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This page describes the details of the documentation system of Abinit and how to contribute to it.

Most of the documentation is written in Markdown a lightweight markup language with plain text formatting syntax. The documentation includes the User Guide, the Abinit tutorial, the topics, the release notes as well as the pages with the input variables and the bibliographic references that are generated automatically in python from the information reported in ~abinit/mkdocs/ (and similar files in the same directory for other main executables) and the bibtex entries given in the ~abinit/doc/abiref.bib file.

The website is automatically generated with MkDocs a static site generator geared towards project documentation. MkDocs employs Python-Markdown to parse the Markdown documentation and use a single YAML configuration file (mkdocs.yml) defining the organization of the pages on the website. Navigation bars, header and footer are generated automatically by the framework using the jinja template engine. Previous versions of the documentation can be consulted using the drop down menu at the top-right corner. (not yet operational)

MkDocs includes a couple built-in themes as well as various third party themes, all of which can easily be customized with extra CSS or JavaScript or overridden from the theme directory. The Abinit website uses Mkdocs-Material, a theme built using Google’s Material Design guidelines. We also use fontawesome icons and Bootstrap a popular HTML, CSS, and Javascript framework for developing responsive, mobile first projects on the web (shrink the browser window to see how the menu and the navigation bars react).

Note that the majority of the Abinit developers do not need to know how to use these technologies since they will mainly interact with markdown files (plain text files that can be easily modified in the editor) while Mkdocs will handle the HTML/CSS/Javascript part.

In addition to the basic markdown syntax, the Abinit documentation supports extensions and shortcuts to ease the writing of hyperlinks and the inclusion of bibliographic citations. A detailed description of our markdown dialect is given in our markdown page. Also MathJax for equations in LaTeX is activated, and the (few) specificities of its usage in the Abinit docs are explained in this section.

As a net result, Abinit developers can write nice-looking documentation and release notes without having to use HTML explicitly while working in an environment that is well-integrated with the Abinit ecosystem (the yaml database of input variables, the test suite, bibtex citations). Adding new content is straightforward: write a new page in Markdown, add the new entry to mkdocs.yml and finally regenerate the website with MkDocs.

Getting started

Make sure you are in the top ABINIT directory. Install the python packages required to build the website with:

pip install -r requirements.txt --user


Python 3.6 is strongly recommended although the code works with python2.7 as well. The entire documentation supports Unicode so feel free to use unicode symbols in the docs.


If you have root privileges, suppress the --user in the command

MkDocs comes with a built-in dev-server that lets you preview your documentation as you work on it. Then start our customized server by running the ./ serve command:

./ serve

Regenerating database...
Saving database to /Users/gmatteo/git_repos/abidocs/doc/tests/test_suite.cpkl
Initial website generation completed in 9.17 [s]
Generating markdown files with input variables of code: `abinit`...
INFO    -  Building documentation...
INFO    -  Cleaning site directory
[I 170826 03:37:05 server:283] Serving on
[I 170826 03:37:05 handlers:60] Start watching changes
[I 170826 03:37:05 handlers:62] Start detecting changes

Open up in your browser, and you’ll see the default home page being displayed. Note that the generation of the website takes 1-2 minutes but this is a price that must be paid only once. The web server, indeed, reloads automatically the source files that are modified by the user so that one can easily change the documentation and inspect the changes in the corresponding HTML files.


Use ./ serve --dirtyreload to enable the live reloading in the development server, but only re-build files that have changed. This option is designed for site development purposes and is much faster than the default live reloading.


The server re-builds automatically the pages generated from changed .md files, but not the ones from changed ~abinit/doc/abiref.bib neither from changed ~abinit/abimkdocs/\*.py . This means that the upgrade of the description of an input variable or a bibtex reference is done by closing the server and reissue the adequate ./ command. Also, the case of the .md files in the ~abinit/doc/topics directory is similar, as the .md source files, prepended with an underscore, must be preprocessed by ./ to deliver the .md files, without underscore, that are live reloaded.

./mksite serve builds the website in a temporary directory. If you need to inspect the HTML files produced by the script, use:

./ build

The HTML pages will be available in the site directory. It’s also possible to validate all the HTML documents in site by using:

./ validate

This command will connect to the W3C validator service and possible errors are printed to the terminal. To validate a given list of HTML files use:

./ validate site/index.html site/variables/index.html

At present (v8.7.7), many html files are not compliant with the strict html syntax, so this procedure is not yet operational.

