Writing and updating the documentation


How to write and submit content for the Plone Developer Documentation.


This chapter explains the basics of editing, updating and contributing to the Plone Developer Documentation.

Reaching documentation team

Plone community runs a documentation team which is responsible for keeping Plone documentation coherent. To reach this team for any questions please contact

Editing documentation on Github

  • You can commit file edits through GitHub web interface using the Fork and Edit button, followed by a pull request.
  • Alternatively, clone the repository using git, perform changes, and push them to your fork. Then submit a pull request.

The Plone collective GitHub repository has open-for-all contribution access. If you want to contribute changes without asking the maintainers to merge them, please add your GitHub username to your profile on plone.org and request access here.

Editing documentation using git

This is the recommended method of editing the documentation for advanced users. Please do not be afraid to commit. If you break the documentation or add invalid information, it will be cleaned up sooner or later and no one is going to blame you: human errors happen all the time.

git clone https://github.com/collective/collective.developermanual
  • Bootstrap with Python 2.5 or later. We use a version of Sphinx that has dropped Python 2.4 support.


You do not need to bootstrap and buildout if you simply want to make a quick edit the documentation. Go to the "source" directory to find the files. Continue reading if you want to run a complete local copy.

cd collective.developermanual
python2.7 bootstrap.py
  • Run buildout to install and configure all Python packages in your buildout folder for the documentation generation
  • Edit the file(s) which you want to update.
  • Check that building with Sphinx does not give warnings:
make html
  • Commit changes:
git commit -m "My message about my changes"
git push

Document page format

Here are some Sphinx coding conventions used in the documentation.

Tab policy

  • Indentation 4 spaces
  • No hard tabs
  • No trailing whitespaces

Headings and filenames

  • For the headings, capitalize the first letter only
  • For the filenames, use_underscore_naming_style

Page structure

Each page must contain, in this order:

  • The main heading. This will be visible in the table of contents:
Writing and updating this document
  • The description of the page, which will appear in Plone's Description Dublin Core metadata field. This created using the reST admonition directive. A single paragraph of text consisting of 1-3 sentences is recommended, so that the same text fits into the search engine results (Google):
.. admonition:: Description

   This text will go to Plone's pages description field. It will appear in
   the search engine listings for the page.

The contents directive will cause Sphinx to generate the Table of Contents shortcut links at the start of the page. Using the local option excludes the page itself and ToC title from the listing:

.. contents:: :local:

Introduction paragraph: A brief overview:


This chapter will describe the basics of how to contribute to this document.

A number of paragraphs: The actual content of the document page:

Contributions needed

Below is the list of documentation and references we'd like to see

Section structure

Each section (folder) must contain

  • index.txt with:
  • Section heading: This will be visible in the table of contents
  • A single paragraph summarizing what this section is all about. This will be mapped to Plone folder description.
  • Sphinx toctree directive, maxdepth 2. Each .txt file in the folder should be linked to this toctree.
.. toctree::
   :maxdepth: 2


Headings style guide

ReStructured text and Sphinx enable any style you would prefer for the various heading level you would need. In example, underlining level 1 headings with ., level 2 headings with # and level 3 headings with | is perfect as far as docutils is concerned. But not for a human documentation maintainer.

In order to have consistent heading styles in all files that make this great document, it is recommended to follow strictly the rules stated in the Sphinx manual here: http://sphinx.pocoo.org/rest.html#sections

As individual files do not have so called "parts" or "chapters", the headings would be underlined like this:

Heading 1
Heading 2
Heading 3
Heading 4

Syntax highlighting

Sphinx does syntax highlighting using the Pygments library.

You can specify different highlighting for a code block using the following syntax:

With two colons you start a code block using the default highlighter::

    # Some Python code here
    # The language defaults to Python, we don't need to set it
    if 1 == 2:

You can specify the language used for syntax highlighting by using the code-block directive:

.. code-block:: python

    if "foo" == "bar":
        # This is Python code

For example, to specify XML:

.. code-block:: xml

    <somesnippet>Some XML</somesnippet>

... or UNIX shell:

.. code-block:: console

   # A comment
   sh myscript.sh

... or a buildout.cfg:

.. code-block:: ini

   # A random part in the buildout
   recipe = collective.recipe.foo
   option = value

... or interactive Python:

.. code-block:: pycon

   >>> class Foo:
   ...     bar = 100
   >>> f = Foo()
   >>> f.bar
   >>> f.bar / 0
   Traceback (most recent call last):
     File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
   ZeroDivisionError: integer division or modulo by zero

Setting the highlighting mode for the whole document:

.. highlight:: console

All code blocks in this doc use console highlighting by default::

   some shell commands

If syntax highlighting is not enabled for your code block, you probably have a syntax error and Pygments will fail silently.

