Dakota Documentation Mechanics

Authoring Dakota documentation requires tools described in Setup Development Environment, notably Python Sphinx, Python/Perl (to extract input file examples), Java Development Kit (to parse dakota.xml and keyword reference files), and optionally Doxygen and LaTeX (for the C++ developer manual).

Install Sphinx and Packages

A representative way to install the tools:

pip install --user -U Sphinx
pip install --user -U myst-parser
pip install --user -U sphinx-rtd-theme
pip install --user -U sphinxcontrib-bibtex


You may alternately use pip3 if targeting Python 3 when both 2 and 3 are installed.

Interactive Documentation Build

Bare Sphinx Build

A bare sphinx-build command will build almost all of the documentation, except for keyword reference pages and sample Dakota input files.

cd <dakota checkout>/docs/user
sphinx-build -b html <source dir> <build dir>
# to speed up build using all available cores (may suppress some cross reference and other warnings/errors):
sphinx-build -b html -j auto <source dir> <build dir>

CMake-based Build on Mac/Linux

This build process is more similar to historical documentation build using the routine CMake-based build process.


  • Python and the Sphinx Python tools specified above, with the sphinx-build executable on your PATH.

  • Java JDK 11 or newer. For example on RHEL7 install java-11-openjdk-devel from EPEL and specify JAVA_HOME:PATH=/usr/lib/jvm/java-11 to CMake

  • Doxygen 1.8.20 or newer (for C++ docs/dev manual)

  • LaTeX (for PDF output), probably 2015 or newer will do

  • Perl for generating user manual input samples

Building / Editing

First, configure Dakota with CMake, enabling documentation as usual, e.g., specifying ENABLE_DAKOTA_DOCS:BOOL=TRUE or the typical developer convenience macros such as DevDistro. You may need to help CMake find Java JDK 11 per above. While in theory reference manual building should work without enabling tests, enabling them via DAKOTA_ENABLE_TESTS:BOOL=TRUE may be a safer choice.

Then build the docs-sphinx target (or optionally the docs-keywords, then docs-sphinx target, but the dependency is tracked) via IDE or command line, e.g.,

cd <dakota build>/docs
# Generate reference or example input file content
# (will be built automatically by the dependent targets)
make docs-keywords
make docs-user-samples

# To see the most current make targets:
make help

# Build the whole sphinx manual in serial
make docs-user
# Build the whole sphinx manual in parallel much faster but may omit some warnings/errors
make docs-user-fast
# Only rebuild updated content (may miss some dependencies, but is fast):
make docs-user-increm

# Remove output dir user-html; useful to force generation of warnings/errors
make docs-user-clean

# Generate C++ Doxygen developer manual (requires LaTeX)
cd <dakota build>/docs/dev
make docs-dev-html
make docs-dev-pdf


  • The build is set up to use all available cores to build the docs, so should only take a couple minutes.

  • The keyword files will get generated directly into the source tree at <dakota source>/docs/user/usingdakota/reference (for now) while the generated manual will appear in <dakota build>/docs/user-html/

  • When iteratively editing, if you edit a metadata file in the keywords/ directory it should make the docs-keywords (and therefore docs-user*) target out of date.

  • If you add a new keywords/ metadata file you likely need to touch <dakota source>/docs/CMakeLists.txt to force a rescan of files

  • Historical targets for building User’s, and Theory manuals remain in docs/inactive and are enabled with DAKOTA_DOCS_LEGACY. The Reference manual is not, since it’s (1) broken and (2) subsumed by the new Sphinx process.

CMake-based on Windows

You can build the user manual in its entirety on Windows using CMake, though currently Visual Studio is required.


  • CMake

  • Perl

  • Python + Sphinx

  • Java 11 JDK

  • Visual Studio (community edition will work)

Command prompt config example, since I didn’t have sphinx-build on my global PATH. If you do, or you set a variable like https://cmake.org/cmake/help/latest/variable/CMAKE_PROGRAM_PATH.html#variable:CMAKE_PROGRAM_PATH to find it, you can likely do this from the CMake GUI

set PATH=C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Python\Python310\Scripts;%PATH%
cmake -D DAKOTA_DOCS_DEV:BOOL=FALSE -D JAVA_HOME:PATH="C:\Program Files\Eclipse Adoptium\jdk-" -D Python_EXECUTABLE=C:\Python310\python.exe ..\source\docs

After which you can open DakotaDocs.sln in Visual Studio and build some or all of the projects.

