DFHack documentation system¶
DFHack documentation, like the file you are reading now, is created as a set of
.rst files in reStructuredText (reST)
format. This is a documentation format common in the Python community. It is very
similar in concept – and in syntax – to Markdown, as found on GitHub and many other
places. However it is more advanced than Markdown, with more features available when
compiled to HTML, such as automatic tables of contents, cross-linking, special
external links (forum, wiki, etc) and more. The documentation is compiled by a
Python tool named Sphinx.
The DFHack build process will compile and install the documentation so it can be displayed in-game by the help and ls commands (and any other command or GUI that displays help text), but documentation compilation is disabled by default due to the additional Python and Sphinx requirements. If you already have a version of the docs installed (say from a downloaded release binary), then you only need to build the docs if you’re changing them and want to see the changes reflected in your game.
You can also build the docs if you just want a local HTML- or text-rendered copy, though
you can always read the online version too.
The active development version of the documentation is tagged with
is available here
Note that even if you do want a local copy, it is certainly not necessary to compile the documentation in order to read it. Like Markdown, reST documents are designed to be just as readable in a plain-text editor as they are in HTML format. The main thing you lose in plain text format is hyperlinking.
.rst files are compiled to HTML for viewing in a browser and to text
format for viewing in-game. For in-game help, the help text is read from its installed
hack/docs under the DF directory.
When writing documentation, remember that everything should be documented! If it’s not clear where a particular thing should be documented, ask on Discord or in the DFHack thread on Bay12 – you’ll not only be getting help, you’ll also be providing valuable feedback that makes it easier for future contributors to find documentation on how to write the documentation!
Try to keep lines within 80-100 characters so it’s readable in plain text in the terminal - Sphinx (our documentation system) will make sure paragraphs flow.
Each command that a user can run – as well as every plugin – needs to have a short (~54 character) descriptive string associated with it. This description text is:
used in-game by the ls command and DFHack UI screens that list commands
used in the generated index entries in the HTML docs
Whether you’re adding new code or just fixing old documentation (and there’s plenty), there are a few important standards for completeness and consistent style. Treat this section as a guide rather than iron law, match the surrounding text, and you’ll be fine.
For scripts and plugins that are distributed as part of DFHack, documentation files
should be added to the scripts/docs and docs/plugins directories,
respectively, in a file named after the script or plugin. For example, a script named
gui/foobar.lua (which provides the
gui/foobar command) should be documented
in a file named
docs/gui/foobar.rst in the scripts repo. Similarly, a plugin named
foobaz should be documented in a file named
docs/plugins/foobaz.rst in the dfhack repo.
For plugins, all commands provided by that plugin should be documented in that same file.
Short descriptions (the ~54 character short help) for scripts and plugins are taken from
summary attribute of the
dfhack-tool directive that each tool help document must
have (see the Header format section below). Please make this brief but descriptive!
Short descriptions for commands provided by plugins are taken from the
parameter passed to the
PluginCommand constructor used when the command is registered
in the plugin source file.
The docs must begin with a heading which exactly matches the script or plugin name, underlined
===== to the same length. This must be followed by a
.. dfhack-tool: directive with
at least the following parameters:
:summary:- a short, single-sentence description of the tool
:tags:- a space-separated list of tags that apply to the tool
dfhack-tool generates both a description of a tool and a command
with the same name. For tools (specifically plugins) that do not provide exactly
1 command with the same name as the tool, pass the
:no-command: parameter (with
no content after it) to prevent the command block from being generated.
For tools that provide multiple commands, or a command by the same name but with
significantly different functionality (e.g. a plugin that can be both enabled
and invoked as a command for different results), use the
directive for each command. This takes only a
:summary: argument, with the
same meaning as above.
For example, documentation for the
build-now script might look like:
:summary: Instantly completes unsuspended building construction jobs.
:tags: fort armok buildings
By default, all buildings on the map are completed, but the area of effect is configurable.
And documentation for the
autodump plugin might look like:
:summary: Automatically set items in a stockpile to be dumped.
:tags: fort armok fps productivity items stockpiles
.. dfhack-command:: autodump
:summary: Teleports items marked for dumping to the cursor position.
.. dfhack-command:: autodump-destroy-here
:summary: Destroy items marked for dumping under the cursor.
.. dfhack-command:: autodump-destroy-item
:summary: Destroys the selected item.
When `enabled <enable>`, this plugin adds an option to the :kbd:`q` menu for
When invoked as a command, it can instantly move all unforbidden items marked
for dumping to the tile under the cursor.
The first section after the header and introductory text should be the usage section. You can choose between two formats, based on whatever is cleaner or clearer for your syntax. The first option is to show usage formats together, with an explanation following the block:
build-now here [<options>]
build-now [<pos> [<pos>]] [<options>]
Where the optional ``<pos>`` pair can be used to specify the
coordinate bounds within which ``build-now`` will operate. If
they are not specified, ``build-now`` will scan the entire map.
