See also: Doxygen, Sphinx, and Epydoc

What is rosdoc_lite?

rosdoc_lite is a simple program that runs an external documentation tool, like Doxygen, Epydoc, or Sphinx, on a single ROS package. It was built as a light-weight replacement to the rosdoc tool and uses the same rosdoc.yaml file format to assist in porting. We recommend trying rosdoc_lite instead of attempting to setup those tools manually, as it provides shortcuts for configuring those tools and can also import additional ROS information. Configuring your package to be documented by rosdoc_lite also has the additional benefit of allowing your package to be indexed for inclusion on the ROS wiki.

rosdoc_lite makes a best effort at providing good default settings to these tools, and in some cases allows these settings to be customized further.

In general, tools like Doxygen search all of the source code in a code tree for structured comments, and then use these comments as well as the API of the code to generate HTML files documenting the package. Doxygen and Sphinx also provide additional tools for authoring documentation that is not tied to code API.

By default, rosdoc_lite will use Doxygen to generate the documentation for a package. If you wish to use another tool, like Epydoc or Sphinx, you must use a rosdoc configuration file. This is described below. For C/C++, only Doxygen is advised.

The documentation that is generated will depend on which tool is used, as each tool behaves differently. For example, Doxygen will extract API details from all source files found in the package (see Doxygen for more).

rosdoc_lite is used as part of an automated process for updating documentation on It is frequently run on repositories that have rosinstall files listed in the rosdistro repository, with the resulting documentation linked to in the "Code API" link of many packages' on

rosdoc_lite contains some additional functionality for generating machine-readable documentation files, as well as msg/srv documentation, that are used by the wiki system and elsewhere. This functionality is mainly only of use to those maintaining documentation Web sites.



apt-get install ros-$ROS_DISTRO-rosdoc-lite

Generate document locally

You can use rosdoc_lite to generate local copies of documentation. When you run the rosdoc_lite command, it will generate documentation into the 'doc' folder of the local directory.

Usage: rosdoc_lite [options] [package_path]

  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -q, --quiet           Suppress doxygen errors.
  -o OUTPUT_DIRECTORY   The directory to write documentation to.
  -t TAGFILE, --tagfile=TAGFILE
                        Path to tag configuration file for Doxygen cross
                        referencing support. Ex: /home/user/tagfiles_list.yaml
                        If specified, will generate a doxygen tagfile in this
                        location. Ex: /home/user/tags/package.tag

Generate documentation for a package:

rosdoc_lite <path_of_package>
  • This will generate the documentation in doc. It's easiest if you point your Web browser to open doc/html/index.html. Note that you need doxygen installed on your machine (e.g., sudo apt-get install doxygen). You may also need to install sphinx or epydoc for certain Python packages.

Create rosdoc configuration files (to use Epydoc, Sphinx)

rosdoc supports a YAML-based configuration file that lets you:

  • use Epydoc or Sphinx instead of Doxygen
  • configure multiple documentation builds per package
  • do advanced configuration of documentation builds

For more details, please see one of these pages:

Enabling via package.xml

In order to enable the rosdoc configuration file, simply have a rosdoc.yaml file in the root of your package. If you wish to name it something else, you must place the following tag in the <export>...</export> section of the package.xml, but this behavior is old:

  <rosdoc config="rosdoc.yaml" />

Basic Syntax

The YAML configuration file should contain a list of dictionaries, where each dictionary has the following standard keys:

  • builder: name of documentation builder (doxygen, epydoc, or sphinx)

  • output_dir: (optional) name of sub-directory to write documentation to. If you have multiple builders, you must specify this property to avoid builders writing to the same directory.

  • name: (optional) name of documentation set (e.g. "Python API")

  • required: (optional) if set to True, the build will fail if any documentation builder fails. The default behavior is to ignore builder errors. New in 0.2.11

Each builder may specify additional configuration keys.

Here is an example from the roslib package, which performs both C++ and Python API documentation:

 - builder: epydoc
   output_dir: python
 - builder: doxygen
   name: C++ API
   output_dir: c++
   file_patterns: '*.c *.cpp *.h *.cc *.hh *.dox'

Builder: Doxygen

The "doxygen" builder will enable running Doxygen on a package. As Doxygen is the default builder for any package, it is only necessary to configure this option if:

  • you wish to run multiple builders in a package
  • you wish to enable additional Doxygen configuration options, which are described below

The "doxygen" builder may specify the following additional keys:

  • file_patterns: (optional) override the Doxygen FILE_PATTERNS property

  • excludes: (optional) override the Doxygen EXCLUDE property

  • homepage: (optional) link to project home page

  • exclude_patterns: ROS C-Turtle (optional) override Doxygen EXCLUDE_PATTERNS property.

  • javadoc_autobrief: (optional) override Doxygen JAVADOC_AUTOBRIEF property. Default NO.

  • multiline_cpp_is_brief: (optional) override Doxygen property MULTILINE_CPP_IS_BRIEF. Default NO.

