Sphinx is the tool I settled on to create this static website. Sphinx is primarily designed to create documentation for Python projects, but it is also appropriate as a static website generator.


On a Debian GNU/Linux system, install Sphinx (as root) with:

apt-get install python-sphinx # As root.

Starting a project

To create a new Sphinx project, create a directory, move to that directory and run sphinx-quickstart:

mkdir my_sphinx_project
cd my_sphinx_project

sphinx-quickstart is an interactive command. Here’s the quote of the sphinx-quickstart session run to start this “Personal Notes” project you are currently reading:

Welcome to the Sphinx 1.7.9 quickstart utility.

Please enter values for the following settings (just press Enter to
accept a default value, if one is given in brackets).

Selected root path: .

You have two options for placing the build directory for Sphinx output.
Either, you use a directory “_build” within the root path, or you separate
“source” and “build” directories within the root path.
> Separate source and build directories (y/n) [n]: y

Inside the root directory, two more directories will be created; “_templates”
for custom HTML templates and “_static” for custom stylesheets and other static
files. You can enter another prefix (such as “.”) to replace the underscore.
> Name prefix for templates and static dir [_]:

The project name will occur in several places in the built documentation.
> Project name: Personal Notes
> Author name(s): My Name
> Project release []:

If the documents are to be written in a language other than English,
you can select a language here by its language code. Sphinx will then
translate text that it generates into that language.

> Project language [en]:

The file name suffix for source files. Commonly, this is either “.txt”
or “.rst”. Only files with this suffix are considered documents.
> Source file suffix [.rst]:

One document is special in that it is considered the top node of the
“contents tree”, that is, it is the root of the hierarchical structure
of the documents. Normally, this is “index”, but if your “index”
document is a custom template, you can also set this to another filename.
> Name of your master document (without suffix) [index]:

Sphinx can also add configuration for epub output:
> Do you want to use the epub builder (y/n) [n]:
Indicate which of the following Sphinx extensions should be enabled:
> autodoc: automatically insert docstrings from modules (y/n) [n]:
> doctest: automatically test code snippets in doctest blocks (y/n) [n]:
> intersphinx: link between Sphinx documentation of different projects (y/n) [n]:
> todo: write “todo” entries that can be shown or hidden on build (y/n) [n]:
> coverage: checks for documentation coverage (y/n) [n]:
> imgmath: include math, rendered as PNG or SVG images (y/n) [n]:
> mathjax: include math, rendered in the browser by MathJax (y/n) [n]:
> ifconfig: conditional inclusion of content based on config values (y/n) [n]:
> viewcode: include links to the source code of documented Python objects (y/n) [n]:
> githubpages: create .nojekyll file to publish the document on GitHub pages (y/n) [n]: y

A Makefile and a Windows command file can be generated for you so that you
only have to run e.g. ‘make html’ instead of invoking sphinx-build
> Create Makefile? (y/n) [y]:
> Create Windows command file? (y/n) [y]: n

Creating file ./source/conf.py.
Creating file ./source/index.rst.
Creating file ./Makefile.

Finished: An initial directory structure has been created.

You should now populate your master file ./source/index.rst and create other documentation
source files. Use the Makefile to build the docs, like so:
make builder
where “builder” is one of the supported builders, e.g. html, latex or linkcheck.

Generating HTML output

Assuming sphinx-quickstart has created a Makefile, you can build the HTML output with:

make html

This will write the output in the build/html subdirectory.

If you want the build/html subdirectory to be cleaned up before writing the output, do:

make clean html

If you also want to find the broken links in your project, add linkcheck:

make clean html linkcheck

Having make produce HTML output by default

The make (without argument) command outputs a help message. Substituting the Makefile created by sphinx-quickstart with this one causes make (without argument) to produce the HTML output.

If you use Git and don’t want this Makefile change to be committed, see Maintaining a difference between working and committed trees.