Note that the HTML files are produced in a temporary directory, thus they are not under revision control. The real source is represented by the .md files and the other .yml files, these are the files that can be changed by the developers and are therefore under revision control). The Markdown pages generated by ./ are automatically listed in ~abinit/doc/.gitignore and are thus ignored by git.

The ~abinit/doc/ script generates the website by converting markdown files into HTML. The script:

  • Starts by creating python objects using the information reported in
    • the python files in abimkdocs with the input variables,
    • the ~abinit/doc/abiref.bib for the list of Bibliographic references,
    • the input files contained in ~abinit/tests/*/Input.
  • Performs initial consistency checks.
  • Generate the markdown files for variables, citations, etc.
  • Invoke mkdocs to parse the markdown files declared in mkdocs.yml
  • Expands special strings, of the form [ [namespace:name#section|text] ] to create HTML links.
  • Creates the needed HMTL files

The expansion of special strings is documented in the links section. It can be used in all the YAML files mentioned below. For equations/formulas, Mathjax is activated, and allows to process and visualize LaTeX formulas, see also this section for further details.

Writing docs

The markdown files are stored inside the doc directory according to the following structure:

├── doc
│   ├── about
│   ├── css
│   ├── developers
│   ├── extra_javascript
│   ├── images
│   ├── variables
│   ├── tests
│   ├── theory
│   ├── topics
│   ├── tutorial
│   └── guide
  • about: Files with release notes, license
  • css: Extra CSS files used by the website
  • developers: Documentation for developers (documentation howtos, git, coding rules…)
  • extra_javascript: Extra javascript code used by the website
  • images: logos and favicon
  • variables: files with input variables (automatically generated).
  • tests: symbolic links to the ~abinit/tests directory.
  • theory: files with theoretical notes
  • topics: files with Abinit topics
  • tutorial: official Abinit tutorials
  • guide: help files for main executables

The directory in italic are mainly used to build the website and are not visible outside. The other directories contain markdown files, each directory is associated to an entry in the website menu (see pages in mkdocs.yml). The pages configuration in mkdocs.yml defines which pages are built by MkDocs and how they appear in the documentation navigation.

Each directory contains an file that is supposed to be a “general” page with an overview of the topics treated in that directory. Some of these files are automatically generated by python (e.g. variables/ but others such as tutorial/ are not. So make sure that new documentation pages are properly mentioned and linked in the corresponding file when a new page is added.

Images and additional material (e.g. scripts) associated to a markdown page are stored in the corresponding “assets” directory whose name is constructed from the base name of the markdown page. For instance the figures used in tutorial/ are stored in tutorial/bse_assets

Front matter

Front matter is the first section of the markdown file and must take the form of valid YAML document enclosed between triple-dashed lines. Here is a basic example:

title: Documenting Code Like a Hacker
authors: MG

Between these triple-dashed lines, you can set predefined variables (see below for a reference) or even create custom ones of your own. These variables will then be available to the framework. For instance, the list of authors is reported in the HTML page footer while title is added to to the HTML meta section.

Documentation Guide lines

  • Each paragraph name should be short enough to fit nicely in the menu, but also long enough to stand on its own to a reasonable extent. The titles set here are used in the navigation menu and the page title that displays in the browser tab.

  • Each page should start with a paragraph that explains what will be covered. The first heading in a page should be Heading1 (# in Markdown). All others should be in H2 (##) and H3 (###), only where necessary. If you find yourself wanting to use H4, consider if it’s truly necessary.

  • Don’t use terms like “previous page”, etc. because we may add or re-arrange pages in the future. Instead, use a hyperlink to the chapter. Also avoid sentences like If you follow the tutorial, you should go back to the tutorial window now.

  • Number the paragraphs only if really needed: the links in the navigation bar are not readable and besides the number will appear in the permalink. This means that you may need to change several links if you decide to add a new section to the page later on. Users may want to share or bookmarks links to the Abinit documentation so broken links should be avoided as much as possible.

  • The fact the wikilink syntax facilitates the inclusion of hyperlinks does not mean that we have to add links everywhere. This is especially true in the documentation of the input variables in which it does not make sense to put links to the same variable we are describing or the same link over and over again in the same paragraph.

  • Text in all uppercase is significantly more difficult to read than lower and mixed case text. Writing in all caps is like shouting so use all caps sparingly.

How to add/modify an input variable

The yaml database has been replaced by python modules. The variables are now declared in ~abinit/abimkdocs/

This file consists of a list of dictionaries, each dictionary contains the declaration of a single variable and the associated documentation in markdown format. Wikilinks, latex and markdown extensions can be used inside text. Adding a new variable is easy. Edit the python module and add a new item at the end of the list. A template is provided.

