If you have ever set up a sphinx project you have probably reached the point where you want to start automating the build and deploy part of the creation process. This can be done several ways, but I chose git hooks going into a Jenkins pipeline using Docker agents. I am also doing this as a single branch deploy using the master branch, how you get your source onto master is up to you.

Jenkins pipelines allow for scripting of the build process, from setting up the environment to deploying assets. The main tasks of this sphinx build pipeline are to:

  1. Boot the environment.
  2. Pull the latest source code.
  3. Install the latest dependencies.
  4. Build the sphinx site.
  5. Deploy the generated HTML.

Side Note: To see a live example of a sphinx site using continuous deployment and integration with Travis-CI and Netlify, check out the continuous-sphinx repository.


As mentioned, sphinx is a documentation generator written in Python. So it made sense to use requirements.txt to define the dependencies and a virtual environment to install them in. I also put all of my source documents (including conf.py) into a directory called source to keep them separate from the build files.

├── .dockerignore
├── Dockerfile
├── Jenkinsfile
├── requirements.txt
├── rsync-exclude.txt
└── source
    ├── conf.py
    ├── _static
    └── index.rst

Before you start, you will also need to hook in your SCM (source control manager) into Jenkins as well as install and configure some plugins. You will also need an external Docker host or to install it locally.

Jenkins Plugins Required:

Note: I won’t be covering that part here, but will try to in future writings.

Building the pipeline

The build environment is created using the Dockerfile that is stored in the repository. This file isn’t expected to change often, but modifications can be made over time. It can also be used for similar, yet customized, sphinx jobs with little overhead.

FROM debian

RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y \
    rsync \
    openssh-client \
    python \
    python-pip \

RUN pip install virtualenv

CMD ["/bin/bash"]

To prevent the docker build process from including the repository’s unnecessary files in the build process, add a .dockerignore with the following:

# ignore all unnecessary files

The Dockerfile is referenced in a Jenkinsfile, also stored in the repository, that defines the pipeline process. The parts of the environment that are more likely to change are built out in this file, and the build files it references.

pipeline {
    agent {
        dockerfile {
          filename "Dockerfile"
          args "-u root" //needed to get around permission issues
    environment {
        SPHINX_DIR  = '.'
        BUILD_DIR   = './_built'
        SOURCE_DIR  = './source'
        DEPLOY_HOST = 'deployer@www.example.com:/path/to/docs/'
    stages {
        stage('Install Dependencies') {
            steps {
                // virtualenv may not be necessary with root,
                // but I still think it's a good idea.
                sh '''
                   virtualenv pyenv
                   . pyenv/bin/activate
                   pip install -r ${SPHINX_DIR}/requirements.txt
        stage('Build') {
            steps {
                // clear out old files
                sh 'rm -rf ${BUILD_DIR}'
                sh 'rm -f ${SPHINX_DIR}/sphinx-build.log'

                sh '''
                   ${WORKSPACE}/pyenv/bin/sphinx-build \
                   -q -w ${SPHINX_DIR}/sphinx-build.log \
                   -b html \
                   -d ${BUILD_DIR}/doctrees ${SOURCE_DIR} ${BUILD_DIR}
            post {
                failure {
                    sh 'cat ${SPHINX_DIR}/sphinx-build.log'
        stage('Deploy') {
            steps {
                sshagent(credentials: ['deployer']) {
                   sh '''#!/bin/bash
                      rm -f ${SPHINX_DIR}/rsync.log
                      RSYNCOPT=(-aze 'ssh -o StrictHostKeyChecking=no')
                      rsync "${RSYNCOPT[@]}" \
                      --exclude-from=${SPHINX_DIR}/rsync-exclude.txt \
                      --log-file=${SPHINX_DIR}/rsync.log \
                      --delete \
                      ${BUILD_DIR}/ ${DEPLOY_HOST}
            post {
                failure {
                    sh 'cat ${SPHINX_DIR}/rsync.log'

Troubleshooting tips

Chances are you aren’t going to nail it on the first try, so here are some tips to help you get through:

On the Jenkins host, run docker images to see a list of images that have been created by Jenkins jobs. Any time a change is made to the Dockerfile and it needs to rebuild, you will have to delete the now unused image with docker rmi <image_id>.

After you have a successful run of you pipeline, you can go to the build URL in Jenkins and use the Replay option. This option allows you edit the Jenkinsfile locally and rerun it on the same hook event instead of troubleshooting through a stream of commits. Once you have what you need working, you can commit changes to the Jenkinsfile in a planned manner.

Make sure to turn on log rotation for each pipeline and discard old builds, otherwise you’ll end up with a surprise later.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you enjoyed this or found it helpful, please consider buying an espresso to keep the flow going.