructions on building the documentation, see Documentation Generation.

Zephyr Project content is written using the reStructuredText markup language (.rst file extension) with Sphinx extensions, and processed using Sphinx to create a formatted standalone website. Developers can view this content either in its raw form as .rst markup files, or (with Sphinx installed) they can build the documentation locally to generate the documentation in HTML or PDF format. The HTML content can then be viewed using a web browser. This same .rst content is served by the Zephyr documentation website.

You can read details about reStructuredText and about Sphinx extensions from their respective websites.

This document provides a quick reference for commonly used reST and Sphinx-defined directives and roles used to create the documentation you’re reading.


While reST allows use of both and overline and matching underline to indicate a heading, we only use an underline indicator for headings.

  • Document title (h1) use “#” for the underline character

  • First section heading level (h2) use “*”

  • Second section heading level (h3) use “=”

  • Third section heading level (h4) use “-”

The heading underline must be at least as long as the title it’s under.

For example:

This is a title heading

some content goes here

First section heading

Content Highlighting

Some common reST inline markup samples:

  • one asterisk: *text* for emphasis (italics),

  • two asterisks: **text** for strong emphasis (boldface), and

  • two backquotes: ``text`` for inline code samples.

If asterisks or backquotes appear in running text and could be confused with inline markup delimiters, you can eliminate the confusion by adding a backslash (\) before it.


For bullet lists, place an asterisk (*) or hyphen (-) at the start of a paragraph and indent continuation lines with two spaces.

The first item in a list (or sublist) must have a blank line before it and should be indented at the same level as the preceding paragraph (and not indented itself).

For numbered lists start with a 1. or a. for example, and continue with autonumbering by using a # sign. Indent continuation lines with three spaces:

* This is a bulleted list.
* It has two items, the second
  item and has more than one line of reST text.  Additional lines
  are indented to the first character of the
  text of the bullet list.

1. This is a new numbered list. If the wasn't a blank line before it,
   it would be a continuation of the previous list (or paragraph).
#. It has two items too.

a. This is a numbered list using alphabetic list headings
#. It has three items (and uses autonumbering for the rest of the list)
#. Here's the third item

#. This is an autonumbered list (default is to use numbers starting
   with 1).

   #. This is a second-level list under the first item (also
      autonumbered).  Notice the indenting.
   #. And a second item in the nested list.
#. And a second item back in the containing list.  No blank line
   needed, but it wouldn't hurt for readability.

Definition lists (with a term and its definition) are a convenient way to document a word or phrase with an explanation. For example this reST content:

The Makefile has targets that include:

   Build the HTML output for the project

   Remove all generated output, restoring the folders to a
   clean state.

Would be rendered as:

The Makefile has targets that include:


Build the HTML output for the project


Remove all generated output, restoring the folders to a clean state.

Multi-column lists

If you have a long bullet list of items, where each item is short, you can indicate the list items should be rendered in multiple columns with a special .. rst-class:: rst-columns directive. The directive will apply to the next non-comment element (e.g., paragraph), or to content indented under the directive. For example, this unordered list:

.. rst-class:: rst-columns

* A list of
* short items
* that should be
* displayed
* horizontally
* so it doesn't
* use up so much
* space on
* the page

would be rendered as:

  • A list of

  • short items

  • that should be

  • displayed

  • horizontally

  • so it doesn’t

  • use up so much

  • space on

  • the page

A maximum of three columns will be displayed, and change based on the available width of the display window, reducing to one column on narrow (phone) screens if necessary. We’ve deprecated use of the hlist directive because it misbehaves on smaller screens.


