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Living Linux

Managing Documents With SGMLtools


With the SGMLtools package, you can write documents and generate output in many different kinds of formats -- including HTML, plain text, PDF, and PostScript -- all from the same plain text input file.

SGML ("Standard Generalized Markup Language") is not an actual format, but a specification for writing markup languages; the markup language "formats" themselves are called DTDs ("Document Type Definitions"). When you write a document in an SGML DTD, you write input as a plain text file with markup tags -- such as "<em>this<em>" for emphasized text..

The various SGML packages on Linux are currently in a state of transition; the original SGML-Tools package (now "SGMLtools v1") is considered obsolete and is no longer being developed; however, the newer SGMLtools v2 (aka "SGMLtools Next Generation" and "SGMLtools '98") is still alpha software, as is SGMLtools-lite, a new subset of SGMLtools.

In the meantime, if you want to dive in and get started making documents with the early SGMLtools and the linuxdoc DTD (the DTD long-used by the Linux Documentation Project), it's not hard to do. While the newer DocBook DTD has become very popular, it may be best suited for technical books and other very large projects. For smaller documents written by individual authors, such as a multi-part essay, FAQ, or white paper, the linuxdoc DTD still works fine.

And since the Linux HOWTOs are still written in linuxdoc, Debian has decided to maintain the SGMLtools 1.0 package independently; you can download both the Debian package and the original source code from

Many of the same SGML tools are available for BSD and can be found in the "textproc" section of the ports or pkg-src collection. Both the linuxdoc and DocBook DTDs are available.

Elements of a document

A document written in an SGML DTD looks a lot like HTML -- which is no coincidence, since HTML is a subset of SGML. A very simple "Hello, world" in the linuxdoc DTD might look like this:

<!doctype linuxdoc system>
<title>An Example Document
<author>Ann Author
<date>4 May 2000
This is an example LinuxDoc document.


<p>Hello, world.


The SGMLtools package comes with a simple example file, example.sgml.gz, which is installed in the /usr/doc/sgml-tools directory.

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