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DocBook markup conventions

This page offers writing conventions for OpenStack documentation. Following conventions helps to enhance the readabilty of our docs by enabling the DocBook stylesheets to format them consistently. Please modify this page as you come across more markup you need for the docs.openstack.org site.

General authoring conventions

This section contains general guidelines for editing OpenStack documents in DocBook.

Maximum line length in verbatim text

When using verbatim elements (including literallayout, programlisting, screen, and synopsis), do not exceed a line length of 70 characters.

Boolean configuration options

When documenting boolean configuration options, explicitly include the truth value.

Correct example


Incorrect example



Add IDs to sections

All section tags must have an xml:id attribute. This enables unique file names for the generated HTML and human-readable page titles, plus it lets Disqus threads stay with the HTML page.


<section xml:id="section-id-goes-here">

Keeping sections together

To keep several sections on a single HTML page, use the DocBook stop_chunking processing instruction:


<section xmlns="http://docbook.org/ns/docbook"
    xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" version="5.0"
<?dbhtml stop-chunking?>
<title>Dom Modifications for Resize/Migration Support</title>

euca2ools documentation

Since Nova exposes both its own API and an EC2-compatible API, many tasks can be executed using either the nova CLI or euca2ools. Documentation related to euca2ools should generally be limited to:

  • Describing how to get credentials to work with euca2ools
  • Describing differences between how Amazon's EC2 endpoint behaves and how an OpenStack endpoint behaves when accessing via EC2.

Adding a line break

The output of verbatim elements like screen and programlisting preserves the whitespace that you enter in the source, including line breaks.

In the output of non-verbatim elements (such as paragraphs and table cells), lines normally break automatically, for example at a fixed page or table boundary or when the reader resizes an HTML page. Automatic line breaking can fail if the text contains long strings that contain no whitespace. When that happens, the text is clipped or overflows the page or table boundaries.

If a line fails to break normally in output, try adding whitespace (like spaces) in the source where you want to allow line breaks. If that method is not available, you can force a line break anywhere in text by inserting the <?sbr?> processing instruction.


In the first line of code, spaces around the equals signs enable the line to wrap at either location. In the second line, <?sbr?> forces a line break.

<td>compute_driver = nova.virt.baremetal.driver.BareMetalDriver</td>

Avoiding empty lines in screen and programlistings

Since screen and programlisting preserve line breaks that you enter, you might get empty lines at the beginning/end of a text if you do not add the tags on the first/last line of the code.

Do not use


Use instead

<programlisting>LINE 1
LINE 2</programlisting>


Do not use tab characters in the code, always use spaces. For consistency, we like to have no extra whitespaces in the files, so do not place whitespaces at the following locations:

  • End of line (trailing whitespace)
  • after the opening or before the closing tag of elements listitem, para, td, th, command, literal, title, caption, filename, userinput, programlisting

You can test for whitespace in openstack-manuals with tools/validate.py.


Choosing the right tags (or at least agreeing to use the same tags) is important for using DocBook effectively. Otherwise, readers get inconsistent visual cues in the output formatting. You can check the semantic description of any tag in Oxygen. This section tries to identify circumstances where multiple tags might work or where the choice of tags is not obvious, and suggests an appropriate tagging.

Applications (inline)

Use tag: application

Describes software applications.


<para>You must configure the <application>RabbitMQ</application>.</para>

Code or data (block)

Use tag: programlisting

Program source or source fragments formatted as a standalone block. (For inline source fragments see Code or data (inline). Whitespace in the source, including spaces, tabs, and line breaks, is preserved in the output. Text is usually displayed in a fixed-width font.



To optimize the output of programlisting for a specific programming language, use the language attribute. Valid language values include bash, ini, java, javascript, json, python, and xml.


<programlisting language="json"><xi:include href="samples/agents-put-res.json" parse="text"/></programlisting>

<programlisting language="bash" linenumbering="unnumbered">CACHES = {
  'default': {
    'BACKEND' : 'django.core.cache.backends.memcached.MemcachedCache',
    'LOCATION' : ''

Note: Since programlisting preserves line breaks, add the initial/last line of source code always together with the tag, otherwise an empty line will be inserted:

Do not use


Use instead

<programlisting>LINE 1
LINE 2</programlisting>

Code or data (inline)

Use tag: literal or code

A fragment of code within a line of text. If you are telling or expecting users to enter the code or data, use userinput instead.