Alternately, from command line in the build dir: cmake --build . --target docs-user-samples

Keyword Reference Pages


The following section only applies if you are building all the documentation without CMake. The existing CMake build process will handle keyword reference page generation automatically.

Fully-fleshed-out keyword reference pages are not checked in under with the rest of the documentation files in the docs/user folder. The keyword documentation contents are stored in the docs/keywords folder. In this folder, each file contains RST snippets, with custom Dakota markdown that demarcates the sections in each file. These files need to be built into full RST pages before being added to the larger Sphinx manual. To add these keyword reference pages to the Sphinx build, you must perform the following additional steps:

  1. Acquire a Java IDE (such as Eclipse or IntelliJ). The next step will be much easier for you if you get an IDE to manage your Java classpath for you.

  2. Run the RefManGenerator application in the java_utils project, using “<dakota checkout>/docs/keywords” as the first argument and an empty output folder as the second argument.

  3. After RefManGenerator finishes running, copy all the output from your output folder to “<dakota checkout>/docs/user/usingdakota/reference” folder

  4. Run the build commands in the “Bare Sphinx Build” section. Make sure that build detects all the keyword pages that you copied (i.e. it should take longer to build)

Legacy: Convert LaTeX to RST through Pandoc

pandoc -f latex -t rst Users_Preface.tex -o Users_Preface.rst

Authoring Sphinx Content

See guide: https://www.sphinx-doc.org/en/master/usage/restructuredtext/basics.html; some key things are highlighted here for convenience.

Converting Old User/Theory LaTeX

  • Code (input, output fragments):

  • Dakota Keywords (also see discussion below)

    • :dakkw:`variables-normal_uncertain` to link and set in literal (warning: the role doesn’t validate the link)

    • :literal:`normal_uncertain` to just set in literal

    • :ref:`Normal Uncertain <variables-normal_uncertain>` to link keyword with alternate text in normal font

  • Displayed environments (Listing, Figure, Table, Equation; see details below):

    • Use name or label, caption

    • Name after section/topic and figure content, e.g., fig:pstudy:vector instead of pstudy02, so it’s clear what’s referenced.

    • Refer to mainly with :numref:`fig-name`, though can also do :ref:`Link Text <fig-name>`

  • Quotes: Replace fancy quotes with raw single or double quotes in source .rst files

  • Referencing chapters, sections, etc.:

    • Using the section title as the link text :ref:`dace:sa`

    • With custom link text :ref:`DACE-based sensitivity analysis <dace:sa>`

  • TODOs/Comments: Use bare .. directive with indented comment starting on immediate next line.

Helpful Sphinx Roles: https://www.sphinx-doc.org/en/master/usage/restructuredtext/roles.html

  • :command:, :program: (OS command or program, produces literal + strong)

  • :file: (file or path), :samp: (code sample with substitution); both produce literal + emphasis

  • :math:

  • :ref:, :numref:

Helpful Sphinx Directives: https://www.sphinx-doc.org/en/master/usage/restructuredtext/basics.html#directives:

  • note::

  • warning::

Fixing Common Errors

  • “Block quote ends without a blank line; unexpected unindent.” or “Unexpected indentation.”

    • Sections in reStructuredText are indentation-based. This error means there is an unexpected indentation in the flow of the document. Usually this actually means that a line in the middle of a paragraph begins with a space, so RST is not sure whether to start a new subsection or not.

  • “Bullet list ends without a blank line; unexpected unindent.”

    • A bulleted list was started (typically using a hyphen), but the next line is not indented to indicate a continuation of the first bullet element, neither does the next line having another hyphen indicating the next bullet element.

  • “Explicit markup ends without a blank line; unexpected unindent.”

    • When a markup section is completed, it must be followed by a space before the next, new section begins.

  • “Inline interpreted text or phrase reference start-string without end-string.”

