Documentation Update Instructions

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These instructions describe the process to change both the GnuCash "Guide" and the GnuCash "Help" manuals as well as any other parts of GnuCash documentation. If you are interested in translating the documentation, you should read Translation#How_to_translate_the_GnuCash_guide_and.2For_help_files, too.

Preface and Introduction -- What to expect

The recommendation of experienced programmers who work with code and related documentation is to obtain a copy of the full set of the most recent documentation. Nightly builds can be seen at Besides having the modules you think you will need to change, you will easily be able to update other files, if you discover additional places requiring a modification.

In addition, other persons could be making changes to parts of the documentation at the same time you are. You will need to make sure any changes (others have made following your acquiring a set of the documentation) are included in what you will install.

After obtaining your full set of the documentation, you will be inserting your modifications into the proper places in the set of documents. Modules in the set are formatted using XML. Later in processing, the XML modules are converted to HTML versions for online easy viewing. As a documentation support person, your task is to shepherd your enhancements through all stages from start to finish.

At each stage changes must be validated to assure that intended changes occur, and other unexpected changes found are understood and either accepted or rejected after proper analysis.

Since your changes will be carried out by software, there is a difference determination process that identifies exactly what and where changes will be made. This process permits you to be sure that only what you intend will actually be installed.

For the sake of quality control there is a review process that you must use in order to make your change "official". The above brief description when executed results in a file of changes. These changes must be explained as to their purpose. Accompanying the explanation in words is everything that makes up the substance of the change. The term for this is "patch". Whether you introduce a major restructuring or a small tweak, every thing is a "patch".

Creation of the explanation and the content of the change you are making are combined in a bugzilla event, otherwise called a "bug". In this usage bug means a statement of what is changing and why along with the content that will be the change when approved and applied to all the places needed. It does not necessarily mean a problem is being corrected, enhancements are handled as bugs too.

After creating your patch and presenting it in a bugzilla bug, usually a developer watching the bugzilla patchreport will review it. If you see no reaction in the next days, you can inform them also on their list and ask for the review and approval. Your email should list a brief statement of what your bug is about. You also provide the Bugzilla bug ID number so it can be found and reviewed easily.

If everything is accepted without requiring further work, your patch will be applied to the main set of documentation by a developer and you will be notified of that action.

As your first act in getting started, become very familiar with the references given in the REFERENCES section below.

The Make Utility

Like the programs, the make utility is used to build the documentation. For the documentation, the make command must be used with a target argument which determines which type(s) of the documentation are built. E.g. make html builds the html files which allow the documentation to be viewed in a web browser. (If no target is specified, make does nothing because the xml files are both the source and the target which yelp needs to display the documentation.) What make actually does is specified in the contents of make files. These are files called Makefile (or and exist in multiple directories of the documentation repository. What they do depends on which directory is current when the make command is executed. In general, the lower down the build directory tree, the more specific the scope. By changing the current directory, make can build:

  • Both the Help & Guide
  • Either the Help or Guide
  • Just the Help or Guide for a specific language

As building the documentation can take a while, it is best to only build what is needed for your changes.

Typical targets of the make target command used for the documentation are:

 make check                # use xmllint to validate xml files
 make html                 # use xsltproc to build the html (web browser) documentation
 make pdf                  # use xsltproc to build the pdf documentation
 make mobi                 # use xsltproc to build the mobi documentation
 make epub                 # use xsltproc to build the mobi documentation

There are additional installation dependencies required for building the pdf and mobi formats. See [1].

To install the built documentation where it can be used for testing the interaction with GnuCash programs:

 make install              # See #Step 11 Test Documentation in Linux.

The Documentation Change Process -- What and How it happens

To write GnuCash documentation the following steps must be completed in the order given. When executing any command listed, do not use quotations of any sort around the commands.

N.B.: The instructions below are for a non-committer preparing a patch. If you have commit privileges in the gnucash-docs repository, the git commands you use will be somewhat different. Please see Git. If you're not familiar with using git, you'll find more details on basic commands and links to documentation there as well. You may prefer one of the many Git GUIs to the command-line instructions here, especially if you use Microsoft Windows.