<para>The file contains the default setting, <literal>use_syslog = True</literal>.</para>
<para>The owner is typically set to <literal>root:nova</literal>, and the mode set to 

<para>To set the environment variable, run <code>export token="token"</code.</para>

User input

Use tag: userinput

Text that you instruct or intend users to enter. Compare to code or programlisting, which simply shows an instance of code or data, without telling users to enter it.

You can insert a short userinput into a line of text (such as a para). For multiline input, embed userinput in a screen element, where you can insert line breaks to create each line.


<para>Enter <userinput>admin</userinput> for the username and <userinput>secret</userinput> as the password.</para

See Computer output for a multiline example.

Computer output

Use tag: computeroutput

Text displayed in a terminal or log file as the result of a command. You can insert a short computeroutput string into a line of text. For multi-line input, embed computeroutput in a screen element, inserting line breaks to create each line.


This interactive terminal session combines a prompt, user input, and the resulting computer output in a screen:

<para>Mount the image in read-write mode by entering, as root:</para>
<screen><prompt>#</prompt> <userinput>guestfish --rw -a centos63_desktop.img</userinput>
Welcome to guestfish, the libguestfs filesystem interactive shell for
editing virtual machine filesystems.

Type: 'help' for help on commands
      'man' to read the manual
      'quit' to quit the shell


Commands, parameters, and variables

Use tags: command and parameter and replaceable

Use for inline commands. Examples are inline sub-commands for the OpenStack nova, swift, or neutron command-line interfaces (CLIs) and inline Linux commands.

Note: You do not have to tag the OpenStack CLI name, such as nova. Use the command tag to tag the client sub-commands.


<para>To launch a virtual machine, use the nova <command>boot</command> command. Use the <parameter>--flavor</parameter> <replaceable>FLAVOR</replaceable> and <parameter>--image</parameter> <replaceable>IMAGE</replaceable> parameters to specify the IDs or names of the flavor and image to use for the image.</para>

Command line prompt

Use tag: prompt


<screen><prompt>$</prompt> <userinput>sudo addgroup nova</userinput></screen>

Note there's a single space between the closing prompt and the opening userinput.

Configuration options (inline)

Use tag: option

Describes configuration file options.


<para>Set the <option>backend</option> option in the <filename>nova.conf</filename> configuration file.</para>

File name or path

Use tag: filename

Any part of a path specification, including device name, directory, file name, or extension.


<para>By default, the <filename>nova.conf</filename> configuration file is installed in the <filename>/etc/nova</filename> folder.</para>

Packages (inline)

Use tag: package

Describes software packages.


<para>You must install the <package>libvirt</package> package.</para>

Variable text

Use tag: replaceable

Variable content that readers replace with actual instances. The text is frequently italicized in output.


<para>The <filename>/etc/<replaceable>service-codename</replaceable>/policy.json</filename> controls what users are allowed to do for a given service.

Note: Don't add formatting to replaceable text, for example by surrounding it with quotes or brackets. Let the DocBook style sheets do the formatting.

System and API names

Use tag: systemitem

Operating system or API components that you refer to by name, including system services, daemons, methods, classes, and functions. To refer to an item's location rather than its name, use filename instead. You can use class="service" to further describe the name.


<para>Compute uses the <systemitem class="service">nova-scheduler</systemitem> service to determine how to dispatch compute and volume requests.</para>


Link to an internal target that has a title

Use tag: xref

Cross-reference an element, in the same document, that can automatically provide the link text. The "hot" link text that appears in the output is generated automatically from the target object during processing. For this reason, xref usually point to targets that have a title or a associated label (such as a numbered step in a procedure).

Compare this to a cross reference using link, where you specify the link text yourself. The advantage of using xref is that the link text is not static: if the title of the target changes, your link text is automatically updated in the next build.

