simplelist options

The simplelist element is handy for creating, well, simple lists. It is typically used where you have a collection of one- or two-word items and you just need to list them, such as for a shopping list. The other list types such as itemizedlist are too complex for such a simple thing. And a simplelist has more options for presentation than the other lists.

A simplelist can contain only member elements, and a member element can contain only text and inline elements. In fact, its content model is identical to the phrase element. The following is a short example.

<simplelist type="vert" columns="2">

When you create the simplelist, you can specify with the type attribute how you want the list presented. The type can be:


Format the members in a table, with the sequence running down the columns. The column lengths are balanced to the degree possible. This is the default type if the attribute is not specified. The number of columns can be specified with a columns attribute, which defaults to 1. So if you do not set any attributes on the simplelist element, you get a single column list.


Format the members in a table, with the sequence running across the rows. The number of columns can be specified with a columns attribute, which defaults to 1. If columns is not greater than 1, then each row has a single column and the output reverts to a single-column vertical list.


Format the members inline, in a sequence separated by commas. This type of simplelist does not create a line break before and after it, and of all the DocBook list elements, it is the only one that does not. If it appears inside a para, then the simplelist members flow in the text lines with the other paragraph text. In XSL-FO output, a simplelist of this type must be inside a block element or it will generate an error.

Examples of these three types can be seen on the reference page for this element in DocBook: The Definitive Guide

If you choose one of the tabular layouts, the output table has no additional text formatting, borders between cells, or outer frame. The templates do not provide any parameters or attribute-sets to customize them either. You will have to customize the templates in the lists.xsl stylesheet module to change the output. There are separate templates for each of the type attribute values.

The default table layout assigns equal proportional column widths to all of the columns in the output table. Proportional columns without an explicit overall table width will expand to take up the full body text measure. If all your entries are short, then they will be widely spread. If you want a narrower listing, you will have to customize the table. This works best if your XSL-FO processor supports table-layout="auto", which lets it measure the widths of cell content to determine the width of columns. The following example works for XEP and Antenna House for type="vert":

Add table-layout="auto" and turn off column settings:
<xsl:template match="simplelist[@type='vert']">
  <fo:table table-layout="auto"

    <!-- Remove the call-template name="simplelist.table.columns" 
         which sets proportional column widths -->

    <fo:table-body start-indent="0pt" end-indent="0pt">
      <xsl:call-template name="simplelist.vert">
        <xsl:with-param name="cols">
            <xsl:when test="@columns">
              <xsl:value-of select="@columns"/>

Add padding to cells so they do not abutt each other:
<xsl:template name="simplelist.vert.row">
  <xsl:param name="cols">1</xsl:param>
  <xsl:param name="rows">1</xsl:param>
  <xsl:param name="cell">1</xsl:param>
  <xsl:param name="members" select="./member"/>
  <xsl:param name="curcol">1</xsl:param>

  <xsl:if test="$curcol &lt;= $cols">
    <fo:table-cell padding-right="8pt" padding-bottom="4pt">
        <xsl:if test="$members[position()=$cell]">
          <xsl:apply-templates select="$members[position()=$cell]"/>
    <xsl:call-template name="simplelist.vert.row">
      <xsl:with-param name="cols" select="$cols"/>
      <xsl:with-param name="rows" select="$rows"/>
      <xsl:with-param name="cell" select="$cell+$rows"/>
      <xsl:with-param name="members" select="$members"/>
      <xsl:with-param name="curcol" select="$curcol+1"/>

This customization will result in all simplelist elements being formatted in closely spaced tabular lists in the output.

If you are using type="inline", then the stylesheet provides one option. You can specify a choice word before the last member to be output. The choice word could be “and” or “or”, for example. This indicates to the reader how a choice is to be made, if that is appropriate for the list. You use a processing instruction to set the choice word as follows:

<simplelist type="inline">
  <?dbchoice choice="or"?>

Whatever text appears in the pseudo attribute value will be output before the last member. As a special case, if the value is “and”, it will be automatically translated to the current language because that word is one of the gentext elements already available.