Step 1 Create a Bugzilla Bug for the Documentation Change

  1. Create a bugzilla bug if one does not already exist
    • At this URL, register yourself to create an account.
    • After your account has been created, Login to the section of bugzilla reserved for GnuCash.
    • Enter your userid and password and press 'login'.
    • After logging in you are at this page and you can start the bug creation process by answering the questions on the page.
      • Bug Version, use
        • git-maint if your patch should be included in the next release of the current stable series.
        • git-master if your patch should be included in next release of the current unstable series, and eventually in the subsequent stable series.
      • In the comment box, explain the nature of the bug fix.
    • When you press commit, bugzilla creates the bug and a unique id for it.
  2. Note the bug number. You will be listed as wanting to be notified any time there is an update to the bug. Monitor it until it is confirmed and installed to the master branch.

Step 2 Git Clone

If you are new to using git, you may find it useful to read Git_For_Newbies for more information about specific git commands, how they are used in the process of modifying GnuCash, and how to submit changes for review using pull requests (preferred) instead of patches. If you already familiar with git, The Git page may be more suitable.

For simplicity, this page assumes the local repository will be in folder /home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs, but it can be wherever the user prefers.

 cd /home/$USER/code

Use this command exactly as written to download a full set of documentation files from github to your own computer.

 git clone gnucash-docs

The terminal command will cause the documentation to be copied to your computer under the name you specify in the command.
Executing the command assumes that git has previously been installed successfully on your computer.
If the system finds that git is not installed, it ignores your request. Linux will then reply with the correct command to download and install the package, while Windows will say something like:

'git' is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file.

If you need to install git with a Linux package manager, make note of the module(s) that it tells you should be deleted. Also, note the command it provides to delete such module(s). Next install git with the install command given. Note any instructions given during the install process and carry them out. Finally, use the instruction first noted that tells you what module(s) to remove and carry out the remove instruction.

In the git command "gnucash-docs" is the directory name where the checkout process places the full set of documentation modules. You can use that name or some other. Remember that the bash shell is case sensitive when typing commands and providing names.
Avoid merge conflicts and merge commits by always using

 git pull --rebase

to update your local repository.

Step 3 Generate Initial Makefiles

This step checks that various make utilities (autoconf, libtoolize & automake) are installed and generates or regenerates the initial Makefiles.

 cd /home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs

Step 4 Make a Build Directory Structure

Create a build directory structure to keep the built documentation files separate from the repository directories. This page assumes the build directory is called build and is a subdirectory of the repository.

 cd /home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs
 mkdir build    # only do this if not previously created
 cd build

The ../configure command above will recreate the gnucash-docs directory structure under the current directory (build) but without the source files.

Step 5 Find Update Location

Find the place in the documentation that you want to change (in the repository, not the build directories); identify the file(s) that need to be changed to accomplish your documentation objective. Your changes should roughly follow the GNOME Documentation Style Guide of the GNOME Documentation Project.

This means you have to read the documentation to find exactly where the error is or the best place to insert the additional information that improves the understanding of how the feature works or what its purpose is in the software.

Experienced developers instruct that you should focus first on the modules in either of these two directories (found in the step 1 downloaded files): gnucash-docs/help/C or gnucash-docs/guide/C.

Trying to open each file in each of those directories will show whether there are any errors in the modules you downloaded. If you find errors, ask a more experienced person whether these should first be corrected before proceeding with your updates. You can do that by email to If you choose this method, be sure to be a subscriber to that list in order to receive a prompt answer. If you are not a subscriber, then your email will wait for the list manager to find the time to address emails received from non-subscribers.

It will be useful to have either a printed copy or a PDF copy [3] of the documentation available for reference. The PDF is often useful, because it allows using FIND (ctrl-F) to search for key words. This can be important to assure yourself that you have covered the existing places in the documentation where the issue you are interested in has already had a mention or treatment.

Step 6 Draft your Update in a Text File

If your changes are few and easily formulated, you should be able to skip this step and proceed to #Step 7 - place the draft changes in XML files.