Note that the xref linkend attribute points to the xml:id of the target element, not its title.


The xref in this example points to the figure that follows. In the output, the target title, OpenStack Services, is automatically used as the link text of the cross-reference:

<para>The Image Service is central to the overall IaaS picture, as shown in <xref linkend="concept_arch"/>.</para>
<figure xml:id="concept_arch"> 
  <title>OpenStack Services</title>

If the target in this example were an informalfigure, which has no title, the output would show "???" as the link text. which is probably not what you want. (For workarounds to this limitation, see the DocBook xref reference.)

Link to an internal target or external resource

Use tag: link

Cross-reference another element (which may or may not have a title) in the same document, or link to an external resource like an HTML page or PDF document. In the content of the link specify the "hot" text that you want to appear in the output.

  • To cross-reference an internal target, in the linkend attribute specify the target element's xml:id.
  • To cross-reference an external target, in the xlink:href attribute specify a URI that points to the target.


This cross-reference points to an external resource and displays the link text, Nova

<link xlink:href="http://nova.openstack.org">Nova</link>

This cross-reference points to an informal table in the same document, and specifies the link text, OpenStack Services:

<para>The Image Service is central to the overall IaaS picture, as shown in <link linkend="concept_arch2">OpenStack Services</link>.</para>
<informalfigure xml:id="concept_arch2"> 

As a rule of thumb, use link instead of xref to cross-reference internal targets for which DocBook processing does not automatically generate link text (for example elements without titles). Conversely, if you're cross-referencing an internal target that has a title or label, consider using xref instead of hard-coding the link textlink.

Unlinked URI

Technically, we should use the uri element as shown below, but our tool chain currently makes a live link, so use uri sparingly if at all. Bug logged at https://bugs.launchpad.net/openstack-manuals/+bug/1221225.

Use tag: uri

Provide only the text of a URI, without a live link.


<para>In your Web brower, log in to the Dashboard at <uri></uri>. </para>


Tag to use: procedure

A formal (titled) sequence of steps. Normally, the steps are rendered as a numbered list in the output.

Begin the title with the word, "To", and do not end the title with a colon. Individual steps don't require titles, and step titles do not have to start with "To."

To reduce the number of steps and make long procedures easier to follow, consider breaking steps up into logical groups of substeps.


  <title>To install the software</title>
  <step><para>Download the package.</para>
      <step><para>Go to the download page.</para></step>
      <step><para>Choose the package for your environment and click <guibutton>Download</guibutton>.</para></step>
 <step><para>Unpack the downloaded file.</para></step>    

To indicate a choice of steps, use stepalternative. The alternative steps are rendered as a bulleted list in the output.


Thanks to Bob Stayton for this clear illustration:

  <step><para>Do part A</para></step>
  <step><para>Do one of these:</para>
      <step><para>Do part B</para></step>
      <step><para>If you can't do part B, do part C</para></step>

To indicate an optional step, use <step> (Optional) </step> rather than the DocBook performance attribute.


Choose the appropriate list type to presenting a sequence of items. You can nest lists, including lists of different types. Note: to present steps in a formal task, use procedure instead.

Ordered list

Use tag: orderedlist

A sequence of items whose order matters.


<para>During the migration process:</para>
  <listitem><para>The target host ensures that live migration is enabled.</para></listitem>
  <listitem><para>The target host installs the base VHD if it is not already present.</para></listitem>
  <listitem><para>The source host ensures that live migration is enabled.</para></listitem>
  <listitem><para>The source host initiates the migration.</para></listitem>
  <listitem><para>The source host notifies the manager of the outcome of the operation.</para></listitem>

Unordered list

Use tag: itemizedlist

A sequence of items that can happen in any order or whose order doesn't matter.


<para>OpenStack with XenAPI supports the following virtual machine image formats:</para>
  <listitem><para>VHD (in a gzipped tarball)</para></listitem>

Term/description or key/value pairs

Use tag: variablelist

An unordered list in which each item has a short term (such as a key or option) or phrase, followed by a block that describes it. variablelist is typically rendered as a dl definition list in HTML output, with the term highlighted.