If only one ``<pos>`` is specified, only the building at that
coordinate is built.
The ``<pos>`` parameters can either be an ``<x>,<y>,<z>`` triple
(e.g. ``35,12,150``) or the string ``here``, which means the
position of the active game cursor.
The second option is to arrange the usage options in a list, with the full command and arguments in monospaced font. Then indent the next line and describe the effect:
Scan the entire map and build all unsuspended constructions
``build-now here [<options>]``
Build the unsuspended construction or building under the
``build-now [<pos> [<pos>]] [<options>]``
Build all unsuspended constructions within the specified
The ``<pos>`` parameters are specified as...
Note that in both options, the entire commandline syntax is written, including the command itself.
Literal text is written as-is (e.g. the word
here in the above example), and text that
describes the kind of parameter that is being passed (e.g.
options) is enclosed in
angle brackets (
>). Optional elements are enclosed in square brackets (
If the command takes an arbitrary number of elements, use
..., for example:
prioritize [<options>] <job type> [<job type> ...]
quickfort <command>[,<command>...] <list_id>[,<list_id>...] [<options>]
If the only way to run the command is to type the command itself, then this section is not necessary.
Otherwise, please consider adding a section that shows some real, practical usage examples. For
many users, this will be the only section they will read. It is so important that it is a good
idea to include the
Examples section before you describe any extended options your command
might take. Write examples for what you expect the popular use cases will be. Also be sure to write
examples showing specific, practical values being used for any parameter that takes a value or has
Examples should go in their own subheading. The examples themselves should be organized as in
option 2 for Usage above. Here is an example
Completes all unsuspended construction jobs on the map.
``build-now 37,20,154 here``
Builds the unsuspended, unconstructed buildings in the box
bounded by the coordinate x=37,y=20,z=154 and the cursor.
The options header should follow the examples, with each option in the same format as the examples:
Show help text.
``-l``, ``--quality <level>``
Set the quality of the architecture for built architected
Suppress informational output (error messages are still
Note that for parameters that have both short and long forms, any values that those options
take only need to be specified once (e.g.
Scripts and plugins distributed separately from DFHack’s release packages don’t have the opportunity to add their documentation to the rendered HTML or text output. However, these scripts and plugins can use a different mechanism to at least make their help text available in-game.
Note that since help text for external scripts and plugins is not rendered by Sphinx, it should be written in plain text. Any reStructuredText markup will not be processed and, if present, will be shown verbatim to the player (which is probably not what you want).
For external scripts, the short description comes from a comment on the first line (the comment marker and extra whitespace is stripped):
-- A short description of my cool script.
The main help text for an external script needs to appear between two markers –
]====]. The documentation standards above still apply to external tools, but there is
no need to include backticks for links or monospaced fonts. Here is an example for an
entire script header:
-- Inventory management for adventurers.
Tags: adventure | items
Allows you to quickly move items between containers. This
includes yourself and any followers you have.
Opens the GUI with nothing preselected
Opens the GUI with all container items already selected and
ready to move into the adventurer's inventory.
Starts the GUI with container items pre-selected
Starts the GUI with your own items pre-selected
For external plugins, help text for provided commands can be passed as the
parameter when registering the commands with the
PluginCommand constructor. There
is currently no way for associating help text with the plugin itself, so any
information about what the plugin does when enabled should be combined into the command
In order to build the documentation, you must have Python with Sphinx version 3.4.3 or later and Python 3.
When installing Sphinx from OS package managers, be aware that there is
another program called “Sphinx”, completely unrelated to documentation management.
Be sure you are installing the right Sphinx; it may be called
for example. To avoid doubt,
pip can be used instead as detailed below.
Once you have installed Sphinx,
sphinx-build --version should report the
version of Sphinx that you have installed. If this works, CMake should also be
able to find Sphinx.
For more detailed platform-specific instructions, see the sections below:
Most Linux distributions will include Python by default. If not, start by installing Python 3. On Debian-based distros:
sudo apt install python3
Check your package manager to see if Sphinx 3.4.3 or later is
available. On Debian-based distros, this package is named
If this package is new enough, you can install it directly. If not, or if you
want to use a newer Sphinx version (which may result in faster builds), you
can install Sphinx through the
pip package manager instead. On Debian-based
distros, you can install pip with:
sudo apt install python3-pip
Once pip is available, you can then install Sphinx with:
pip3 install sphinx
If you run this as an unprivileged user, it may install a local copy of Sphinx
for your user only. The
sphinx-build executable will typically end up in
~/.local/bin/ in this case. Alternatively, you can install Sphinx
system-wide by running pip with
sudo. In any case, you will need the folder
sphinx-build to be in your
macOS has Python 2.7 installed by default, but it does not have the pip package manager.