For substantive changes to the documentation it is frequently helpful to develop your ideas in a separate temporary text file. Use a text editor such as jEdit, which is available for both Linux and Windows operating systems. jEdit has an XML plugin so can also be used for editing XML files.

Step 7 Place the Draft Changes in XML Files

Insert your changes into the XML file(s) affected.

Note: Edit the source files in the repository directories, not in the build directories. The various make commands (run from the build directories), will copy the files from the repository to the build directories.

Make your changes fit the XML tags in the manner of the existing documentation. Adjust your XML tag structure so that the finished structure appears properly and as you intended in the HTML version of the documentation. Doing this might be easier by using a specific XML Editor. Serna-Free is a more-or-less free DocBook editor which is much easier to use than a plain XML editor, but it introduces a lot of extraneous changes which must be removed before preparing a commit or patch You may have to return to this step should step 8 reveal a less than desirable arrangement of the data. It will help translators to update their work, if you add a comment pair around your change, e.g.:

<!-- New in 2.6.6 (2015): --> your new or changed text <!-- End of New in 2.6.6 (2015) -->

Because the source documents are saved in XML - or to be more precise DocBook - code, all changes need to be added to the source modules in that manner. Small changes can be made directly into the XML file itself. Larger and extensive changes may first be prepared in a text editor and later inserted into the module(s) in their proper places. Resources for XML are listed in the References section for this step.

Review the inserted and corrected text to verify that it is presented within the proper XML tags, using existing tags as a guide.

If text exceeds the vertical text border guides, you should not be alarmed that text outside the vertical border guides would be lost. These border guides show up when the XML module is opened, but are length of line indicators and not warnings that text should be moved within the guides.

Apply the modules structural concepts to your own text after you have cut and pasted it into the XML file. This is done by using the various XML tags in the existing text: chapter, segment, sect1, sect2, orderedlist, list item, para (to name just a few) and the corresponding closing tags. You should also use the Definitions <!ENTITY ...> from the main file where ever possible.

If you are adding or deleting an xml file, for example adding a new chapter or appendix, you also need to update files [guide|help]/[language]/gnucash-{guide|help}.xml and [guide|help]/[language]/ There is no need to update as this is generated by running

if your update adds new modules to the full set of documentation, you should review all modules in the directory in which you are working (gnucash-docs/help/C or gnucash-docs/guide/C) to determine what changes,if any, need to be made to modules outside your original assessment in step 2.

You can find an introduction to DocBook in Creating DocBook Documents.

Step 8 Validate XML Changes

xmllint (invoked by make check in the appropriate directory) is used to test that your xml file has no syntax errors or incorrect references to internal sections. The program xmllint is part of the package libxml.

xmllint starts with the main file gnucash-{guide|help}.xml. The main file references the other xml files in the directory so all are checked.

In a Terminal, change directory to the place where the changed modules are located:

For example, if you had downloaded the documentation files to a directory called /home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs and created a build directory called /home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs/build:

To validate all the guide xml files for only the C (English) language:

 cd /home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs/build/guide/C

To validate all the guide xml files for all languages:

 cd /home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs/build/guide

To validate all the guide and help xml files:

 cd /home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs/build


 make check

If there are any errors, fix them and repeat this step until no errors are found.

Then move on to the next step. If you become unable to identify an XML error, then send an email to the developers' list If asking for help, provide as much information as possible, including the results of the xmllint command.

If your module(s) are free of XML errors, then the command returns no errors or warnings (if running in a terminal) or an empty file (if redirecting output to a file).

Step 9 Ensure Only the Changes you Expect Have Been Made

This following command will show any changes to unstaged files

 git diff

Git status will list all files with differences to the last commit, in categories staged, unstaged, and unknown to git but not matching an ignore pattern.

 git status

Step 10 Proofread in HTML

After the XML has been tested for integrity using xmllint (make check) and the difference file has been determined to contain correct changes and only those, then the Guide or Help must be recreated in HTML and the results examined in your browser to verify that the online version presents an appearance and reads as expected.

Build the Guide or Help file in HTML. Use this command exactly as written in a terminal:

 make html

The above make command will run xsltproc and use an XSL stylesheet (.../xsl/general-customization.xsl) to turn the raw input XML into the output HTML that comprises the online version of the Guide or Help.

