DITA and DocBook

Two off-the-shelf structured applications available for technical documentation are DITA and DocBook.


DITA or Darwin Information Typing Architecture provides an off-the-shelf DTD and set of rules designed specifically for writing online documentation, such as software help files. It defines a tag structure suited to authoring, producing, and delivering technical documenta­tion. The types of tags in DITA include <topic>, <title>, <shortdesc>, <prolog>, <body>, and <concept>. Following are some distinguishing DITA features:

DITA is topic-oriented. Each topic can be a piece of modular writing that can be reused in multiple contexts.

Because DITA separates content from context, multiple architectures of information are possible in DITA. DITA can also be extended to allow for the definition of information types.

DITA is topic-based. It provides three basic topic types but it allows for specialization of these topic types for individual needs.

DITA uses a ditamap which contains links to the XML files in the documentation set. Each XML file can be a topic or a collection of topics.

DITA outputs can be multiple ranging from PDF and HTML to variable documents. However, all output forms require some development work.

DITA is better suited for larger documentation sets.


DocBook is also an open standard, designed for technical articles and documentation. DocBook provides a DTD for writing technical books and articles, with a structure that such forms imply. DocBook tags include <article>, <section>, <title>, <articleinfo>, and <pubdate>.

Following are some distinguishing DocBook features:

DocBook is more book or section oriented.

DocBook is hierarchical by nature and has to be developed for true single-sourcing. The content is not independent of its context.

DocBook has a fixed but a large set of elements and attributes.

DocBook provides an XML include file that contains all the other files.

DocBook outputs include PDF, HTML, and HTMLHelp. It can be extended for other output forms with some development work.

DocBook is easy to set up and is better suited for small to medium documentation sets.

September 30, 2016

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