Consider using a variable list:

  • Instead of an itemized list when your list has a regular pattern of key/value or term/definition pairs.
  • Instead of a two column table where the first column lists items of a consistent type, such as keys, options, or short terms, and the second column describes the items. Consider that lists are generally more accessible than tables for screen reader users.


This example includes a nested variable list. Nesting lists of different kinds is a way of breaking up information into distinct visual and logical chunks:

    <para>The system exposes these components to users:</para>
      <varlistentry><term>Component A</term>
        <listitem><para>Description of A.</para></listitem>
      <varlistentry><term>Component B</term>
        <listitem><para>Description of B.</para></listitem>
      <varlistentry><term>Component C</term>
        <listitem><para>Description of C. Note: C is available only for these OS's:</para>
            <listitem><para>Mac OS X</para></listitem>
  <listitem><para>API libraries are also available.</para></listitem>

The example output looks something like this:

* The system exposes these components to users:

  Component A
    Description of A.

  Component B
    Description of B.

  Component C
    Description of C.  Note: C is available only for these OS's:
     * Linux
     * Mac OS X

*API libraries are also available.

A simple, undecorated list of items

Use tag: simplelist

Present a sequence of words or short phrases without the decorations of a numbered or bulleted list. simplelist offers a variety of flavors.

Example (default vertical list)

<para>Valid formats include:</para>

By default, this example is rendered as a standalone block of undecorated items, like this:

Valid formats include:

Example (inline list)

You can also render a comma-separated list in a paragraph, by adding the type="inline" attribute:

<para>Valid formats include 
  <simplelist type='inline'>

The output looks like this:

Valid formats include PNG, JPG, GIF, SVG.


Use tag: note, caution, important, tip, or warning

A brief message that is set off from the main text. Use note for generic messages; the others have more specific semantic meanings, as their names indicate. By default, these elements automatically generate a title (Note, Caution, and so on.) You can customize the title by explicitly adding a title element.


The title element in this example overrides the default title, Note:

<note><title>Upcoming changes</title>
    <para>Future versions of this feature may not be backward compatible. Consider implementing the revised interface now.


Use tag: title in a section or chapter

Use title for a heading.

Note: Use sentence-style capitalization for headings except for the Operations Guide, which follows O'Reilly heading capitalization style.

For example:

Incorrect: Open a File

Correct: Open a file

For task topics, avoid gerunds (_ING_ verbs).

Incorrect: Installing and Configuring Software

Correct: Install and configure software


Use tag: mediaobject

Use mediaobject for a block image. For a formal (titled) image, embed a mediaobject in a figure.

Note: inlinemediaobject inserts an image in a text block, such as a paragraph. For our docs, mediaobject is usually the better choice: inlinemediaobject is typically used for small inline graphics (like icons) or to achieve floating effects, and requires some care to use correctly.

In DocBook source, here is how you include images that have both a scalable-for-print-resolution in the PDF and an online-resolution for the HTML output. In this case the two types of images are SVG and PNG formats. The contentwidth="6in" attribute ensures that the image does not overlap print margins nor take up too much screen space.

<figure xml:id="CFinterfaces">
  <title>Cloud Files System Interfaces</title>
      <imagedata contentwidth="6in" fileref="figures/CFinterfaces.svg"/>

The convention is to use the /src/figures/ directory to store both the source image and any other formats of that same image. The pom.xml file copies the files in the /figures/ directory into the output directory required for HTML in the post processing section.

Also, when you add the image to the /src/figures directory, be sure to tell the source control system that you've added the image. For example, use git add to ensure the images get added to source control so the HTML and PDF output will be built correctly by the Jenkins continuous integration server.

For any figure you create, please also include the source files, even if the image was not created with open source tools, for maintenance purposes. While all OpenStack docs are created with open source in mind, including open-licensed fonts in the output, we are willing to allow non-open authoring or image creation tools if it's more efficient.


Use tag: table, informaltable. Generally speaking we don't use CALS tables, using <tr> <td> markup.

Use table for a formal (titled) table, informaltable for a table with no title.

