Pete Freitag Pete Freitag

DocBook vs Apache Forrest

Updated on November 16, 2023
By Pete Freitag

I've spent the last few hours looking at DocBook, and Apache Forrest two XML documentation frameworks. Basically what these two frameworks let you accomplish is separate your documentation content from your documentation layout, and display format. So you write all your documentation using one XML schema, then apply stylesheets to generate XHTML, PDF, RTF documentation.

We are currently trying to decide which format to use for our Java 1.5 based email server project. So far we are leaning towards DocBook because it seams more mature, and there are more tools for it, but Forrest seams to have a smaller learning curve.

I think Forrest's XML dialect covers 80 percent of the cases, with a much smaller learning curve, but for a large project that also needs to produce print documentation, DocBook merits consideration.
- The Server Side

DocBook as I mentioned does have lots of tools, though I didn't find any that I tried to be terribly great:

  • Conglomerate - this tool looks promising but only works on Unix
  • DocBook Template for OpenOffice - Had some trouble using this one creating sections, doesn't support all DocBook features.
  • Vex - Vex is an Eclipse plugin that looked promising but I found it kind of hard to use.
  • Big list of docbook tools

So we will probably just end up coding the XML by hand which is not that big of a deal, but It would be nice to have a visual tool for this.

One other advantage to DocBook is that there are some books written on the subject:

  • DocBook: The Definitive Guide, ISBN: 1565925807 (O'Reilly XML)">
  • DocBook XSL: The Complete Guide, ISBN: 0974152110
  • DocBook XML Publishing, ISBN: 0761533311

Are you using either of these documentation frameworks? Do you have any experiences, or know of any good tools that I may have missed? Are there any other good documentation frameworks?

documentation docbook forrest xml

DocBook vs Apache Forrest was first published on March 14, 2005.

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Check out XXE for docbook. The spell checking alone is pretty sweet. If you know xml you should have a big learning curve, but check out the documentation for it as there are lots of neat short cuts. (standard version is free :-D)
by rob on 03/14/2005 at 4:06:38 PM UTC
Unless the Conglomerate developers have radically updated it, it's not a great tool for doing any real XML editing.

From what I remember, it would show the XML document tree as a set of nested boxes within with you could edit the attributes or elements.

I was hoping to use it to do a DocBook manual for the IBM project I was working on the time but ended up using a simple text editor with syntax highlighting because it proved to be much easier to edit the document.

Personally, I love DocBook. For the various IBM projects I've worked on I typically create a usermanual using DocBook and then generate HTML and PDF copies of it for distribution. The only issues I've had with the entire process are the occasional bugs with Apache Fop when producing the PDF version from a formatted object.
by kyle on 03/14/2005 at 7:32:10 PM UTC
For what's it's worth I used DocBook for CFCDoc ( I went down that route before I found out about Forrest (so it's not like I evaluated both and chose DocBook). There are quite a few resources for it though and that helped to get up to speed.
by Phil Cruz on 03/14/2005 at 11:44:00 PM UTC
I use Forrest and write (technical) documentation from within CFEclipse using the free XMLspy Eclipse plugin. You can associate the document with the Forrest doc dtd for content assist. Works well.
by Kola on 03/15/2005 at 12:07:12 PM UTC
With Forrest it is not an either/or decision. We support docbook as an input format, so use our own format for those "80% of cases" it works well and use docbook for the remaining cases.

It's also worth noting that Forrest also supports many other formats, such as various wiki dialects, POD, OOo, MS Word etc
by Ross Gardler on 05/13/2005 at 12:33:07 PM UTC
Tried DITA ( Nice for topic oriented documentation with content reuse and customization principles at the base of its foundation (adopts a topic/object orientation model for documentation).

The framework allows for documentation conversion to DocBook if needed but can handle the output of various formats ranging from pdf, chm, javadoc... The design allows for custom topic and domain types.
by Alex Griessel on 09/10/2005 at 4:56:58 AM UTC
Michael,Thanks for the kind words. Regarding localization, I shuold have at least mentioned it. It turns out that both DITA and DocBook have the essential elements covered, including:- Unicode support- Support for multiple languages in one document (both use the lang or xml:lang attribute on pretty much any element).- Support for standard translations of generated text (i.e., when the transforms insert the word Chapter in a chapter heading, that word will be translated based on the lang attribute).- Support for localized indexes.Overall, I think there's no real difference in terms of base capabilities. I suspect the real determinant will be how well your translators can deal with the schema you choose, though any good translator ought to be able to handle either.Hope that helps
by Sonia on 12/07/2012 at 8:53:09 AM UTC