RFC 74: Migrate gdal.org to RTD-style Sphinx infrastructure


Howard Butler








The document proposes migrating the GDAL documentation from a Doxygen to Sphinx in ReadTheDocs format.


Casual contribution to the GDAL documentation is challenging. Wiki-style contribution is possible through the Trac instance, but that requires getting an OSGeo login, which is a high bar, and the Trac information is disconnected from the primary documentation. Other projects such as PROJ and MapServer have seen significant uptick in contributed documentation by adopting Sphinx-based systems, and we hope the adoption of this approach for GDAL will ignite a renaissance of documentation contribution as it did for those projects.

The current approach has some significant deficiencies that have not been overcome by waiting for new versions of Doxygen to arrive. These include:

  • The Doxygen build buries the source of the documentation deep into the source tree, which makes it hard to find where to properly add information.

  • The structure of the website is indirect from the source code that creates it.

  • New features such as convenient mobile-friendly styling, alternative serializations such as PDF, and tighter API and user-level documentation integration are not within easy reach.

  • Editing of raw HTML means that convenient output of other serialization types, such as PDF, Windows Compiled Help, or manpage output is challenging.


The GDAL team will refactor the GDAL.org website to be based on Sphinx with the following properties:

  • Convert the bulk of the existing documentation to reStructuredText

  • Adapt the ReadTheDocs theme

  • Apply an "Edit this Page on GitHub" link to every page on the site for convenient contribution

  • Utilize GitHub Pages to host gdal.org, with updates being regenerated and committed to a repository by Azure Pipelines continuous integration.

  • Output a PDF serialization of the website for documentation version posterity.


  • Numerous hard links to driver pages exist in source code. Care must be taken to attempt to preserve these links as well as possible with redirects to adapt to any new organization.

  • Porting of existing Trac content to the new data structure will allow decommission of that piece of infrastructure. Significant content porting investment may be required to achieve this.

  • Doxygen API-style documents are still valuable, and we propose to keep a rendering of them at /doxygen for users who wish to continue with that approach. Internal API documentation will continue to use Doxygen, and it will be reflected into the Sphinx website using the Breathe capability.

  • Initial content organization will attempt to mimic the existing website as well as can be achieved, but no requirement to maintain adherence to the previous structure is required if other organization approaches are more convenient given the features and capabilities of Sphinx.

  • Existing translations will not be ported. Adaptation and continuation of porting of translations is beyond the scope of this RFC, but there are capabilities for managing translations in Sphinx (MapServer.org provides an excellent example), and follow-on contributors can keep moving forward with the architecture once the initial effort is complete.

  • Content may be missed during the transition. Please file tickets in GitHub for any items that became more difficult to find or are gone after the transition.


A current example of the site lives at https://gdal.dev This example is set to noindex. Once the RFC is passed, adaptation of the infrastructure that builds it will be migrated to https://gdal.org and the example website will be completely decommissioned. Currently, https://github.com/hobu/gdal doc-sprint branch is the fork that drives this content. It will be squash-merged to the main repository at the passing of the RFC.


Voting history

+1 from KurtS, HowardB, DanielM, NormanB, JukkaR and EvenR.