    • As it says, an inline expression (such as a hyperlink, a piece of code, or a math expression) was started but not completed. Check to see if there is a ` quote character that is used when ‘ or ” would be more appropriate, since ` has special meaning in RST.

  • “undefined label”

    • A global page reference was linked to, but that page reference was not previously defined. Usually this alludes to a spelling or punctuation mistake.

Converting LaTeX Environments

Converting and referecing code, figures, tables, equations…

Code Listings

To create a code block / listing that you can cross-reference, use the code-block directive, with a name and caption. For example:

.. code-block:: python
   :caption: this.py
   :name: this-py

   print 'Explicit is better than implicit.'

Alternately, for file-based code inclusion, use the literalinclude directive with similar options.

Refer to these using numref, which will auto-generate text like see Listing 4, e.g.:

See :numref:`this-py` for an example.


If a figure https://docutils.sourceforge.io/docs/ref/rst/directives.html#figure is given a :name: you can then refer to it using :numref: and it’ll automatically be called Figure 6 or whatever… https://www.sphinx-doc.org/en/master/usage/restructuredtext/roles.html#cross-referencing-figures-by-figure-number. The caption goes as the first line of the directive body:

.. figure:: img/sbo_mh.png
   :alt: SBO iteration progression for model hierarchies.
   :name: fig:sbo_mh

   This is the caption all about how this figure highlights SBO's
   amazing properties!


Tables https://docutils.sourceforge.io/docs/ref/rst/directives.html#table also support the :name: property for use in references. This is untested, but hopefully works with :numref:`table:people30s ` to auto-generate Table 74 in the text:

.. table:: Personnel
   :name: table:people30s

   |Name      |Age      |
   |Bill      |39       |
   |Jane      |38       |

There are also list-formatted and CSV table options which are quite handy and alleviate the need for fixed-width “painted” tables.

Math Equations

(This is likely good advice, though not deployed yet…) To label and reference (displayed / non-inline) equations use the :label: property and numref, e.g., https://www.sphinx-doc.org/en/master/usage/restructuredtext/domains.html#role-math-numref.

Sphinx already puts equations in an equation or align environment automatically as needed, so it’s usually not necessary to explicitly retain those, just update them to have a single alignment mark (&) and leave a blank line in between multiple equations:

.. math:: e^{i\pi} + 1 = 0
   :label: euler

   Euler's identity, equation :math:numref:`euler`, was elected one of
   the most beautiful mathematical formulas.

  .. math::
     :label: euler2

     e^{i\pi} + 1 = 0

   Euler's identity, equation :math:numref:`euler2`, was elected one of
   the most beautiful mathematical formulas.

Formatting Principles

Suppress Developer Speak:

  • Only refer to C++ Class concepts when discussing the code itself.

  • Notably, user docs should refer to “method” not “iterator”

Keyword References: When should I use a inline code (literal role) (foo), and when should I hyperlink to the keyword reference?

  • What’s the purpose of the explanation (it may be okay to replace keywords with “plain english” descriptions: “uniform uncertain variable” instead of “uniform_uncertain”)

  • When using a keyword, use the literal role.

  • Optionally, link to the reference manual page. Things to think about:

    • Avoid gratuitous hyperlinks, which are distracting to the reader.

    • Is there an obvious way for the user to easily drill down to that information themselves nearby?

    • Is the specific instance of the keyword you are referring to ambiguous? E.g. initial_point could, in some contexts, refer to that keyword for a specific type of design variable, or it could refer to that property of all the design variables. In the former case, it’s fine to link. In the latter, make sure your intent is clear.

    • Avoid using a mixture of hyperlinks and inline code for a keyword in a single section. That is, don’t hyperlink ‘uniform_uncertain’ once and then use uniform_uncertain` a bunch of other times, leaving the user to guess which ones are links. (Use plain english descriptions of the keyword after the initial hyperlink instead.)

Authoring Keyword Reference Docs

Keyword reference pages:

  • Are documented in docs/keywords following the keyword hierarchy expressed in src/dakota.xml (or equivalently src/dakota.input.nspec)

  • Written in Sphinx-compatible ReStructuredText format

  • Templated in docs/kw_abbrev_template.rst which offers a quick skeleton for new keywords. (files docs/kw_*.txt summarize more detailed guidance, but haven’t been updated to .rst format)


If you are hunting down documentation errors by line number, the line numbers displayed in Sphinx build warnings/errors allude to the fully-built keyword RST pages, not the RST snippet files in docs/keywords. However, the original snippet files will be where you want to ultimately make the correction.

