Developer Guide

Details for people participating in the book development process.

Getting Started: The Easiest Approach

If all of the details are a little overwhelming at first, there’s an easy way for you to make contributions without learning about distributed version control and Sphinx:

  1. Create an account at
  2. In your account, you get a wiki. In your wiki, create a page for your contribution. Just add your code and descriptions using plain text.
  3. Point us to your wiki via the newsgroup.
  4. We’ll take your contribution and do the necessary formatting.

If you want to take another step, you can learn how to format your wiki page using Sphinx by looking at the source for pages in the book. You can try it right now – on the left side of this page (in the HTML book) you’ll see a header that says This Page and underneath it Show Source. Click on Show Source and you’ll see the Sphinx source for this page. Just look at the page sources and imitate that.

When you’re ready, you can learn more about Sphinx and Mercurial and begin making contributions that way.

The following sections are for those who are ready to build the book on their own machines.

For Windows Users

You need to install Cygwin; go to:

You need to install at least the make utility, but I find that chere (command prompt here) is also very useful.

Also install openssh (under Net), so you can create your RSA key for Mercurial.

I’ve discovered that it’s best if you don’t install Python as part of Cygwin; instead use a single Python installation under windows. Cygwin will find the installation if it is on your Windows PATH.

Because of this, you shouldn’t select “mercurial” when you’re installing Cygwin because that will cause Python to be installed. Instead, install them as standalone Windows applications (see below).

Installing Sphinx

Because we are sometimes pushing the boundaries of Sphinx, you’ll need to get the very latest development version (a.k.a. the “tip”).

  1. Get mercurial:

    Avoid installing the tortoiseHG part - it has caused trouble w/ Python debuggers.

  2. To get the Sphinx trunk, start with:

    $ hg clone

    and to update, use:

    $ hg pull

    Once you update, run

    $ python install

    (You can repeat this step whenever you need to update).

    We may talk about minimum version numbers to process the book. Check your version with:

    $ hg identify -n

The full anouncement from Georg (Sphinx creator) is here:

Mercurial Cheat sheets & quick starts should be enough to answer your questions:

Getting the Development Branch of the Book

This book uses tools, and additional tools if necessary.

  1. Sign up for an account at
  2. You must create an rsa key. Under OSX and Linux, and if you installed openssh with Cygwin under windows, you run ssh-keygen to generate the key, and then add it to your BitBucket account.
  3. Go to, and you’ll see instructions for getting a branch for development.
  4. Work on your branch and make local commits and commits to your BitBucket account.

Building the Book

To ensure you have Cygwin installed correctly (if you’re using windows) and to see what the options are, type:


at a shell prompt. Then you can use make html to build the HTML version of the book, or make htmlhelp to make the windows help version, etc.

You can also use the build system I’ve created (as a book example; it is part of the distribution). This will call make and it simplifies many of the tasks involved. Type:

build help

to see the options.


The remainder of this document needs rewriting. Rewrite this section for BitBucket & Mercurial; make some project specific diagrams;

Building the PDF

In order to build the Acrobat PDF verion of the book, you must install some additional software:

Mac OSX: Install the distribution. Although this is a Mac installer, it installs all the necessary command-line binaries to create the PDF of the book, and modifies your PATH variable.

Windows: Install following these instructions:

Linux: Your Linux install may already have support, but if not, install following these instructions:

Once TeX is installed, move to this book’s src directory and run make latex. When that command runs successfully, it will give you instructions as to how to finish.

Setting up Mercurial

It’s easier if you put a configuration file called .hgrc in your home directory. Here’s one that sets up the user name and configures kdiff3 as the diff tool for Mercurial to use when showing you differences between files:

# This is a Mercurial configuration file.
username = Firstname Lastname <>

# Override stock tool location
kdiff3.executable = /usr/bin/kdiff3
# Specify command line
kdiff3.args = $base $local $other -o $output
# Give higher priority
kdiff3.priority = 1

In addition, you can change the editor that Mercurial uses via an environment variable. For example, on OSX and Linux (and Windows with cygwin) you add this to your .bash_profile to set emacs as the default editor:

export set EDITOR=/usr/bin/emacs

Working with BitBucket and Mercurial


Adapted from a posting by Yarko Tymciurak

This assumes that you have created a local branch on your private machine where you do work, and keep it merged with the trunk.