Use sentence capitalization for table captions and column headings.


<table rules="all">
  <caption>Hardware recommendations </caption>
  <col width="20%"/>
  <col width="23%"/>
  <col width="57%"/>

      <th>Recommended hardware</th>

Profiling (conditional content)

Use tag: any element, with os attribute, audience attribute, and so on. For all profiling attributes, see DocBook: Chapter 26. Profiling (conditional text).

The Install & Deploy Guide has content that depends upon the operating system. Use the os attribute to specify an element that is operating-system specific. Valid values are:

  • ubuntu
  • fedora
  • rhel
  • centos
  • deb


<screen os="ubuntu"><prompt>$</prompt> <userinput>sudo apt-get install ntp</userinput></screen>

<screen os="rhel;fedora;centos"><prompt>$</prompt> <userinput>yum install ntp</userinput></screen>


DocBook: Chapter 26. Profiling (conditional text)

API Writers Guide

Menu sequence

Use tag: menuchoice


Represents the action of navigating a menu to choose an item one or more levels down. Output automatically includes a separator between items.

<para>To download an openrc file in the Dashboard, click 
  <guimenuitem>Project Settings</guimenuitem>
  <guimenuitem>Download RC File</guimenuitem>

The output looks like this:

To download an openrc file in the Dashboard, click Settings → Project Settings → Download RC File.

Keyboard key combination

Use tag: keycombo

A sequence of two or more keystrokes or mouse actions. Output automatically includes a + separator between items.


<para>Click <guibutton>Search</guibutton> or press 

The output looks like this:

Click Search or press Ctrl+F1.

GUI button

Use tag: guibutton

An item in a window that you select or click.


<para>In the TryStack dashboard, click <guibutton>Login</guibutton>.</para>


Use tag: glossterm

This marks a term as appearing in the glossary. Use the baseform attribute if the spelling of the term in the text and the glossary is different.

Note that not all guides include a glossary, currently the Operations Guide, the Security Guide and the Install Guides have a glossary. Before you mark a term with glossterm, check that it appears already in the shared glossary which is available online and as file glossary/glossary-terms.xml in the openstack-manuals repository. Please do not use the term firstterm.


Several <glossterm baseform="user">users</glossterm> might be part of a single <glossterm>tenant</glossterm>

Terms and usage

This section offers conventions around general English usage and terms that are not covered in the glossary.


Use lowercase unless legal considerations require capitalizing.


"local-hostname": "test.novalocal"

OpenStack, not Openstack or openstack

Service and project names

When referring to the services, use "Compute," "Image Service" and "Identity Service" instead of "nova," "glance," and "keystone." Use the project names like "nova" and "keystone" when you refer to the project or the command-line interfaces (CLIs) and service names.

Here's the list of project names and their official names and capitalization:

  • Ceilometer: Telemetry or Telemetry module
  • Cinder: OpenStack Block Storage
  • Glance: OpenStack Image Service
  • Heat: Orchestration or Orchestration module
  • Horizon: OpenStack dashboard
  • Keystone: OpenStack Identity Service
  • Neutron: OpenStack Networking
  • Nova: OpenStack Compute
  • Swift: OpenStack Object Storage

Generally the capitalization of the project team names like swift is lowercase. When used as a command-line-client name, lowercase is best. When used for the team or project name, typically it's not necessary to capitalize.

Release names

Release Names should follow the wiki page. Particularly, the 9th release should be written Icehouse - a single word with only initial capital.

Guide Conventions

The following lists conventions used for writing specific guides. In general we want to be consistent between guides, especially since some guides include the same files.



Install Guide

  • Use controller instead of the IP address
  • Use computeX instead of IP address for compute (Nova) nodes. Replace X with a number starting from 1. The external IP address of the first compute node is, the second is, and so on.
  • Use blockX instead of IP address for block storage (Cinder) nodes. Replace X with a number starting from 1.
  • Database passwords are written as SERVICE_DBPASS, e.g. NOVA_DBPASS
  • Keystone passwords are written as USERNAME_PASS, e.g. GLANCE_PASS
  • rabbit_userid is guest