Legacy Keyword Tools


The historical dakota/local/scripts/generate_keyword_template.sh (accessible only to SNL developers) likely still has value when making large input specification / keyword changes. It has not been updated for the new Sphinx documentation process, yet the following notes may be useful in the future.

Prerequisite: Make sure you ran cmake with ENABLE_DAKOTA_DOCS:BOOL=TRUE.

In path/to/dakotaBuild/docs, do:

make clean
make docs-keywords >& make.log

While still in that directory, do the following to generate lists of missing and obsolete keyword metadata files:

path/to/dakotaSource/local/scripts/generate_keyword_template.sh -g make.log

You should find that three files have been created: missingKeywords.txt, missingDuplicates.txt, and obsoleteKeywords.txt.

You can either use the lists in those files to create/remove keyword metadata files by hand. If you would like to use this script to facilitate the creation/removal of keyword metadata files, review and edit those files to remove keywords that are not relevant to your work, i.e., that you are not responsible documenting. More specifically,

  • In missingKeywords.txt, there is a STOP entry. Do not remove this entry.

    • In the list before the STOP entry, remove any keywords that you are not documenting.

    • Below the STOP entry is a list of keywords that may be duplicates, They are listed under their respective candidate DUPLICATE file. Remove any keywords that are not yours or that should not use the listed DUPLICATE file. If you remove all of the keywords under a DUPLICATE file, then also remove the DUPLICATE file from the list.

    • If you have added new keywords that warrant the creation of a new DUPLICATE file, you may manually add it to the duplicate list in the file. Manual entries should take the following form:

      <blank line>
    • Note that the keywords can exist in both the list before STOP and the one after. The script should handle it correctly.

  • In the missingDuplicates.txt file, remove any that you are not responsible for.

  • In obsoleteKeywords.txt, there is a STOP entry. Do not remove this entry.

    • In the list before the STOP entry, remove any keywords that are not yours.

    • Below the STOP entry is a list of keywords that may have changed levels in the keyword hierarchy and the proposed move of an obsolete keyword to a new keyword. Remove (or edit) any that are not yours or that are incorrect. You may also manually add to the list. You should also be able to use this manual approach to identify keywords that have changed names. Manual entries should take the following form:

    • Note that the keywords can exist in both the list before STOP and the one after. The script should handle it correctly.

Then, while still in path/to/dakotaBuild/docs, run the script again with one or more of the following options:

  • -k fileName (to create templates for missing keywords)

    • For new keywords that are duplicates, this will create keyword metadata files with the DUPLICATE file already inserted. If the DUPLICATE file is also new (i.e., if you added it manually to fileName), a DUPLICATE file will be created with template content. The file duplicatesAdded.txt will be created if any duplicate keywords were added and will contain a list of them. The file dupFilesAdded.txt will be created if any new DUPLICATE files were added and will contain a list of them.

    • For new keywords that are not duplicates, this will create new keyword metadata files with template content. The file keywordsAdded.txt will be created if any new (non-duplicate) keywords were added and will contain a list of them.

  • -d fileName (to create templates for missing duplicate files)

    • This will create DUPLICATE files with template content. This covers the case where there are keyword metadata files that reference DUPLICATE files that do not exist. The file dupFilesAdded.txt will be created if any new DUPLICATE files were added and will contain a list of them.

  • -r fileName (to remove obsolete keywords)

    • For keywords that have changed levels in the hierarchy (or manually added ones that have name changes), this will move the old file to the new file. The file levelChanged.txt will be created if any keywords have been moved and will contain a list of them.

    • For all other keywords in this file, the metadata files will be removed. The file keywordsRemoved.txt will be created and will contain a list of them.

The files created by running this script are intended to provide a quick check that the right thing happened. Ultimately, you should check in path/to/dakotaSource/docs/keywords to make sure the expected files were created/removed. You can now populate the content of the created keyword metadata files. After you have entered all content, remove “TEMPLATE” from the top of the file.

