Developing XSL-FO Stylesheets

How to Develop Stylesheets for XML to XSL-FO Transformation

The 80 page XSL-FO tutorial 2nd Edition developed by Antenna House for customers of AH Formatter is made public adding the contents of indexes, functions for PDF creation, reference to appendix and much more substantial contents. This is not only useful for better understanding of XSL and XSLT but also this may be used as a practical sample of XML and XSLT stylesheet.

  1. This is the source file of the XSL-FO tutorial.
  2. The source file is an XML document based on “SimpleDoc.dtd“.
  3. This is the XSLT Stylesheet to transform the source XML file to XSL (XSL-FO) formatting objects tree.
  4. You may download source files from here: ZIP file (about 270KB), revised July 26, 2005. Then you can format xml/Howtodevelop-en-2.xml and SimpleDoc/SD2FO-DOC.xsl using AH Formatter by yourself.
  5. The PDF format is available. PDF file (about 648KB), revised July 26, 2005.

AH Formatter Online Manual written in XSL-FO Editor

These manuals contain operating instructions that explain how to use AH Formatter and provides helpful information for first-time, as well as experienced, users. This is not only useful as a manual but also this may be used as a practical sample of XSL-FO document.

  1. AH Formatter V6.5 Online Manual in FO format as a zip file (about 1752KB), revised 2017. You can format and print using AH Formatter by yourself.
  2. AH Formatter V6.5 Online Manual in PDF format (about 5MB), revised 2017.

AH Formatter V6.5 Online Manual is created using the specification of Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) Version 1.1.

Sample Files of Formatting Objects (XSL- FO)

Antenna House has a comprehensive collection of FO samples. The samples provide examples of functions available in the XSL-FO Standard Specification and extensions only available through Antenna House.

Formatting World Languages with XSL-FO Formatter

AH Formatter can format world languages that are written using Unicode. Besides western languages, major Asian languages such as Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean and Thai are supported. Languages which are written from right to left, such as Arabic, Hebrew, are also supported.

Unicode BIDI algorithm and bidi-override function of XSL (XSL-FO) specification is supported, document that consists of mixed writing mode phrases in a paragraph can be formatted right.

  1. Formatting example of multiple languages with Unicode: FO | PDF
  2. Sample with English, Japanese, Thai, Hebrew, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean: FO | PDF
  3. Arabic example with varying fonts, letterforms and justifications: FO | PDF

AH Formatter is your global multilingual formatting solution.

Stylesheet for DITA to XSL-FO transformation

DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) is an XML-based architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering technical information. The architecture and a related DTD was developed by IBM. DITA is organized around the principle of the topic as the highest level structure and is intended to support the reusability of content. It has been developed especially for managing a large set of documentation to be distributed in multiple channels.

DITA has grown well and its specification was defined by the OASIS DITA Technical Committee since 2004. DITA version 1.0 was approved as an OASIS Standard on May 3rd, 2005, version 1.1 has been published on August 2007, the OASIS open standards consortium announced that its members have approved DITA version 1.2 as an OASIS Standard on December 2010.

Visit OASIS Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) TC for more information.

Features of DITA

  • The topic as an organizing principle.
  • Reuse of whole topics, as well as reuse of partial topics through the use of content references.
  • Specialization of elements to provide.
  • Property-based processing that makes topics easier to find.
  • Making use of existing tagsets and tools.

Antenna House DITAtoFO Stylesheet

The DITA Open Toolkit is an implementation of the OASIS DITA Technical Committee's specification for Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) DTDs and Schemas. DITA-OT (DITA Open Toolkit) transforms DITA content (maps and topics) into deliverable formats such as HTML, DocBook, and PDF.

DITA-OT standard build file supports Antenna House Formater (XSL Formatter.) You can start Antenna House Formatter using the following commandline and obtain the result PDF using the Idiom stylesheet attached to the toolkit.

ant -l [log file path] -Dargs.input=[ditamap file path] -Dpdf.formatter=ah -Dtranstype=pdf

Antenna House now provides a new plug-in for PDF output used by DITA Open Toolkit.
This plug-in is called pdf5 developed for our index module, I18N Index Library. The pdf5 plug-in implements the stylesheet which supports many of DITA 1.2 properties and attributes.