  • tab_size: (optional) override Doxygen property TAB_SIZE. Default 8.

  • aliases: (optional) override Doxygen property ALIASES. Default ""

  • example_patterns: (optional) override Doxygen property EXAMPLE_PATTERNS. Default ""

  • image_path: (optional) override Doxygen property IMAGE_PATH.

  • exclude_symbols: (optional) override Doxygen property EXCLUDE_SYMBOLS. Default ""

  • predefined: (optional) override Doxygen property PREDEFINED. Default ""

  • use_mdfile_as_mainpage: (optional) override Doxygen property USE_MDFILE_AS_MAINPAGE. Default ""

  • generate_treeview: (optional) override Doxygen property GENERATE_TREEVIEW to specify whether a treeview side panel should be generated. Default "NO" New in 0.2.11

  • input_filter: (optional) override Doxygen property INPUT_FILTER to specify a script to transform the source files with before being passed to Doxygen. Default "" New in 0.2.11

  • include_path: (optional) override Doxygen property INCLUDE_PATH. Default "" New in 0.2.11

Simple example:

  • From ardrone_autonomy

    - builder: doxygen
      name: C++ API
      output_dir: c++
      file_patterns: '*.c *.cpp *.h *.cc *.hh *.dox'
      exclude_patterns: '*/ARDroneLib/*'
  • Or using the as mainpage:
    - builder: doxygen
      file_patterns: '*.c *.cpp *.h *.cc *.hh *.dox *.md'

Builder: Epydoc

The "epydoc" builder will enable running Epydoc on a package.

Note: Epydoc's "introspection" capability currently breaks when trying to process some ros python modules, so this feature should not be enabled in a custom epydoc config file.

The "epydoc" builder may specify the following additional keys:

  • exclude: (optional) override the Epydoc --exclude option

  • config: (optional) override the Epydoc --config option, which passes in a separate Epydoc configuration file.

Simple example:

Builder: Sphinx

The "sphinx" builder will enable running Sphinx on a package.

The "sphinx" builder may specify the following additional keys:

  • sphinx_root_dir: (optional) root directory of Sphinx documents, i.e. the location of index.rst and If not specified, it will look for an index.rst file in the root of the ROS package.

Simple example:

  • From rocon_uri/rosdoc.yaml

    - builder: sphinx           # specify document generator. e.g) doxygen, epidoc, sphinx
      sphinx_root_dir: doc      # document directory

Builder: external

The "external" builder specifies that you wish to link to externally generated documentation. rosdoc_lite will generate a landing page with the link to the specified URL.

The "external" builder takes in the following additional keys:

  • external_url: URL of external documentation

  • external_label: (optional) link text

(Option) Using Doxygen Tag Files

rosdoc_lite provides support for cross-referencing with external Doxygen documentation using tag files. For more information on using tag files with Doxygen to link to external documentation, see this page.

Generating a Tag File

To generate a tag file during a documentation run, simply pass the -g option to rosdoc lite with a path to the desired location of the tagfile. For example:

rosdoc_lite -o doc -g doc/tags/my_package.tag /path/to/my/package

(Option) Using External Tag Files

rosdoc_lite can be passed a yaml file containing a list of tagfiles with the -t option. This yaml file should contain a list of dictionaries, where each dictionary has the following standard keys:

  • docs_url: The URL that corresponds to the entry point of the documentation associated with the tag file.

  • location: The location of the tag file to pass to Doxygen. This can be on the local file system (use file://) or a URL (use http://).

An example tags (example_tags.yaml) file is shown below:

 - docs_url:
   location: file:///path/to/package_name/doc/tags/package_name.tag
 - docs_url:

Running rosdoc_lite with this file to get cross references might look something like this:

rosdoc_lite -o doc -t /path/to/example_tags.yaml

Linking to External Third Party Documentation

For third party packages, rosdoc_lite can automatically create a doxygen main page for the package, that includes a link to the third party documentation. To do so, you must add a line to your manifest.xml

  <doxymaker external=""/>

Automatically Generated Online Documentation on

rosdoc_lite is automatically run for packages in repositories that have rosinstall files listed in the rosdistro repository. The resulting documentation is uploaded to and is linked in the "Code API" links that you see on various package pages, like rospy.

Even if rosdoc_lite is automatically generated for your package, we recommend regularly running rosdoc_lite on your own computer to verify what your documentation looks like before checking it in.

rosdoc_lite is used automatically generate documentation on the web server. Frequent updates are made to:

It is also used to generate the data for the PackageHeader, StackHeader and MsgSrvDoc wiki macros that you see on many of the wiki pages.


The rosdoc_lite tool itself is stable, though it has many internal features and functionality that are changed to support the documentation needs of In the future, the rosdoc_lite tool will hopefully be evolved to better support the configuration requirements of the documentation tools it invokes (i.e. Doxygen).

The code API of rosdoc_lite should not be used as it is an internal library that is frequently changed.

Wiki: rosdoc_lite (last edited 2023-09-11 11:06:01 by Martin Pecka)