You can install Homebrew’s Python 3, which includes pip, and then install the latest Sphinx using pip:
brew install python3
pip3 install sphinx
Python for Windows can be downloaded from python.org. The latest version of Python 3 includes pip already.
You can also install Python and pip through the Chocolatey package manager.
After installing Chocolatey as outlined in the Windows compilation instructions,
run the following command from an elevated (admin) command prompt (e.g.
choco install python pip -y
Once you have pip available, you can install Sphinx with the following command:
pip install sphinx
Note that this may require opening a new (admin) command prompt if you just installed pip from the same command prompt.
Once the required dependencies are installed, there are multiple ways to run Sphinx to build the docs:
See our page on build options
You can also build the documentation without running CMake - this is faster if
you only want to rebuild the documentation regardless of any code changes. The
docs/build.py script will build the documentation in any specified formats
(HTML only by default) using the same command that CMake runs when building the
docs. Run the script with
--help to see additional options.
Build just the HTML docs
docs/build.py html text
Build both the HTML and text docs
Build HTML and force a clean build (all source files are re-read)
The resulting documentation will be stored in
Alternatively, you can run Sphinx manually with:
sphinx-build . docs/html
or, to build plain-text output:
sphinx-build -b text . docs/text
Sphinx has many options to enable clean builds, parallel builds, logging, and
more - run
sphinx-build --help for details. If you specify a different
output path, be warned that Sphinx may overwrite existing files in the output
folder. Also be aware that when running
sphinx-build directly, the
docs/html folder may be polluted with intermediate build files that normally
get written in the cmake
ReadTheDocs automatically builds a PDF version of the documentation (available
under the “Downloads” section when clicking on the release selector). If you
want to build a PDF version locally, you will need
pdflatex, which is part
of a TeX distribution. The following command will then build a PDF, located in
docs/pdf/latex/DFHack.pdf, with default options:
Alternatively, you can run Sphinx manually with:
sphinx-build -M latexpdf . docs/pdf
If you have Python installed, you can build just the changelogs without building
the rest of the documentation by running the
This script provides additional options, including one to build individual
changelogs for all DFHack versions - run
python docs/gen_changelog.py --help
Changelog entries are obtained from
changelog.txt files in multiple repos.
This allows changes to be listed in the same repo where they were made. These
changelogs are combined as part of the changelog build process:
docs/changelog.txtfor changes in the main
scripts/changelog.txtfor changes made to scripts in the
library/xml/changelog.txtfor changes made in the
Building the changelogs generates two files:
docs/changelogs/news-dev.rst. These correspond to Changelog and
Development changelog and contain changes organized by stable and development DFHack
releases, respectively. For example, an entry listed under “0.44.05-alpha1” in
changelog.txt will be listed under that version in the development changelog as
well, but under “0.44.05-r1” in the stable changelog (assuming that is the
closest stable release after 0.44.05-alpha1). An entry listed under a stable
release like “0.44.05-r1” in changelog.txt will be listed under that release in
both the stable changelog and the development changelog.
changelog.txt uses a syntax similar to RST, with a few special sequences:
===indicates the start of a comment
#indicates the start of a release name (do not include “DFHack”)
##indicates the start of a section name (this must be listed in
-indicates the start of a changelog entry. Note: an entry currently must be only one line.
:(colon followed by space) separates the name of a feature from a description of a change to that feature.
Changes made to the same feature are grouped if they end up in the same section.
:\(colon, backslash, space) avoids the above behavior
- @(the space is optional) indicates the start of an entry that should only be displayed in NEWS-dev.rst.
Use this sparingly, e.g. for immediate fixes to one development build in another development build that are not of interest to users of stable builds only.
[characters indicate the start of a block (possibly a comment) that spans multiple lines. Three
]characters indicate the end of such a block.
!immediately before a phrase set up to be replaced (see gen_changelog.py) stops that occurrence from being replaced.
Template for new versions:
## New Tools
## New Features
## Misc Improvements
Documentation is built automatically with GitHub Actions (a GitHub-provided continuous integration service) for all pull requests and commits in the “dfhack” and “scripts” repositories. These builds run with strict settings, i.e. warnings are treated as errors. If a build fails, you will see a red “x” next to the relevant commit or pull request. You can view detailed output from Sphinx in a few ways:
Click on the red “x” (or green checkmark), then click “Details” next to the “Build / docs” entry
For pull requests only: navigate to the “Checks” tab, then click on “Build” in the sidebar to expand it, then “docs” under it
Sphinx output will be visible under the step named “Build docs”. If a different step failed, or you aren’t sure how to interpret the output, leave a comment on the pull request (or commit).
You can also download the “docs” artifact from the summary page (typically accessible by clicking “Build”) if the build succeeded. This is a way to visually inspect what the documentation looks like when built without installing Sphinx locally, although we recommend installing Sphinx if you are planning to do any significant work on the documentation.