I18N Support Library

The Internationalization (I18N)
Support Java library is the LGPL open-source license developed by Innodata Isogen, Inc. Antenna House made some modifications to the original library and opened this library under the LGPL license according to the LGPL rule.

Download I18N Support Library (about 5,580 KB).
The Innodata Isogen Internationalization (I18N) Support Library is a collection of Java classes that provide fundamental services to document processors for localizing and internationalizing the rendered form of XML documents.

The services provided include:

  • Language and locale-specific static (“generated”) text strings. Processors simply have to know what database key and language to ask for, the system then returns the appropriate language-specific string. Database keys can be element type names (e.g. “Chapter”) or arbitrary strings (e.g., “#index”).
  • Language-specific comparators for doing language and locale-appropriate lexical sorting of strings (for example, with the xsl:sort command through Saxon). The generic “getComparator” functions can be bound to any implementation of the Java Comparator interface. The default Comparator implementation is that provided by the ICU4J package (
  • Back-of-the-book index configuration management, making it easy to define and use language-specific index grouping and sorting.
  • Functionality exposed as XSLT extension functions through Saxon's extension API.

The core functions (I18nService) are processor independent and can be bound to any specific processor through a relatively thin binding layer, as demonstrated by the provided Saxoni18nService class. For example, the I18nService can be bound to Epic Editor through it's Java API, other Java-based XSLT processors, or Java-based user interfaces, or DOM-based XML processors.

Stylesheet for XHTML to XSL-FO transformation

One method to generate PDF dynamic from your web page is to generate XHTML page, then transforms the XHTML to XSL-FO by using XHTML to XSL-FO stylesheet, and XSL-FO to PDF by using XSL-FO formatting software.

Stylesheets for XHTML

Followings are the list of stylesheets for XHTML document to XSL-FO transformation includes in the download file.

Default XHTML stylesheet. The other styleheets are made by importing this stylesheet and changing their styles.
Default setting is text-align=”justify”. In addition, the space between blocks has a range from minimum to maximum and makes the text in the bottom justified after page breaks and column brakes.
An example of a layout in two columns. h1 and h2 become the headline spanning all columns.

Chocolate.xsl, Midnight.xsl, Modernist.xsl, Oldstyle.xsl, Steely.xsl, Swiss.xsl, Traditional.xsl, Ultramarine.xsl

XSL-FO version of the following CSS stylesheet:
W3C Core Styles <http: />
It's made by transforming Traditional in W3C Core Styles into Japanese tb-rl writing mode.
This is an XSL-FO version of W3C-REC.css (W3C Recommendation stylesheet).

Download all stylesheet files.

Sample XHTML files

Some samples of table and list are added to original Sampler.html.
Sample of ruby. Mixture of writing mode in vertical and horizontal. Horizontal in vertical test. (Ruby is a part of XHTML1.1 Recommendation. It is supported with xhtml2fo.xsl.)
Example of specifying CSS-based styles to the element of XHTML using the style attribute. Specifying the writing mode ‘rl-tb' and ‘lr-tb', table style and absolute position.

Download all sample xhtml files.


Various styles can be customized by changing the following parameters and the settings using the attribute-set.

<!-- page size -->

<xsl:param name="page-width">auto</xsl:param>
<xsl:param name="page-height">auto</xsl:param>
<xsl:param name="page-margin-top">1in</xsl:param>
<xsl:param name="page-margin-bottom">1in</xsl:param>
<xsl:param name="page-margin-left">1in</xsl:param>
<xsl:param name="page-margin-right">1in</xsl:param>

Example of specifying the size and the margin of the page. When page-width and page-height is aut-setting, it follows the setting of AH Formatter.

