What are DITA stylesheets and templates?

DITA stylesheets and templates are essential components of the DITA publishing process. They define how DITA content is transformed into specific output formats, such as PDF, HTML, or other documentation types. Stylesheets contain instructions for rendering DITA content into a visually coherent and formatted document, while templates provide pre-designed structures for consistent presentation.

DITA Stylesheets:

Definition: DITA stylesheets are collections of rules and instructions, typically in the form of XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) files, that specify how DITA content should be transformed into various output formats. These rules define aspects like document structure, formatting, layout, pagination, and styling.

Processing: DITA processors, such as DITA-OT (DITA Open Toolkit), use these stylesheets to apply transformations to DITA source files. These transformations convert structured content into final, presentable documents.

Formatting: Stylesheets handle formatting tasks, such as defining fonts, colors, spacing, and placement of content elements. They control how headings, lists, tables, images, and other components appear in the output.

Output Formats: Different stylesheets can be created for different output formats. For example, one stylesheet may be designed for generating PDFs, while another is tailored for web-based HTML output. Stylesheets ensure content consistency across these formats.

Customization: Organizations often customize stylesheets to meet their branding and formatting requirements. Custom stylesheets allow for a unique look and feel in the published documents.

DITA Templates:

Definition: DITA templates are predefined structures or frameworks that guide the arrangement and organization of content in a document. These templates include placeholders for various DITA elements, specifying where topics, sections, tables, figures, and other components should be placed.

Consistency: Templates ensure consistency in document layout and structure. They help maintain a standardized presentation of content across different publications.

Reuse: Templates can be reused for various documents within an organization. For example, a company may have templates for user guides, data sheets, and product manuals, each with a predefined structure.

Efficiency: Using templates streamlines the content creation process. Authors can focus on writing content within the established framework, saving time and effort.

Integration with Stylesheets: Templates often work in conjunction with stylesheets. Stylesheets control the formatting and appearance, while templates determine the overall document structure.


A software company uses DITA for creating user documentation. They have a DITA stylesheet for generating both PDF and HTML output. This stylesheet specifies formatting rules, such as using Arial font, adding a company logo to the header, and applying a specific color scheme to headings.

Additionally, the company has DITA templates for different document types. They have a template for user guides that defines a typical structure: a cover page, table of contents, chapters, sections, and a glossary. Authors use this template to create consistent user guides. The template also includes placeholders for elements like titles, subtitles, and figures, ensuring a uniform structure across all user guides.