There are a few ways to create tables, each with their limitations or quirks. Grid tables offer the most capability for defining merged rows and columns, but are hard to maintain:

| Header row, column 1   | Header 2   | Header 3 | Header 4 |
| (header rows optional) |            |          |          |
| body row 1, column 1   | column 2   | column 3 | column 4 |
| body row 2             | ...        | ...      | you can  |
+------------------------+------------+----------+ easily   +
| body row 3 with a two column span   | ...      | span     |
+------------------------+------------+----------+ rows     +
| body row 4             | ...        | ...      | too      |

This example would render as:

Header row, column 1 (header rows optional)

Header 2

Header 3

Header 4

body row 1, column 1

column 2

column 3

column 4

body row 2

you can easily span rows too

body row 3 with a two column span

body row 4

List tables are much easier to maintain, but don’t support row or column spans:

.. list-table:: Table title
   :widths: 15 20 40
   :header-rows: 1

   * - Heading 1
     - Heading 2
     - Heading 3
   * - body row 1, column 1
     - body row 1, column 2
     - body row 1, column 3
   * - body row 2, column 1
     - body row 2, column 2
     - body row 2, column 3

This example would render as:

Table title

Heading 1

Heading 2

Heading 3

body row 1, column 1

body row 1, column 2

body row 1, column 3

body row 2, column 1

body row 2, column 2

body row 2, column 3

The :widths: parameter lets you define relative column widths. The default is equal column widths. If you have a three-column table and you want the first column to be half as wide as the other two equal-width columns, you can specify :widths: 1 2 2. If you’d like the browser to set the column widths automatically based on the column contents, you can use :widths: auto.

File names and Commands

Sphinx extends reST by supporting additional inline markup elements (called “roles”) used to tag text with special meanings and allow style output formatting. (You can refer to the Sphinx Inline Markup documentation for the full list).

For example, there are roles for marking filenames (:file:`name`) and command names such as make (:command:`make`). You can also use the ``inline code`` markup (double backticks) to indicate a filename.

For references to files that are in the Zephyr GitHub tree, a special role can be used that creates a hyperlink to that file. For example a reference to the reST file used to create this document can be generated using :zephyr_file:`doc/contribute/documentation/guidelines.rst` that will show up as doc/contribute/documentation/guidelines.rst, a link to the “blob” file in the github repo. There’s also a :zephyr_raw:`doc/contribute/documentation/guidelines.rst` role that will link to the “raw” content, doc/contribute/documentation/guidelines.rst. (You can click on these links to see the difference.)

Internal Cross-Reference Linking

Traditional ReST links are only supported within the current file using the notation:

Refer to the `internal-linking`_ page

which renders as,

Refer to the internal-linking page

Note the use of a trailing underscore to indicate an outbound link. In this example, the label was added immediately before a heading, so the text that’s displayed is the heading text itself. You can change the text that’s displayed as the link writing this as:

Refer to the `show this text instead <internal-linking_>`_ page

which renders as,

Refer to the show this text instead page

External Cross-Reference Linking

With Sphinx’s help, we can create link-references to any tagged text within the Zephyr Project documentation.

Target locations in a document are defined with a label directive:

.. _my label name:


Note the leading underscore indicating an inbound link. The content immediately following this label must be a heading, and is the target for a :ref:`my label name` reference from anywhere within the Zephyr documentation. The heading text is shown when referencing this label. You can also change the text that’s displayed for this link, such as:

:ref:`some other text <my label name>`

To enable easy cross-page linking within the site, each file should have a reference label before its title so it can be referenced from another file. These reference labels must be unique across the whole site, so generic names such as “samples” should be avoided. For example the top of this document’s .rst file is:

.. _doc_guidelines:

Documentation Guidelines for the Zephyr Project

Other .rst documents can link to this document using the :ref:`doc_guidelines` tag and it will show up as Documentation Guidelines. This type of internal cross reference works across multiple files, and the link text is obtained from the document source so if the title changes, the link text will update as well.

You can also define links to any URL and then reference it in your document. For example, with this label definition in the document:

.. _Zephyr Wikipedia Page:

you can reference it with:

Read the `Zephyr Wikipedia Page`_ for more information about the

Non-ASCII Characters

You can insert non-ASCII characters such as a Trademark symbol (™), by using the notation |trade|. Available replacement names are defined in an include file used during the Sphinx processing of the reST files. The names of these replacement characters are the same as used in HTML entities used to insert characters in HTML, e.g., &trade; and are defined in the file sphinx_build/substitutions.txt as listed here:

.. |br|     raw:: html        .. force a line break in HTML output (blank lines needed here)

