DocBook – markup language for technical documentation

Last Updated on September 25, 2020

DocBook is a semantic markup language for writing structured documents using XML (or SGML). It was originally intended for writing technical documents related to computer hardware and software but it can be used for any other sort of documentation. The language is fairly easy to learn; its strength derives from its flexibility.

DocBook enables you to author and store document content in a presentation-neutral form that captures the logical structure of the content. The XML files describe the document layout, paragraph division and other attributes. XML file structure may look familiar to HTML code. XML tends to be an improvement over the older HTML specification and can be used to produce complete web pages and other markup documents.

DocBook is an open source standard and used by some major projects. DocBook is an OASIS standard and the format in which many open source projects store their documentation.

DocBook is more than 17 years old. It began in 1991 as a joint project of HaL Computer Systems and O’Reilly & Associates (as O’Reilly Media, Inc. was then called).

Ways to Learn

DocBook: The Definitive Guide

By Norman Walsh (HTML; 552 pages)DocBook

DocBook 5: The Definitive Guide is the complete, official documentation of DocBook 5.0. The book teaches you all of the language’s features including its content model.

  • Learn how to write DocBook XML documents;
  • Understand DocBook 5.0’s elements and attributes, and how they fit together;
  • Determine whether your documents conform to the DocBook schema;
    Learn about options for publishing DocBook to various output formats
  • Customize the DocBook schema to meet your needs;
  • Get additional information about DocBook editing and processing.

The book is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

DocBook Demystification HOWTO

Good and Bad about DocBook


Hgh level of portability
Tags and their requirements can be complex to a new user

High and flexible level of scalability
XML is not particularly readable

Validate texts using a schema
XSLT skills needed to create your own stylesheets

Good range of formats supported including HTML, PDF, man pages, EPUB, Mobi, Text, and webhelp
Not well suited for short documents or one-off documents

Easy validation in compatible (XML) editors
Not suited for highly formatted documents

Useful Software

pandoc – converts files from one markup format into another.
Lyx – a popular document processor which offers a source code viewer for DocBook, together with SGML-tools support (DocBook DTDs).

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