Authoring Examples

Principles for authoring and testing examples in the dakota/dakota-examples repository.

Example Structure

An example consists of an explanatory README in markdown format, plus other files provided for purposes of illustration. The README has two required sections:

  • Summary - (required) one or two sentence summary aimed at helping users to make a quick determination whether the example will be useful to them

  • Description - (required) Longer description (up to a few paragraphs) describing the example. Executive Summary/Abstract.

In addition, authors are asked to include sections using these names where applicable.

  • How to run the example - (optional) Describe how to run the example, if applicable

  • Requirements - (optional) Requirements for running the example. E.g. Python version, OS

  • Contents - (optional) list the contents and give a brief (few word) description of what they are

  • Further Reading - (optional) Dakota documentation sections, published papers, SAND reports, screencasts etc.

Authors are free to add other sections or to subdivide the sections above.

Guidance for Writing a Good Example

Testing Examples

This brief guide is intended to help Dakota developers set up automatic testing for an example in the Dakota Examples Library.

Why add tests?

We want examples to work as intended with the version of Dakota (and auxiliary tools) for which they were designed. The Examples Library will be automatically tested periodically.

How do I run the tests?

The Examples Library will be checked out as a submodule when you clone the main Dakota repository, and the tests can be run by ctest if the CMake variable DAKOTA_TEST_EXAMPLES_REPO:BOOL=TRUE was set at configure time.

What kinds of tests are supported?

Four kinds of tests are supported:

  1. Regression. These work just like regression tests in Dakota’s test folder. They have a baseline that Dakota’s console output is compared to, and have a PASS/DIFF/FAIL result. (The baseline platform is RHEL7 and all examples should reliably PASS on RHEL7).

  2. Dakota Check. Run ‘dakota -check’ on a Dakota input to see whether it passes basic parsing/construction. The result is PASS or FAIL.

  3. Dakota Run. Run Dakota on the input and just examine the returncode. This is a way to make sure that an input + driver runs to completion when you don’t care much about the numerical results. PASS/FAIL.

  4. Arbitrary Command. Run an arbitrary command and examine the returncode. The command could be an Python script that contains unit tests, for example. PASS/FAIL.

In addition to Dakota executables built by the Dakota project, tests may use Python 3 (with the numpy and h5py modules), the dakota.interfacing Python module, and the new surrogate capabilities.

How do I add tests?

Tests for all official examples are added by declaring them using the dakota_example_test CMake function in DakotaExamplesOfficial.cmake. Multiple tests can be added in each call. The signature of this function looks like:

    PATH path
    [CHECK input_name1 [input_name2 ...]]
    [RUN input_name1 [input_name2 ...]]
    [REGRESS input_name1 [input_name2 ...]]
    [COMMAND command1 ]
    [DEPENDS test_name1 [test_name2 ...]]
  • PATH specifies the path of the folder that contains the tests, relative to the top level folder of the Examples Library.

  • CHECK specifies the names of Dakota input files at PATH that Dakota should run with the ‘-check’ option.

  • RUN specifies the names of Dakota input files at PATH that should be run. Their console output will not be checked, only Dakota’s returncode.

  • REGRESS specifies the names of Dakota input files for which regression tests should be performed. The files, and corresponding .base files, must also be present at PATH.

  • COMMAND specifies an arbitrary executable command to run. The returncode of the command will be examined to determine whether the test passes of fails.

  • DEPENDS specifies a dependency of the test; the test only runs if the test it depends on passed. The argument is a test name, but it’s often more convenient to use the ${_last_test_added} variable as an argument. Tests are added in the order that the keywords appear in, here. It may be necessary to make several separate calls to dakota_example_test (the calls will all have the same PATH) to properly express dependencies.

Can I conditionally run tests?

Yes. Here’s an example from DakotaExamplesOfficial.cmake that conditionally runs when Python is available and the system is UNIX:

    PATH contributed/sampling/lhs_basic_incremental
    DEPENDS ${_last_test_added}

If your tests use optional Dakota features, you should protect them using conditionals, e.g., HAVE_DOT, HAVE_MUQ.