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Hi, I'm Mariano Guerra, below is my blog, if you want to learn more about me and what I do check a summary here: or find me on twitter @warianoguerra or Mastodon

Nikola Restructured Text Roles Plugin Example Project

This guide assumes you have python 3 and nikola installed.

See the Nikola Getting Started Guide for instructions to install it.

Environment with Nix

If you have Nix installed you can get the environment by running nix-shell on the root of this project with this shell.nix file:

{ pkgs ? import (fetchTarball "") {} }:
with pkgs;

mkShell {
  LOCALE_ARCHIVE_2_27 = "${glibcLocales}/lib/locale/locale-archive";
  buildInputs = [
  shellHook = ''
    export LC_ALL=en_US.UTF-8

Setup a Nikola Site

In case you don't have a nikola site around or you want to play in a temporary project we will create one here:

nikola init my-site
cd my-site

I answered with the default to all of them by hitting enter on all questions, feel free to give different answers.

Create a New Plugin

In the base folder of the nikola site create a folder for your plugin, I will name mine my_rst_roles:

mkdir -p plugins/my_rst_roles

Create a configuration file with the plugin metadata and customize it at plugins/my_rst_roles/my_rst_roles.plugin:

Name = my_rst_roles
Module = my_rst_roles

PluginCategory = CompilerExtension
Compiler = rest
MinVersion = 7.4.0

Author = Mariano Guerra
Version = 0.1.0
Website =
Description = A set of custom reStructuredText roles

Create a python module inside the folder that will contain the plugin logic at plugins/my_rst_roles/

from docutils import nodes
from docutils.parsers.rst import roles

from nikola.plugin_categories import RestExtension
from import add_node

class Span(nodes.Inline, nodes.TextElement):

def visit_span(self, node):
    attrs = {}
    self.body.append(self.starttag(node, "span", "", **attrs))

def depart_span(self, _node):

add_node(Span, visit_span, depart_span)

class Plugin(RestExtension):

    name = "my_rst_roles"

    def set_site(self, site): = site

        generic_docroles = {
            "my-foo": (Span, "my-base my-foo"),
            "my-bar": (Span, "my-base my-bar"),

        for rolename, (nodeclass, classes) in generic_docroles.items():
            generic = roles.GenericRole(rolename, nodeclass)
            role = roles.CustomRole(rolename, generic, {"classes": [classes]})
            roles.register_local_role(rolename, role)

        return super(Plugin, self).set_site(site)

Create a New Post or Page to test it

Create a post:

nikola new_post -t "Nikola Restructured Text Roles Plugin Example Project"

Put some content in it:

echo 'Hi :my-foo:`hello`, :my-bar:`world`!' >> posts/nikola-restructured-text-roles-plugin-example-project.rst

Build the site

nikola build

Check the Generated HTML

You can serve it with:

nikola serve

And open http://localhost:8000 and inspect it with the browser's developer tools, here's a blog post friendly way with grep:

grep my-foo output/posts/nikola-restructured-text-roles-plugin-example-project/index.html

The output should be something like this:

Hi <span class="my-base my-foo">hello</span>, <span class="my-base my-bar">world</span>!</p>

More Advanced Transformations

I needed to process the children of the Span node by myself and stop docutils from walking the children between visit_span and depart_span, to do that here's a simplified version:

class Span(nodes.Inline, nodes.TextElement):
    def walk(self, visitor):
        # don't stop
        return False

    def walkabout(self, visitor):
        # don't stop
        return False

def visit_span(self, node):
    cls = " ".join(node.get('classes', []))
    child_str = " ".join([format_span_child(child) for child in node.children])
    self.body.append("<span class=\"" + cls + "\">" + child_str)

def depart_span(self, _node):

def format_span_child(node):
    return node.astext()

Here are links to the implementations of some of the relevant functions:

A Real World Use Case

I did this to embed inline UI components in the documentation for instadeq, you can see it in action in This Walkthrough Guide if you scroll a little.

I still have to improve the style and add some missing roles but it's much better than having to describe the position and look of ui components instead of just showing them.

As usual, thanks to Roberto Alsina for Nikola and for telling me how to get started with this plugin.