Remember that \ is an escaping character in python so the interpreter may raise an Exception if you start to add Latex equations in the documentation e.g.

Error: '\alpha' is an unrecognized escape in character string starting ""^\alpha"

The solution is simple, declare the string as raw string by prepending r e.g.:

The [[spmeth]] input variable defines the method used to calculate the
irreducible polarizability $\chi^{(0)}_{KS}$."""

Note that input variables for the executables other than the main abinit (e.g. anaddb, aim, optic) are denoted input_variable_name@executable, e.g. dipdip@anaddb (this allows to waive the ambiguity with the dipdip input variable used in the main abinit).

After having edited the python modules you must rerun ./mksite serve to see the changes.


Use pytest abimkdocs_tests/ to validate your changes before rebuilding the documentation.

Well, at present (v8.7.7) this script detect too many problems for this procedure to be useful. So this is (not yet operational).

How to add a bibliographic reference

Bibliographic references must be in bibtex format and should provide enough information so that the python code can generate appropriate links in the website. The central bibliography database is presently located in ~abinit/doc/abiref.bib.

For published work with a DOI, we strongly recommend avoiding a cut&paste from your own bibtex file to the central bibliography database. Indeed, there are units tests to enforce the presence of particular entries in the bibtex document and your bibtex may not fulfill these requirements.

Providing bibtex data from the publisher site is a better method. If you know the DOI of the article, it is also possible to use BetterBib to fetch data from Crossref and produce the bibtex entry. BetterBib is available from the Python Package Index, so simply type:

pip install betterbib

and then use doi2bibtex from the command line:

betterbib-doi2bibtex 10.1103/PhysRevLett.96.066402

  author = {Amadon, B. and Biermann, S. and Georges, A. and Aryasetiawan, F.},
  doi = {10.1103/physrevlett.96.066402},
  issn = {0031-9007, 1079-7114},
  journal = {Physical Review Letters},
  month = feb,
  number = {6},
  publisher = {American Physical Society (APS)},
  source = {Crossref},
  title = {{The α−γ Transition} of Cerium Is Entropy Driven},
  url = {},
  volume = {96},
  year = {2006}

Add the entry to the bibtex file and use the FirstAuthorYear convention for the key (make sure it’s not a duplicated entry). Note that the bibtex ID must be of the form “FirstauthornameYEAR”, e.g. “Amadon2008” (start with an uppercase letter, then lower case, then four-digit year). Possibly, a letter might be added in case of ambiguity: e.g. there exists also Amadon2008a Then, build the HTML pages using ./ serve.

Run the tests with:

pytest abimkdocs_tests/

with pytest to validate your changes.

In order to refer to a bibliography entry, use the Wikilink syntax with the “cite” namespace.


The topic files are written in Markdown and can be found in ~abinit/doc/topics. The source files start with an underscore e.g. These are template files containing the text and two variables:

## Related Input Variables

{{ related_variables }}

## Selected Input Files

{{ selected_input_files }}

that will be filled by ./ by inspecting the database of variables and the tests of the test suite.. A new Markdown file without underscore will be generated and included in mkdocs.yml.


Developers are supposed to edit the version with the underscore and provide enough information in the declaration of the variable and in the TEST_INFO section so that ./ can fill the template. Remember to restart ./ to see the changes.

How to a add a new document

In order to add a new tutorial, create a new Markdown file in doc/tutorial and register it in mkdocs.yml Then, build the HTML using ./ serve and start to enjoy the Markdown syntax.

The organization of help files and theory documents is very similar to the one for the other tutorials.

Topics and relevances

Since the beginning of the ABINIT HTML documentation, every input variable has been required to belong to a varset (set of variables, e.g. varbas, varfil). However, starting in Summer 2017, we require every input variable to be also mentioned in at least one of the documentation topics and, for such topic, to be characterized by a relevance.

The allowed list of relevancies (a generic list, irrespective of the topic) is declared in ~abinit/abimkdocs/ Standard names are:

  • compulsory (when such input variable must be present in the input file when the “feature” of the topic is activated)
  • basic (when such input variable is usually explicitly specified in the standard usage, although the default might be adequate)
  • useful (when the default value is used most of the time)
  • expert (when only expert users should use other values than the default)

Other relevance names have been allowed for specific topics, in which such a classification (compulsory/basic/useful/expert) is not a relevant one.