The built html files with be placed in an automatically created directory, which if using the example directories will be:


Review the results in your browser; if you need to make changes, do so, then check, rebuild and review again.

It's amazing how errors which are obscure in XML--everything is obscure in XML--become blindingly obvious when rendered in the browser. Look for spelling errors, formatting oddness, incomplete tags, and missing or incorrect entities.

To view the results in a web browser, in a file manager (or for Windows: Windows Explorer/File Explorer) double click on either:




Once your inspection shows that the online Guide/Help is now acceptable in all respects, you should make certain that the build directory and its contents are not included in any respect in your patch.

If you are using build as the name of your build subdirectory in your repository directory, as in this example, it is not necessary to remove the build directory as the <repository>/.gitignore file includes build*, so git will ignore it.

To remove the build directory structure, before building the patch, use this terminal command:

 rm -rf "/home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs/build"

Step 11 Test Documentation in Linux

For our purposes, “Linux” means any system that’s not Windows or Mac OS X. GnuCash uses Yelp, the GNOME documentation browser, to display its help--both the User Manual and the Concepts Guide. This documentation gets installed in the standard GNOME help directory hierarchy. If you want to test the changes you just made to the documentation without interfering with the already-installed versions, you need to (1) install a development version of GnuCash locally, (2) install the changed documentation locally, and (3) tell (1) where to find (2).

Note that you can't test changes to the docs in this way with the 2.4 series of releases. GnuCash only started using the system described below after the 2.4 series. So if you want to test interaction between GnuCash and the help system, you really do need to do it with a development version of GnuCash.

If you don’t want to test interaction with GnuCash, see below for a way to do that.

11.1 Install Development GnuCash Locally

Build and install GnuCash locally as per Building. Let’s say you’ve installed in /home/$USER/code/gnucash-install.

11.2 Install Updated Documentation Locally

 $ cd /home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs
 $ ./ # First time only, when building from repository copy
 $ ./configure --prefix=/home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs-install # Add any other needed options...
 $ make install

11.3 Tell Development GnuCash Where to Find Docs

 $ GCASH=/home/$USER/code/gnucash-install          # For convenience
 $ GCASHDOCS=/home/$USER/code/gnucash-docs-install # For convenience

That last line, with XDG_DATA_DIRS, is the crux of it. That environment variable tells GnuCash, among other things, where to look for the documentation. In fact, it tells any tool which uses Yelp (and Yelp itself) where to look for documentation. For example, try the following:

 $ XDG_DATA_DIRS="$GCASHDOCS/share:$XDG_DATA_DIRS" yelp ghelp:gnucash-help &

That should open up your development-version GnuCash docs without first starting GnuCash itself. Handy if you don’t need to test GnuCash along with the docs--i.e., if you’re just updating sections that are already in the docs.

11.4 Conclusion

Now you can update both your local GnuCash and GnuCash docs freely and test their interaction.

Step 12 Add any Extra Files

Git automatically tracks changes to files it knows are part of the repository. If you have added any files (xml or others e.g. illustrations) that should be included in your commit, add (stage) them by:

 git add path/to/file

Note: Do NOT add file(s) from your build directory structure.

Here is another way to check your changes. Unless you're a programmer, you're probably not well practiced at examining diffs. If you have touched several files, the first thing to check is

 git status -uno

The -uno tells it to show only the repository files affected by your changes; all of the build products are ignored. Of course, if you've made a new file, that's ignored too, so make sure that all of the files you worked on and only those files are in the list. You can add new files with

 git add path/to/new-file

and revert files that you didn't mean to change with

 git checkout path/to/ignored-file

Step 13 Commit your Changes

Once you're satisfied with your changes, it's time to commit them. You can commit everything that's been changed with

git commit -a

or you can commit a few files at a time with

git add path/to/file
git commit

If you need to make further changes, you can update your commit instead of creating a new one with

 git commit -a --amend

There are even finer-grained ways to pick out bits and pieces to group into a commit, but they're beyond the scope of this tutorial.

