Working with Docbook on Windows

Posted by Brian in Howto, snacks, tips (March 3rd, 2008)

Setting up a toolchain for working with Docbook on Windows often requires setting things up using Cygwin. Many people are just simply not willing to do that. This tutorial will show you how to set up a native environment to work with Docbook, and show you how to make CHM and PDF files on Windows.

Thanks to for much of this information.

Getting the tools

The tools you need to work with Docbook XML and XSTL are all available on Windows. The first thing you need to do is visit (new window) and grab the latest versions of

  • libxml2
  • libxslt
  • iconv

Download each and unzip the contents of the folder to c:\windows or another location on your path. For reference, these files are the ones you’re looking for:


If you feel better about putting these in their own folder, that’s fine as long as you add the new folder to your path.

Getting the Stylesheets

In order to build a book, you need to have the XSLT stylesheets so you can transform your XML into a pretty-looking book with a table of contents and nicely formatted text.
Download the docbook-xml-ns files from sourceforge:

Unpack to your c:\ drive and then rename the extracted folder to c:\docbook-xsl

Generating PDFs

In order to create a PDF, you have to first convert to the FO format and then use a Java library to convert the FO to a PDF. Apache FOP does this for you. You’ll need to have a JRE (Java Runtime) installed though. Visit for that.

Get FOP to build PDFs

Download FOP at and unzip it to a temp location. Copy all .jar files in build/ and lib/ to your Java installation’s lib/ext folder. On my system it’s C:\Program Files\Java\jre1.5.0_11\lib\ext. Your system will differ depending on your installed version of Java.

Next, download OFFO-hyphenation from and grab the file from the downloads page and put the jar files in the same folder as the FOP files.

Building your first book

Create a project folder called “my_book” and create a new file called “book.xml” in this folder.

  My Simple Book

Then create a chapter for your book. Create the file chapter1.xml in your project folder with this content:

  This is just a simple book.

Notice that the chapter and book each have their own doctype, This is really important. Each chapter file needs to have this structure in order to work properly.

Generating HTML from the document

The easiest way to use Docbook is to export to HTML. Execute this command to create an HTML version of your book:

   xsltproc --xinclude --output book.html c:/docbook/xsl/html/docbook.xsl book.xml

Creating a makefile to build the PDF

The PDF creation process is similar to the HTML process but it does require two steps. You need to first convert the document to the FO file format. Then you use FOP to convert it to the PDF. We can automate this by using Ruby.

Create a Ruby file in your project folder called “make”. You’ll use this file to build the PDF of your book.

file = ARGV[0]
cmd1 = "xsltproc --xinclude --output #{file}.fo c:/docbook-xsl/fo/docbook.xsl #{file}.xml "
cmd2 = "java org.apache.fop.cli.Main -fo #{file}.fo -pdf #{file}.pdf"

puts "Building FO file"

puts "Building PDF"

puts "Cleaning up"
`del #{file}.fo`

puts "Done"

Now, build your book:

ruby make book

Creating a Help File

Generating a Windows HTML Help file (CHM) is pretty similar to the way you make a PDF. You first need to make the HLP file using xsltproc, and then you use a commandline tool to build the CHM.

Grab a copy of Microsoft’s HTML Help Workshop here and install it. Open a command prompt and copy the hhc file to the c:\windows directory so that the file is on your path.

copy "c:\Program Files\HTML Help Workshop"\hhc.exe c:\windows

Next, we can use Ruby to make a file to create another build file. Create a file called “make_chm” in your project folder.

file = ARGV[0]
cmd1 = "xsltproc --xinclude c:/docbook-xsl/htmlhelp/htmlhelp.xsl #{file}.xml"
cmd2 = "hhc htmlhelp.hhp"

puts "Building HLP temporary files"

puts "Building CHM"

puts "Cleaning up"
`rename htmlhelp.chm #{file}.chm`
`del *.hhp`
`del *.hhc`
`del *.html`

puts "Done"


Docbook is a really great way to create books, tutorials, and documentation in a format that can be transformed into various other formats. It’s extremly easy to work with in Windows too!

3 Responses to ' Working with Docbook on Windows '

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  1. Artin said,
    on July 9th, 2008 at 1:21 am

    I download these files and I want to run through instruction, I think it wll work properly. If it works I will leave another comments.
    Thanks alot.

  2. Virginie said,
    on October 8th, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    I´ve try these procedure. I was glat to see that the generation of Html document and Help File work perfectly. But I encountered some problem with pdf. Here is the error :
    Exception in the thread “main” Java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError : or/apache/xml/serializer/TreeWalker

    Can somebody help me ?
    thank you, Virginie

  3. Virginie said,
    on October 8th, 2008 at 10:58 pm


    It´s now working. By copying .jar files, i forgt one file.


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