How to make automatic documentation using Doxygen, breathe and Sphinx

Posted on Wed 15 June 2022 in documentation


I recently wrote a C++ Library, and I wanted to document how to use it. I searched for a solution to extract the documentation from the code, and I found Doxygen. It works well, but produces an ugly html output.

So I decided, with advices from the JeBif discord, to use Sphinx, to render the documentation.

Sphinx does not extract documentation from source code, it rather generates the documentation from Markdown or ReStructuredText files, so I still use Doxygen to do this job, and thanks to breathe, we can use its xml output to render documentation using Sphinx.

Let's go !

Setting all the stuff up

First of all, Install Doxygen.

apt-get install doxygen

Let us create a dummy example:

mkdir myawesomelibrary
cd myawesomelibrary
mkdir include
cd include

And create a dummy header file:

// myawesomelibrary/include/cat.hpp

 * @brief This is a cat
class Cat {
    Cat() {
        say("I'm a cat");
     * @brief the cat is saying meow 
    void meow()

     * @brief the cat is saying something 
    void say(const std::string& message)
        std::cout << message << std::endl;

Let's generate the doxygen cofiguration file:

cd ..
doxygen -g Doxyfile

Then in this file, we have to set the path to the header files source directory, and allow doxygen to look up to source code files recursively. It is also time to set the output directory.

INPUT = "./include"




We need to tell doxygen to generate the xml output.


And, we can disable html and \(\LaTeX\) output.



Now let's set up Sphinx

mkdir doc
cd doc
sudo apt install python-sphinx

In the file, we need to add the following lines:

extensions = ['breathe']
breathe_projects = {'myawesomelibrary': '../xml'}
breathe_default_project = 'myawesomelibrary'

Of course we also need to install the breathe package.

pip install breathe

We need to tell Sphinx to render the class documentation:

// in `index.rst`
.. doxygenclass:: Cat

We can use the theme from ReadTheDocs:

pip install sphinx_rtd_theme
# in
html_theme = 'sphinx_rtd_theme'

Generating the documentation

cd .. # go back to the root of the project
doxygen Doxyfile
cd doc
make html

That's it !

The output is in the doc/build/html directory.

Here is the result I got:

sphinx dummy documentation