In order to specify the (possibly several) combinations of topic+relevance to which an input variable is attached, the field “topics” is used inside the ~abinit/abimkdocs/ file (and similar files in the same directory for the other executables).

Some examples:

  • for dmatpawu: DFT+U_useful
  • for mdwall: MolecularDynamics_expert
  • for gwpara: parallelism_useful, GW_basic

The latter is a case where one input variable is associated to two topics, with a different relevance for topic “parallelism” and topic “GW”.

Release Notes

Release notes are written in Markdown so it’s possible to use the wikilink syntax to insert links to new tests, new autoconf files and even links to pull-requests and issues that will redirect the reader to the Abinit repository on github. For example, the following markdown text

Implementation of algorithms to interpolate the electronic band structure.
See the new input variables [[einterp]], [[nkpath]], and [[prtebands]], 
and the new tests [[test:v8_04]], [[test:libxc_41]].
Added in [[gitsha:f74dba1ed8346ca586dc95fd10fe4b8ced108d5e]]

Added subsuite syntax [[test:gspw_01]]

New versions of Fortran compilers have been integrated in the test farm:

- intel 16.0
- gnu 6.1 and 6.2
- IBM xlf compiler 14.1
- NAG 5.3

Corresponding examples are available in [[]]

produces a nice report with links to the features available in the new version:

Implementation of algorithms to interpolate the electronic band structure. See the new input variables einterp, nkpath, and prtebands, and the new tests v8[04], libxc[41]. Added in f74dba1.

B.2 Added subsuite syntax gspw[01]

New versions of Fortran compilers have been integrated in the test farm:

  • intel 16.0
  • gnu 6.1 and 6.2
  • IBM xlf compiler 14.1
  • NAG 5.3

Corresponding examples are available in


We are already using Markdown on gitlab to document our merge requests. This means that we can easily integrate all this gitlab documentation with the release notes published on the website.

Variable object

It is the type that contains the other fields.

The name of the variable. Note that the name for input variables of the executables anaddb, aim and optic is always finished with @anaddb, @aim or @optic.
Possibly, a specific characteristics of the input variable. To be chosen among the names in ~abinit/doc/input_variables/origin_files/characteristics.yml.
Possibly, some comment about a default value.
Possibly, some comment about the dimension of an array.
Must be an integer or real value, possibly specified using the types presented below (e.g. !multiplevalue)
Either scalar or a list of dimensions, using YML syntax.
Possible excluded values
A longer description of the variable role, in a few words
The input variable is relevant only if this condition is fulfilled
Free text describing the input variable
A string, specified in topics_and_relevances
a unique “set of variables” to which the variable belong. To be chosen among the names in ~abinit/doc/input_variables/origin_files/varsets.yml.
to be chosen among integer, real or string If there is no information of a type for a specific variable, its value must be “null”.

MultipleValue object

This is the equivalent to the X * Y syntax in the Abinit parser.

X * Y

will become

    number : X
    value : Y

If X is null, it means that you want to do *Y (all Y)

Range object

     start: 1
     stop: N

As a default value, it means that the default value is 1, 2, … N

ValueWithConditions object

This type allows to specify conditions on values:

    defaultval: -[[diemix]]
    '70 < [[iprcel]] and [[iprcel]] < 80': '[[diemix]]'
    '[[iscf]]<10': '[[diemix]]'
    '[[iprcel]]==0': '[[diemix]]'

defaultval is the default value if no condition is fulfilled. As condition, please use strings with the most basic expressions, containing <, < =, >, >=, ==, !=, +, -, *, /, etc to allow for further simple parsing !

As a convention, we use “pythonic” way for expressions, so you can use “or”, “and” and “in” also as [ [varname] ] in [1,2,5] for example …

ValueWithUnit object

This type allows to specify values with units:

    units: eV
    value: 100.0

means “100 eV”.

Constraints between variables

In the YML file (and via the GUI), there are some constraints between variables that have been introduced. You can specify “requires: CONDITION” and “excludes: CONDITION” in the YML file (or fill the fields requires and excludes in the GUI).

If a varname has “requires: CONDITION”, it means that the variable is only relevant when CONDITION is fulfilled. If a varname has as “excludes: CONDITION”, it means that the specification of the variable in the input file forbids the CONDITION to be fulfilled.

Pay attention to strings. If it is recognized as string directly, you don’t need ticks (‘ ‘). Otherwise, you need to put ticks. For example, if you want to use a link as a value, use a link shortcut like [ [abivarname] ] . See the doc about link shortcuts at links shortcuts.