   <br />

.. |p|     raw:: html        .. force a blank line in HTML output (blank lines needed here)


.. These are replacement strings for non-ASCII characters used within the project
   using the same name as the html entity names (e.g., &copy;) for that character

.. |copy|   unicode:: U+000A9 .. COPYRIGHT SIGN
.. |trade|  unicode:: U+02122 .. TRADEMARK SIGN
.. |reg|    unicode:: U+000AE .. REGISTERED TRADEMARK SIGN
.. |deg|    unicode:: U+000B0 .. DEGREE SIGN
.. |plusminus|  unicode:: U+000B1 .. PLUS-MINUS SIGN
.. |micro|  unicode:: U+000B5 .. MICRO SIGN
.. |sup2|  unicode:: U+00B2 .. SUPERSCRIPT TWO

We’ve kept the substitutions list small but others can be added as needed by submitting a change to the substitutions.txt file.

Code and Command Examples

Use the reST code-block directive to create a highlighted block of fixed-width text, typically used for showing formatted code or console commands and output. Smart syntax highlighting is also supported (using the Pygments package). You can also directly specify the highlighting language. For example:

.. code-block:: c

   struct k_object {
      char *name;
      uint8_t perms[CONFIG_MAX_THREAD_BYTES];
      uint8_t type;
      uint8_t flags;
      uint32_t data;
   } __packed;

Note the blank line between the code-block directive and the first line of the code-block body, and the body content is indented three spaces (to the first non-white space of the directive name).

This would be rendered as:

struct k_object {
   char *name;
   uint8_t perms[CONFIG_MAX_THREAD_BYTES];
   uint8_t type;
   uint8_t flags;
   uint32_t data;
} __packed;

Other languages are of course supported (see languages supported by Pygments), and in particular, you are encouraged to make use of the following when appropriate:

  • c for C code

  • cpp for C++ code

  • python for Python code

  • console for console output, i.e. interactive shell sessions where commands are prefixed by a prompt (ex. $ for Linux, or uart:~$ for Zephyr’s shell), and where the output is also shown. The commands will be highlighted, and the output will not. What’s more, copying code block using the “copy” button will automatically copy just the commands, excluding the prompt and the outputs of the commands.

  • shell or bash for shell commands. Both languages get highlighted the same but you may use bash for conveying that the commands are bash-specific, and shell for generic shell commands.


    Do not use bash or shell if your code block includes a prompt, use console instead.

    Reciprocally, do not use console if your code block does not include a prompt and is not showcasing an interactive session with command(s) and their output.

    When to use bash/shell vs. console

    Use case

    code-block snippet

    Expected output

    One or several commands, no output

    .. code-block:: shell
       echo "Hello World!"
    echo "Hello World!"

    An interactive shell session with command(s) and their output

    .. code-block:: console
       $ echo "Hello World!"
       Hello World!
    $ echo "Hello World!"
    Hello World!

    An interactive Zephyr shell session, with commands and their outputs

    .. code-block:: console
       uart:~$ version
       Zephyr version 3.5.99
       uart:~$ kernel uptime
       Uptime: 20970 ms
    uart:~$ version
    Zephyr version 3.5.99
    uart:~$ kernel uptime
    Uptime: 20970 ms
  • bat for Windows batch files

  • cfg for config files with “KEY=value” entries (ex. Kconfig .conf files)

  • cmake for CMake

  • devicetree for Devicetree

  • kconfig for Kconfig

  • yaml for YAML

  • rst for reStructuredText

When no language is specified, the language is set to none and the code block is not highlighted. You may also use none explicitly to achieve the same result; for example:

.. code-block:: none

   This would be a block of text styled with a background
   and box, but with no syntax highlighting.

Would display as:

This would be a block of text styled with a background
and box, but with no syntax highlighting.

There’s a shorthand for writing code blocks too: end the introductory paragraph with a double colon (::) and indent the code block content that follows it by three spaces. On output, only one colon will be shown. The code block will have no highlighting (i.e. none). You may however use the .. highlight:: directive to customize the default language used in your document (see for example how this is done at the beginning of this very document).


