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Document outline & table of contents

Quoting Wikipedia, a table of contents is:

a list, usually found on a page before the start of a written work, of its chapter or section titles or brief descriptions with their commencing page numbers.

Now quoting the 6th edition of the PDF format reference (v1.7 - 2006) :

A PDF document may optionally display a document outline on the screen, allowing the user to navigate interactively from one part of the document to another. The outline consists of a tree-structured hierarchy of outline items (sometimes called bookmarks), which serve as a visual table of contents to display the document’s structure to the user.

For example, there is how a document outline looks like in Sumatra PDF Reader:

Since fpdf2.3.3, both features are supported through the use of the start_section method, that adds an entry in the internal "outline" table used to render both features.

Note that by default, calling start_section only records the current position in the PDF and renders nothing. However, you can configure global title styles by calling set_section_title_styles, after which call to start_section will render titles visually using the styles defined.

To provide a document outline to the PDF you generate, you just have to call the start_section method for every hierarchical section you want to define.

If you also want to insert a table of contents somewhere, call insert_toc_placeholder wherever you want to put it. Note that a page break will always be triggered after inserting the table of contents.


When using FPDF.write_html, a document outline is automatically built. You can insert a table of content with the special <toc> tag.

Custom styling of the table of contents can be achieved by overriding the render_toc method in a subclass of FPDF:

from fpdf import FPDF, HTML2FPDF

    def render_toc(self, pdf, outline):
        pdf.cell(text='Table of contents:', new_x="LMARGIN", new_y="NEXT")
        for section in outline:
            pdf.cell(text=f'* {} (page {section.page_number})', new_x="LMARGIN", new_y="NEXT")

class PDF(FPDF):

pdf = PDF()
    <h1>Level 1</h1>
    <h2>Level 2</h2>
    <h3>Level 3</h3>
    <h4>Level 4</h4>
    <h5>Level 5</h5>
    <h6>Level 6</h6>

Code samples

The regression tests are a good place to find code samples.

For example, the test_simple_outline test function generates the PDF document simple_outline.pdf.

Similarly, test_html_toc generates test_html_toc.pdf.