When you make a commit git will open a screen editor; which one depends on how you set your environment. The default on most Unixes is vi, but you can select a different one with the $EDITOR environment variable. Use the editor to make a good commit message. It should have a one-line (< 80 character) summary followed by a blank line, and a brief description of the change and its motivation. Don't get carried away here: If you need more than a couple of lines it should have been a smaller change.

The release announcement comes from commit messages, so include any information that should be passed on. You could even say This needs to be mentioned in the release announcement followed by the text you want in the announcement.

To add extra information to a previously pushed commit message, make some trivial change to a comment and write a commit message using the same subject line as the previous commit.

If required, you can check committed changes to a particular file with

 git log -p path/to/file

Step 14 Ensure your Local Copy of the Repository is the Same as on Github

A patch should always be made against the most recent revision of the gnucash-docs project in github, so the next step is to get the latest version and re-apply your changes to it:

 git pull --rebase

Most of the time this will work with no changes needed, but if someone else has committed a change in the same files that you did you'll get conflicts.

Conflict Resolution

git status will tell you which files have conflicts, and when you open one of them it will be marked with lines like

>>>>>>Your change summary

You'll have to edit each file with conflicts to remove those lines and get the section in between to read the way you want. After you've fixed up a file, use git add path/to/filename to register the changes and when you've fixed them all and added them to the index, use git commit to re-commit them. This time in the editor you'll see a line


followed by a list of the files with conflicts. Be sure to remove those lines from the file, since you've resolved the conflicts.

There are other tools that can simplify cleaning up conflicted files, but they're beyond the scope of this tutorial.

After resolving your conflicts and recommitting, it's wise to re-do steps 8 - 10 to make sure that everything wound up the way you want it.

Step 15 Prepare your Patch

Once everything is tested and committed, and you're confident that your changes are correct, you're ready to make a patch. A patch file needs to be created for each commit. Each patch file will be named '0001-<your-summary>', substituting the first line from your commit message for <your-summary>, with spaces replaced by hyphens. For example, if one of your commits had a summary "Better explanation of trading accounts", the corresponding patch file name would be 0001-Better-explanation-of-trading-accounts.patch.

Check how many commits you have made with

 git status

You can make patches, 1 for each commit, for all commits which are in the current branch but not in the origin branch, with

 git format-patch origin

Or if you have done only 1 commit, create a patch from your latest commit with

 git format-patch HEAD^

Or if you have done more than 1 commit, create a patch file for each commit with

 git format-patch -n

where n is the number of commits for which patches should be created.

Step 16 Publish your Authorship

The first page, which can also be shown as About of the document is in the file gnucash-{guide|help}-C.omf. OMF means Open Media Framework. Add a maintainer section with your data and check the other items like the date, which also needs an update.

Add your name and email address to the file AUTHORS. Create a separate patch for this change and ask to apply this patch also on gnucash/DOCUMENTERS - in both maint and master branches. The AUTHORS file can usually be shown in the packet manager while gnucash/DOCUMENTERS is shown in GnuCashs About->Credits->Documenters

Step 17 Attach Patch to Bug

Attach your patch file(s) to a [GnuCash bug report] and you're done! The relevant people will be automatically notified by email.

References to Supporting Technologies Used

Step 1


Step 2


Step 6


Step 7


[5] DocBook: The Definitive Guide

Some Distributions have it as a package named like docbook-tdg.




Images and screenshots

Screenshots for GnuCash documentation must be submitted in .png format or in .svg where applicable. It is better if you can use a theme similar to "clearlooks" for linux in order to keep consistency with existing images. The screenshots and images added to the GnuCash documentation must fit for two purposes: video printing (e.g. GNOME yelp) and paper printing (pdf creation). While the former has limits on image width in pixel (generally 510px) this limitation should be avoided for the latter.