The full list of lexers and associated short names is here: http://pygments.org/docs/lexers/

Other Sphinx and restructured text source snippets


This *word* is italics.


This **word** is in bold text.

Inline code highlighting:

This is :func:`aFunction`, this is the :mod:`some.module` that contains
the :class:`some.module.MyClass`


These Python objects are rendered as hyperlinks if the symbol is mentioned in a relevant directive. See http://sphinx.pocoo.org/domains.html and http://sphinx.pocoo.org/ext/autodoc.html

Making an external link (note the underscore at the end):

`This is an external link to <http://opensourcehacker.com>`_

Making an internal link:

:doc:`This is a link to </introduction/writing.txt>`
See also :ref:`somewhere` (assuming that a line containing only
``.. _somewhere:`` exists above a heading in any file of this
documentation) ...
And a link to the term :term:`foo` assuming that ``foo`` is defined in
the glossary.


.. glossary:: :sorted:

Bullet list:

* First bullet
* Second bullet with `a link <http://opensourcehacker.com>`_


.. warning::

   This is a warning box (red)


.. note::

   This is a note box (yellow)
.. TODO::

   This is a TODO item

Code documentation

For certain kinds of documentation it is better to write the documentation in parts of the Plone core code base. This can be done using the autodoc sphinx extension.

... to include a module docstring:

.. automodule:: plone.app.contentrules.exportimport

... to include a class docstring:

.. autoclass:: Products.CMFEditions.exportimport.repository.RepositoryToolXMLAdapter

... or to include both a module and class docstrings:

.. automodule:: Products.CMFEditions.exportimport.repository
   :members: RepositoryToolXMLAdapter

Not all documentation is best kept with the code. You should use autodoc if:

  • the documentation is reasonably self-contained and relates just to that module;
  • it's mainly reference material, rather than tutorial-style documentation;
  • you think it's more likely to be maintained by the code authors.

Once you write code documentation:

  1. find an appropriate place in this manual to place it. Make sure it flows and makes when sense read with the documentation around it;
  2. include a comment in the docstring mentioning its use in this manual so those editing the code can test the manual if changes are made;
  3. add the module to the autocheckout value in the manual's buildout.cfg.

Some helper tools

Emacs has a nice rst-mode. This mode comes with some Emacs distros. Try M-x rst-mode in your Emacs and enjoy syntax coloration, underlining a heading with ^C ^A

Eclipse users can install ReST Editor through the Eclipse Marketplace.

Vim does syntax highlighting for RST files. There is also a nice plugin with enhanced functionalities called Riv.

ReText if you use Ubuntu or Debian you could also use ReText a Editor for .rst and .md

apt-get install retext

Style recommendations

Use semantic linefeeds (http://rhodesmill.org/brandon/2012/one-sentence-per-line/) when you are editing restructured text (or any other interpreted rich text format) because it will greatly improve the editing and maintenance of your documents.

Take this example paragraph:

Patterns can take options in two ways:
from the DOM or via the jQuery interface.
It is highly recommended to use the DOM interface,
since it offers a lot more flexibility compared to the jQuery approach.
if you wish to use the automatic binding and rebinding functionality,
the DOM approach is more straightforward and hassle-free.

Notice how it's easier to just reshuffle sentences and add stuff if, instead of using your editor "autowrap" feature, you manually insert line breaks after full stops, commas, or upon "grammatical" boundaries (and not merely word ones).

Edit this document

The source code of this file is hosted on GitHub. Everyone can update and fix errors in this document with few clicks - no downloads needed.

  1. Go to Writing and updating the documentation on GitHub.
  2. Press the Fork button. This will create your own personal copy of the documentation.
  3. Edit files using GitHub's text editor in your web browser
  4. Fill in the Commit message text box at the end of the page telling why you did the changes. Press the Propose file change button next to it when done.
  5. Then head to the Send a pull request page (you won't need to fill in any additional text). Just press Send pull request button.
  6. Your changes are now queued for review under project's Pull requests tab on Github.

For basic information about updating this manual and Sphinx format please see Writing and updating the manual guide.