Include Directive

The include directive (include::path[attributes]) let’s you import content from another file into the current document. You can use it multiple times in the same document.

This directive is useful if you want to:

  • partition a large document into smaller files (for better organization and to make restructuring simpler),

  • insert snippets of source code (so your examples are kept up-to-date with the latest source files),

  • populate tables with output from other programs (e.g., CSV data),

  • create document variants by combining the include directive with preprocessor conditionals (e.g., ifdef), and

  • reuse fragments and boilerplate content multiple times within the same document.

The include directive is disabled when Asciidoctor is run in secure mode. In this mode, the include directive is converted to a link in the output document. To learn more about secure mode, refer to Run Asciidoctor Securely with Safe Modes.


The include directive has the following anatomy:


The leveloffset, lines, tag(s) and indent attributes are optional, making the simplest case look like:


The sections that follows go into detail about when the include is processed, how the include file is resolved, and how each attribute is used.


Although the include directive shares the same syntax as a block macro, it is not a block macro and not processed like one. Instead, it’s a preprocessor directive, like ifdef and ifeval. It’s important that you understand the distinction between the two.

A preprocessor directive is processed when the lines are read and before the document structure is parsed. Therefore, it’s not aware of the surrounding document structure. A preprocessor directive merely adds lines to the reader or takes lines away. The include directive always adds lines.

The best way to think of the include directive is to imagine that it is being replaced by the lines from the include file (i.e., the imported lines). Only then does the parser read and interpret those lines. That’s also why it’s important to surround the include directive by blank lines if it imports in a discrete structure. You only want to place include files directly adjacent to one another if the imported content should be directly adjacent.

File resolution

The path used in an include directive may be either relative or absolute.

If the path relative, the processor resolves the path using the following rules:

  • If the include directive is used in the main (top-level) document, relative paths are resolved relative to the base directory. (The base directory defaults to the directory of the main document and can be overridden from the CLI or API).

  • If the include directive is used in a file that has itself been included, the path is resolved relative to the including (i.e., current) file.

These defaults makes it easy to reason about how the path to the include file is resolved.

If the processor cannot locate the file (perhaps because you mistyped the path), you’ll still be able to convert the document. However, you will get the following warning message during conversion:

asciidoctor: WARNING: master.adoc: line 3: include file not found: /.../content.adoc

The following message will also be inserted into the output:

Unresolved directive in master.adoc - include::content.adoc[]

To fix the problem, edit the file path and run the converter again.

If you store your AsciiDoc files in nested folders at different levels, relative file paths can quickly become awkward and inflexible. A common pattern to help here is to define the paths in attributes defined in the header, then prefix all include paths with a reference to one of these attributes:

:includedir: _includes
:sourcedir: ../src/main/java



Keep in mind that no matter how Asciidoctor resolves the path to the file, access to that file is limited by the safe mode setting under which Asciidoctor is run. If a path violates the security restrictions, it may be truncated.

Partitioning large documents and using leveloffset

When your document gets large, you can split it up into subsections for easier editing as follows:

= My book



Note the blank lines before and after the include directives. This practice is recommended whenever including AsciiDoc content to avoid unexpected results (e.g., a section title getting interpreted as a line at the end of a previous paragraph).

The leveloffset attribute can help here by pushing all headings in the included document down by the specified number of levels. This allows you to publish each chapter as a standalone document (complete with a document title), but still be able to include the chapters into a master document (which has its own document title).

You can easily assemble your book so that the chapter document titles become level 1 headings using:

= My Book




Because the leveloffset is relative (it begins with + or -), this works even if the included document has its own includes and leveloffsets.

If you have lots of chapters to include and want them all to have the same offset, you can save some typing by setting leveloffset around the includes:

= My book

:leveloffset: +1




:leveloffset: -1

The final line returns the leveloffset to 0.

Alternatively, you could use absolute levels:

:leveloffset: 1


:leveloffset: 0

Relative levels are preferred. Absolute levels become awkward when you have nested includes since they aren’t context aware.

AsciiDoc vs non-AsciiDoc files

The include directive performs a simple file merge, so it works with any text file. The content of all included content is normalized. This means that the encoding is forced to UTF-8 (or converted from UTF-16 to UTF-8 if the file contains a BOM) and trailing whitespace and endlines are removed from each line and replaced with a Unix line feed. This normalization is important to how Asciidoctor works.

If the file is recognized as an AsciiDoc file (i.e., it has one of the following extensions: .asciidoc, .adoc, .ad, .asc, or .txt), Asciidoctor runs the preprocessor on the lines, looking for and interpreting the following directives:

  • includes

  • preprocessor conditionals (e.g., ifdef)

This allows includes to be nested, and provides lot of flexibility in constructing radically different documents with a single master document and a few command line attributes.

Including non-AsciiDoc files is normally done to merge output from other programs or populate table data:

.2016 Sales Results

In this case, the include directive does not do any processing of AsciiDoc directives. The content is inserted as is (after being normalized).

Include a File Multiple Times in the Same Document

A document can include the same file any number of times. The problem comes if there are IDs in the included file; the output document (HTML or DocBook) will then have duplicate IDs which will make it not well-formed. To fix this, you can reference a dynamic variable from the main document in the ID.

For example, let’s say you want to include the same subsection describing a bike chain in both the operation and maintenance chapters:

= Bike Manual

:chapter: operation
== Operation


:chapter: maintenance
== Maintenance


Write fragment-chain.adoc as:

=== Chain

See xref:chain-{chapter}[].

The first time the fragment-chain.adoc file is included, the ID of the included section resolves to chain-operation. The second time the file included, the ID resolves to chain-maintenance.

In order for this to work, you must use the long-hand forms of both the ID assignment and the cross-reference. The single quotes around the variable name in the assignment are required to force variable substitution (aka interpolation).