  • Both requirements are met by using a doubled <imageobject> tag as shown next:
           <imageobject role="html">
             <imagedata fileref="figures/Help_Pref_AccntPeriod.png" format="PNG"
                        srccredit="Cristian Marchi" width="510px"></imagedata>
           <imageobject role="fo">
             <imagedata fileref="figures/Help_Pref_AccntPeriod.png" format="PNG"
                        srccredit="Cristian Marchi"></imagedata>
The "html" attribute refers to display visualization of the screenshots (the width is limited to 510px) while the "fo" attribute refers to pdf printing.
So when you take a screenshot for inclusion in the GnuCash documentation, it should not be resized to 510 pixel width. Instead you should leave it as is, add the "html" attribute and fix the width to 510px as shown above (note that the width tag is not necessary if the image has a width smaller than 510px).
  • You need to accomplish another step in order to prepare the captured screenshot for printing: change the dpi (dot per inch) of the image. The dpi is a printing resolution and is just a tag in the image (the higher the dpi is, the better the image will be printed on paper). The printing size, dpi and image pixel dimensions are in this relation:
size = pixels / dpi
So if you have a screenshot that is 800x560 pixels with a dpi of 80 you will have the screenshot in the pdf output displayed as 800/80 x 560/80 inches = 10 x 7 inches = 25 x 17,5 cm. (1 inch is about 2,5 cm)
The available space in the A4 format pdf output is at max 15 cm so you can resize the screenshot by changing it's dpi. Normally (if you take a screenshot when the GnuCash window is almost at it's minimum) this value is set to 144 (see the GnuCash help figures). When the dpi is 144 our example screenshot will be printed as 800/144 x 560/144 inches = 14 x 10 cm and will stay inside the available areas.
If the screenshot you are going to add to documentation is wider than 850 pixels, you should increase the dpi above 144 so that it's printed size remains less than 15 cm.
So how can the dpi of an image be changed?
Two ways:
  • Open the screenshot in The Gimp and select Image->Print Size. In the dialog that will open set the X and Y resolution to the desired dpi (check that the unit in the right is set to the desired value - normally pixels/in). Press "Ok" and save the image.
  • A faster approach uses Imagemagick a library for images manipulation. From a terminal window issue the following command:
 convert -units PixelsPerInch -density DPI IN OUT 
where DPI is the desired dpi value (e.g. 144), IN is the input image filename and OUT the output filename (that could be the same as IN).
To convert the dpi of a bunch of images do this from a linux terminal:
ls *.png > list
for i in `cat list`; do convert -units PixelsPerInch -density 144 "$i" "$i"; done
The first line creates the file "list" with a list of all png files in the current directory
The second and third lines applies a dpi of 130 to all images listed in the "list" file
Imagemagick let's you also see sizes and Pixels per inch from the command line:
 identify -format "%w x %h %x x %y" IMAGE_NAME.FORMAT
For your convenience a bash script has been added in the gnucash-docs repository that can automatically calculate and assign the right value of dpi to a list of png files. It is stored in the util subdirectory of the repository. To use it open a command line and run the script from the proper figures directory. For example:
 cd guide/pt/figures
To add your image to the List of Figures at the start of the Help or Tutorial and Concepts Guide, put your screenshot in a figure tag. For example:
 <figure pgwide="1">
   <title>This is the text that will appear in the List of Figures</title>


In this section are collected all the standards used to work on documentation.

Text conventions

  • There are variable definitions in the main file, which must be used e.g. for future changes to revision numbers, gnucash-guide.xml defines variable vers-stable
<!ENTITY vers-stable "2.6.6">
and appendixa.xml uses this variable like
The process works on &vers-stable; datafiles, and ought to
  • All accounts named must be tagged with <emphasis>: e.g. <emphasis>Expenses:Tax</emphasis>
  • Hyphens and dashes:
To represent a negative number or subtraction:
The typographically correct symbol to use is − (U+2212, &minus;). The ASCII hyphen-minus - (U+002d) is commonly used and is also fine. Whichever you use, be consistent, at least on the whole page.
Number negative 1 (−1): &minus;1
See for guidance on using English language punctuation, including &ndash; and &mdash;.
  • In the current state of this page there are many more. Have a look at the recently reworked chapters. If you have some free time, add them here.

Graphics conventions

all screenshots of the GnuCash windows must be captured under a GNOME Desktop environment with the following settings:

  • GNOME desktop environment
  • Clearlooks theme
  • text besides icon
  • font: Sans. 9 point for application and 11 point for window title