Writing Documentation

The documentation for Isso has several purposes: It should help newcomers have a good experience in installing and setting up Isso, make it clear how to configure for several use cases, and invite people to improve the project by participating.


You may look at the docs/ folder to see how existing documentation is written or click the top right “Edit on GitHub” button to directly edit a page.

Sections covered in this document:


The documentation for Isso is written using the Sphinx documentation project in a markup language called reStructuredText (reST). The documentation files have have .rst as a file extension.

reST works a bit like Markdown, but has some differences. Here’s an example:

One asterisk: *text* for emphasis (italics),
Two asterisks: **text** for strong emphasis (boldface), and
Double backticks: ``text`` for code samples.

Building the docs

You will need to have the latest version of the Sphinx documentation generator installed from PyPi.


Please avoid using the version installed by your operating system since it may be severely outdated and throw errors with Isso’s theme. Isso’s docs need at least Sphinx version 4.5.0.

Install via pip:

$ virtualenv .venv && $ source .venv/bin/activate
(.venv) $ pip install sphinx
(.venv) $ sphinx-build --version
~> sphinx-build 4.5.0

Build the docs:

(.venv) $ make site

You can then view the generated docs by starting a local server with cd docs/_build/html && python -m http.server and visiting http://localhost:8000.


The stylesheets of the theme are written in a CSS-like language called sass and have the .scss file extension.

If you have made any changes to the stylesheets, you need to install the sassc program and then re-generate the CSS file at docs/_static/css/site.css:

$ apt install sassc
$ make css

How to write reST

First and foremost, see the reStructuredText Primer. You can play with a live rST editor at snippets.documatt.com.


Use `Link text <https://domain.invalid/>`_ for **inline web links**.

This is a paragraph that contains `a link`_ using **references**.

.. _a link: https://domain.invalid/


Headings must always be underlined with at least as many characters as the text is wide.

Page title

Use page title only once per file (at the top). This is also the name that the page will appear under.

Section heading (h3)

Use section heading to divide page into sections

Sub-Heading (h4)

Use sub-heading only if necessary - if you need this many levels of headings, maybe the content chould better be spread out across multiple articles

Referencing other sections: (see :ref:)

.. _my-reference-label:

Section to cross-reference

This is the text of the section.

It refers to the section itself, see :ref:`my-reference-label`.

Referencing other documents: (see :doc:)

See also :doc:`/contributing` or :doc:`the news page </news>`

Code blocks:

Use .. code-block:: <language> and indent the code by one level:

.. code-block:: console

     $ sudo apt install python3 python3-pip python3-virtualenv
     $ virtualenv .venv
     $ source .venv/bin/activate
     (.venv) $ python [cmd]

Syntax standards

  • Use at most three levels of headlines: === for page title, --- for section headings (h3), ^^^ for sub-headings (h4).

  • Use $ /usr/bin/command to refer to shell commands and use code-block:: console over bash or sh. For actual shell scripts, use sh.

  • Use (.venv) $ python [cmd] for things that need to be run inside a virtual environment and be consistent (see Sphinx: Narrative Documentation)

  • Use /path/to/isso/<thing> to refer to items inside Isso’s installation directory or for user data and use comments.db as the name for the database, isso.cfg (not .conf) for (user) config files.

  • Admonitions should only be: note, tip, warning, attention, (maybe also error?). See docutils: Admonitions.

  • Try to keep line length under 80 characters, but don’t worry when going over that limit when using links or code blocks

  • Use .. versionadded::, .. versionchanged:: and .. deprecated:: to make it clear to readers which version of Isso are affected by an option or behavior


The following documentation pages should serve as good examples. They are from related projects that also offer commenting functionality.

A model for good documentation has been laid out by Divio as the Divio Documentation System. It divides docs into four clear areas:

  • Tutorials

  • How-to guides

  • Explanation

  • Reference

The Django docs also follow this system.

Other Tips & Tricks

Helpful links:

Debugging cross-references:

python -m sphinx.ext.intersphinx docs/_build/html/objects.inv

Also make sure you have used :ref: or :doc correctly and not confused the two.

Automatic rebuilds

For easier docs development through file watching, automatic rebuilding and refreshing the browser, use sphinx-autobuild:

(.venv) $ pip install sphinx-autobuild
(.venv) $ sphinx-autobuild -b dirhtml docs/ docs/_build/html

Then visit localhost:8000


This section of the Isso documentation could be improved. Please help by expanding it.

Click the Edit on GitHub button in the top right corner and read the GitHub Issue named Improve & Expand Documentation for further information.

What’s missing?

  • How to write good documentation, maybe link to a few guides and example sites

  • More syntax standards, and also correct wrong usage across the docs

… and other things about documentation that should be documented.