That is, you’ve done:


This section still work in progress:

  • hg branch lp:python3patterns
  • hg commit -m 'initial checkout'
  • (hack, hack, hack....)
  • hg merge (pull new updates)
  • hg commit -m 'checkin after merge...'
  • ... and so on...

When you have a new function idea, or think you’ve found a bug, ask Bruce on the group.

  • If you have a new feature, create a wiki page on BitBucket and describe what you’re going to do.
  • If you have found a bug, make a bug report on BitBucket (later assign it to yourself, and link your branch to it);
  • If you want to work on a project, look for an unassigned bug and try to work it out - then proceed as below...

When you are ready to share your work have others review, register a branch.


You can re-use one branch for multiple bug fixes.

  1. Sign up for an account on
  2. Go to the project and select “register branch” ( Suggest you create a hosted branch, then you can work locally, and pull/push as you make progress (see
  3. Once you have registered your branch, BitBucket will provide you with instructions on how to pull and push to your personal development copy.
  4. Link your bug report or blueprint to your branch.
  5. Merge from your “parent” (the trunk, or others you are working with) as needed.
  6. Push your working copy to BitBucket as your work is ready for others to review or test.
  7. Once you are done making your changes, have completed testing, and are ready for the project team to inspect & test, please select “propose for merging”
  8. Somebody on the core team will make a test merge (it may include merging with other patches). Once tests pass, and your branch is accepted, it will be merged into the trunk.

A Simple Overview Of Editing and Merging

  1. hg pull
  2. hg merge This brought up kdiff3 (note: this requires a separate installation of kdiff3)on any file’s w/ conflicts, and you get to just visually look - left-to-right at A:base, B:mine, and C:yours.... the NICE thing is when you want BOTH the other and yours, you can click BOTH B & C buttons — sweeet! you can also review the “automatic” merges, choose which - conflicts only, or any merge.
  3. ... make html;  make latex ...... look at outputs (simultaneously, comparatively)... make any changes.... repeat....
  4. hg ci without a message, it brought up an editor with a list of all changed files - so you can comment individually.

Emacs for Editing Restructured Text

If you want an editing system with support for restructured text, one choice is the free text editor emacs, which has an add-on mode for restructured text. Emacs has a long and venerable history, and is an extremely powerful editor. Emacs also has versions that are customized for operating systems to make it much more familiar.

Here’s a simple introduction to emacs and a useful introductory help guide. For Windows, there’s a special FAQ.

Mac OSX: Comes with built-in emacs which you can invoke from the command line. For a nicer version, install Aquamacs, which looks and feels like a native Mac application.

Windows: You can download the latest windows installer here (choose the highest numbered zip file with “bin” in the name). This blog gives useful tips to make emacs on Windows even friendlier (in particular, it puts emacs on the right-click menu and improves the startup settings).

Linux: It’s virtually guaranteed that you already have emacs preinstalled on your Linux distribution, which you can start from a command prompt. However, there may also be more “windowy” versions that you can install separately.


Someone who knows more about emacs for Linux please add more specific information about the windowed version(s).

Finally, here’s the documentation for installing and using the emacs restructured-text mode. The elisp code it refers to is in the file rst.el.

To customize your emacs, you need to open the .emacs file. The above Windows FAQ tells you how to put your .emacs file somewhere else, but the easiest thing to do is just open emacs and inside it type C-x C-f ~/.emacs, which will open your default .emacs file if you have one, or create a new one if you don’t.

You’ll need to install rst.el someplace emacs will find it. Here’s an example .emacs file which adds a local directory called ~/emacs/ to the search path, (so you can put .el files there) and also automatically starts rst mode for files with extensions of rst and .rest:

(require 'cl)
(defvar emacs-directory "~/emacs/"
        "The directory containing the emacs configuration files.")
(pushnew (expand-file-name emacs-directory) load-path)
(require 'rst)
(setq auto-mode-alist
       (append '(("\\.rst$" . rst-mode)
                 ("\\.rest$" . rst-mode)) auto-mode-alist))