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Rendering a GitHub Website Locally with Sphinx

Sphinx is python based tool that enables generation of documentation. Originally intended for python projects, it has versatility to be adapted for any number of projects that generate plain text.

Learning Objectives

  • learn to install Sphinx

  • learn to build a Sphinx website

  • learn to edit content on a Sphinx website

  • learn to render Sphinx websites locally

40 mins

  • Have git installed on your computer

  • This tutorial uses python and conda. These can be configured on your computer by installing Anaconda or Miniconda. Please see our tutorial for help installing and using Miniconda on MacOS.

  • Basic command line skills

  • Access to MacOS or Windows

Please choose your operating system and follow along.

Based on the official Sphinx installation guide tutorial:

We will utilize the conda package management system to install Sphinx.

Create a new conda environment called sphinx that runs python 3.5 like so:

conda create --name sphinx python=3.5

Then activate the environment and install Sphinx with this code:

conda activate sphinx
conda install sphinx

Based on the official Sphinx installation guide tutorial:

Install python or use conda to install both python and Sphinx in Windows.

Open command prompt for Windows. To check if python 3 is installed on your computer, enter the command:

$ python --version
Python 3.7.4

To install Sphinx, we will use pip which is a python package installer.

Open command prompt for Windows and type the following code:

pip install -U sphinx

The argument U is to enable upgrade of the packages.

To check if Sphinx was installed, type on command prompt:

sphinx-build --version

Step 1: Build Sphinx site using template from GitHub

For this tutorial, we will use a template website hosted on GitHub, that was generated using Sphinx to modify and add content. First, we will create a local copy of the repo:

git clone

Navigate to the newly created directory with the name of the repo.

Add folders

Since GitHub does not allow for empty folders, some of Sphinx generated folders are missing from the repo. These can be directly added to the downloaded repo locally. The folders should be created within sphinx folder with exactly these names: "_static", "_templates", "docs".

This is the overall structure of the sphinx directory after the necessary folders have been created:

├── Makefile
├── _build
│   ├── doctrees
│   │   ├── environment.pickle
│   │   └── index.doctree
│   └── html
│       ├── _sources
│       ├── _static
│       ├── genindex.html
│       ├── index.html
│       ├── objects.inv
│       ├── search.html
│       └── searchindex.js
├── _static
├── _templates
├── docs
├── index.rst
└── make.bat

To view the existing html template, navigate to "html" folder nested under "_build" folder, a subfolder of sphinx in the directory. Click on "index.html" to view the website on your browser.

The configuration file "" is a python file that has details about the website rendering. The structure of the website is stored under "index.rst" , which is in reStructured Text format and serves as the welcome page for the website.

First we will modify existing text on the website. Open the "index.rst" file using any text editor. Remove the hyphen in the welcome header Welcome to Sphinx-demo's documentation and save.

To add additional text, type under the welcome header after a single line spacing. The line spacing is important part of syntax. The following sample text was added to "index.rst" and saved:

This website documents building a static site using Sphinx
as part of the Common Fund Data Ecosystem's (CFDE) training efforts.

To render these changes, run the following code in the "sphinx" directory, which has the "Makefile":

make html

The newly rendered website with the added changes can be viewed by clicking "index.html" located in the "sphinx/_build/html" folder.

Step 2: Adding files to Sphinx site

Next, we will add some files to build the website. Let us create an empty file within the "docs" folder:

touch installation.rst

Open the empty file using any editor. Add '=' along the length of the heading on a new line to designate heading. For example:

Installing Sphinx

You can enter any text after a line spacing. Here, we added this:


Sphinx can be installed using using `pip` or package management system like conda

Save and exit the file. The index.rst has to be updated to render this file that we created. To do so, add "docs/installation.rst" after a single line spacing under "Contents:".

Update the website by running the following code:

make html

We can add multiple files to the website in similar manner.

Embed video on Sphinx site

In addition to text files, images and videos can also be embedded. Next, we will embed a talk by Paul Everitt exploring the feature set of Sphinx, hosted on YouTube.

To embed YouTube video, click on "Share" and then "Embed" to obtain the iframe code. Accompanying text and the video are added above the toctree line in the "index.rst" file as shown:

This talk by Paul Everitt highlights the various functionalities that can be achieved using Sphinx

.. raw:: html

    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Save, exit and compile using:

make html

The rendered website will now have the embedded video on the landing page. Full set of Sphinx capabilities can be found at the official Sphinx documentation site.

Step 3: Build local Sphinx site

A previously created website template was used in this tutorial. However, you can also build a local version of the Sphinx site.

To do so, on the command line, type:


This will bring up a set of queries regarding the setting up of the source directory. You can choose the default values.

This will generate "" and "index.rst" along with necessary folders which will be empty.

To generate the html site, compile in the same directory that contains the "Makefile"

make html

The "index.html" will be accessible in the "html" folder nested under "docs" folder. This will generate the basic template using Sphinx. You can add contents, change configuration of the website and customize following the steps discussed in this tutorial.

Key Points

You now have a workflow to customize your static website. Enjoy your new website!

Last update: April 12, 2021