<!-- page header and footer -->

<xsl:param name="page-header-margin">0.5in</xsl:param>
<xsl:param name="page-footer-margin">0.5in</xsl:param>
<xsl:param name="title-print-in-header">true</xsl:param>
<xsl:param name="page-number-print-in-footer">true</xsl:param>

Example of specifying the margin of page header, the margin of page footer, whether to place the contents of XHTML title to the page header, and whether to place page numbers to page footer.

The value of true/false is set as strings, not as Boolean type supposing that you may specify it from UI.

<!-- multi column -->

<xsl:param name="column-count">1</xsl:param>
<xsl:param name="column-gap">12pt</xsl:param>

Example of setting columns. Specify the column number and the space between columns.

<!-- writing-mode: lr-tb | rl-tb | tb-rl -->

<xsl:param name="writing-mode">lr-tb</xsl:param>

Example of setting writing-mode. When the writing mode ‘vertical (tb-rl)' is specified, the text in the body is written in vertical mode, the text in the page header is written in horizontal mode and placed at the top of the page (region-start), the text in the page footer is written in horizontal mode and placed at the bottom of the page (region-end).

<!-- text-align: justify | start -->

<xsl:param name="text-align">start</xsl:param>

Example of specifying the default text-align setting. When ‘justify' is specified, the end of the line is justified.

<!-- hyphenate: true | false -->

<xsl:param name="hyphenate">false</xsl:param>

Example of specifying whether to hyphenate or not.

Main functions

  • Transforming the width, height and border attributes of the XHTML elements into XSL-FO properties. It support the attributes defined in HTML4(xhtml1) strict.dtd.
  • Interpret CSS-based style attributes specified to XHTML elements and transform them into XSL-FO properties.
  • Generating fo:block-container or fo:inline-container if necessary when writing-mode, width, height and absolute position are specified to the style attributes of div/span elements. Sample xhtml files:
    • style-test.html
    • ruby-test.html
  • Supports ruby. It is possible to write rubies on both alongside of the line. Sample xhtml files:
    • ruby-test.html
  • Deletes the line-feed placing right after the pre tag. Otherwise, line-feed characters are retained and unnecessary white space is created according to the XSL-FO Specification.

XHTML, written in XML, is a reformulated version of HTML. For details please refer to W3C HTML Home Page.

If you wish to convert HTML to XHTML, HTML Tidy is a very strong and useful tool for the purpose.

Stylesheet for XBRL to XSL-FO transformation and sample XBRL file

XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) is a specification for describing XML-based business documents and it aims to exchange the data of financial statements and accounts.

APRA (Australian Prudential Regulation Authority) integrated XBRL into their management business. Also, JFMIP (The Joint Financial Management Improvement Program) recommends for all the Federal Government Agencies of the US to use XBRL.

Visit XBRL Japan or XBRL USA for more information.

We provide a stylesheet that transforms XBRL for a statement of account to FO here.

A balance sheet and a statement of profits and losses are created by downloading the above 2 files and formatting with AH Formatter.

Step 1. Design

You design a template using your mouse and XSL Report Designer's GUI. First, place an object on the page. Then, drag the XML element onto the object. Objects can be text, tables, graphics, lines and barcodes. Finally, set the typeface, point size, etc. for how the object should print. You've created the design. The design is saved as a Project File (“.rxl”). You can also save it as an XSL stylesheet (“.xsl”) .

Step 2. Creating XSL-FO with either the Runtime Engine or XSLT software

XSL Report Designer's separate Runtime Engine creates XSL-FO by processing your XML data using the Project File designed in Step 1. The Runtime Engine is a powerful tool that supports advanced processing that cannot be done with XSLT.

With XSL Report Designer you can also save your project as an XSL stylesheet. Then by using an XSLT processor your XML data can be transformed into XSL-FO.

Step 3. Using Antenna House XSL Formatter to create a file for display, print or PDF output

The final step is taking the XSL-FO and using our XSL Formatter to create a file for screen display, print or PDF output. Whether your outputting 1 page or 100,000 pages Antenna House Formatter can handle your requirements. No other XSL formatting software offers the power, speed and ability to handle virtually any size document like Antenna House Formatter.