Are there limitations to conref in DITA?

While conref (content referencing) in DITA offers powerful capabilities for content reuse, there are certain limitations and considerations that should be taken into account when implementing this feature.

These limitations include:

  1. Granularity: Conref operates at the element level. This means that content can be reused in a fine-grained manner, but it cannot cross element boundaries. For example, a paragraph or a list can be reused, but not portions of text within a paragraph.
  2. Structure Alignment: When reusing content using conref, the structure of the source and target elements should align. Misalignments can lead to inconsistent formatting or rendering issues.
  3. Limited Context Awareness: Conref is not context-aware. It doesn’t inherently understand the context in which the content is being reused, potentially leading to content that may not be suitable in a new context.
  4. Complexity in Authoring: For authors, setting up and managing Conref references can be complex, especially in scenarios with numerous references and intricate content structures.
  5. Version Control: Care must be taken in version control. If the source content is modified, it can impact multiple topics that reference it. Proper management and communication are essential to avoid unintended changes.


A warning message with rich formatting is reused across multiple topics. Due to the element-level granularity, it’s easy to reuse the entire warning, but more challenging to reuse a specific phrase within the warning while maintaining consistent formatting:

Source Topic (source.dita):

          <warning>Caution: <emphasis>Do not proceed</emphasis> without proper authorization.</warning>

Target Topic (target.dita):

        <p>Before proceeding, remember: <conref href="source.dita#common-warning"/>.</p>

In this example, the target topic attempts to reuse the entire warning from the source, but reusing only the emphasized phrase “Do not proceed” faces limitations due to the element level of the source.