Images are included in documentation by using an image directive:

.. image:: ../../../../images/doc-gen-flow.png
   :align: center
   :alt: alt text for the image

or if you’d like to add an image caption, use:

.. figure:: ../../../../images/doc-gen-flow.png
   :alt: image description

   Caption for the figure

The file name specified is relative to the document source file, and we recommend putting images into an images folder where the document source is found. The usual image formats handled by a web browser are supported: JPEG, PNG, GIF, and SVG. Keep the image size only as large as needed, generally at least 500 px wide but no more than 1000 px, and no more than 250 KB unless a particularly large image is needed for clarity.

Tabs, spaces, and indenting

Indenting is significant in reST file content, and using spaces is preferred. Extra indenting can (unintentionally) change the way content is rendered too. For lists and directives, indent the content text to the first non-white space in the preceding line. For example:

* List item that spans multiple lines of text
  showing where to indent the continuation line.

1. And for numbered list items, the continuation
   line should align with the text of the line above.

.. code-block::

   The text within a directive block should align with the
   first character of the directive name.

Refer to the Zephyr Coding Style for additional requirements.

zephyr-app-commands Directive

This is a Zephyr directive for generating consistent documentation of the shell commands needed to manage (build, flash, etc.) an application.

For example, to generate commands to build samples/hello_world for qemu_x86 use:

.. zephyr-app-commands::
   :zephyr-app: samples/hello_world
   :board: qemu_x86
   :goals: build

Directive options:


which tool to use. Valid options are currently ‘cmake’, ‘west’ and ‘all’. The default is ‘west’.


path to the application to build.


path to the application to build, this is an app present in the upstream zephyr repository. Mutually exclusive with :app:.


if set, build instructions are given from within the :app: folder, instead of outside of it.


which build system to generate. Valid options are currently ‘ninja’ and ‘make’. The default is ‘ninja’. This option is not case sensitive.


which host OS the instructions are for. Valid options are ‘unix’, ‘win’ and ‘all’. The default is ‘all’.


if set, the application build will target the given board.


if set, the application build will target the given shield.


if set, the application build will use the given configuration file. If multiple conf files are provided, enclose the space-separated list of files with quotes, e.g., “a.conf b.conf”.


if set, additional arguments to the CMake invocation


if set, additional arguments to the build invocation


if set, indicates the application should be compiled with the listed snippets. Multiple snippets can be provided in a comma separated list.


if set, the application build directory will APPEND this (relative, Unix-separated) path to the standard build directory. This is mostly useful for distinguishing builds for one application within a single page.


if set, assume that “west config build.dir-fmt” has been set to this path. Exclusive with ‘build-dir’ and depends on ‘tool=west’.


a whitespace-separated list of what to do with the app (in ‘build’, ‘flash’, ‘debug’, ‘debugserver’, ‘run’). Commands to accomplish these tasks will be generated in the right order.


if set, this indicates the reader may have already created a build directory and changed there, and will tweak the text to note that doing so again is not necessary.


if set, the generated output is a single code block with no additional comment lines


if set, additional arguments to the west invocation (ignored for CMake)


if set, additional arguments to the flash invocation

For example, the .. zephyr-app-commands listed above would render like this in the generated HTML output:

# From the root of the zephyr repository
west build -b qemu_x86 samples/hello_world

Alternative Tabbed Content

As introduced in the Getting Started Guide, you can provide alternative content to the reader via a tabbed interface. When the reader clicks on a tab, the content for that tab is displayed, for example:

.. tabs::

   .. tab:: Apples

      Apples are green, or sometimes red.

   .. tab:: Pears

      Pears are green.

   .. tab:: Oranges

      Oranges are orange.

will display as:

Apples are green, or sometimes red.

Tabs can also be grouped, so that changing the current tab in one area changes all tabs with the same name throughout the page. For example:

Linux Line 1

Linux Line 2

In this latter case, we’re using .. group-tab:: instead of simply .. tab::. Under the hood, we’re using the sphinx-tabs extension that’s included in the Zephyr setup. Within a tab, you can have most any content other than a heading (code-blocks, ordered and unordered lists, pictures, paragraphs, and such). You can read more about sphinx-tabs from the link above.