Complex List Items

This page covers how to make a list item that has attached blocks and/or mixed nesting, known as a complex list item. The page also draws comparison to list items with principle text that’s either empty or that spans multiple lines. The main purpose of the syntax covered on this page is to keep the list continuous.

Multiline principal text

As with regular paragraph text, the principal text in a list item can span any number of lines as long as those lines are contiguous (i.e., adjacent with no empty lines). Multiple lines are combined into a single paragraph and wrap as regular paragraph text. This behavior holds even if the lines are indented, as shown in the third bullet in this example:

* The document header in AsciiDoc is optional.
If present, it must start with a document title.

* Optional author and revision information lines
immediately follow the document title.

* The document header must be separated from
  the remainder of the document by one or more
  empty lines and it cannot contain empty lines.
  • The document header in AsciiDoc is optional. If present, it must start with a document title.

  • Optional author and revision information lines immediately follow the document title.

  • The document header must be separated from the remainder of the document by one or more empty lines and it cannot contain empty lines.

When list items contain more than one line of text, leave an empty line between items to make the list easier to read while working in the code. An empty line between two list items will not break the list.

Empty lines in a list

Empty lines between two items in a list (ordered or unordered) will not break the list. For ordered lists, this means the numbering will be continuous rather than restarting at 1. (See Separating Lists to learn how to force two adjacent lists apart).

If an empty line after a list item is followed by the start of a block, such as a paragraph or delimited block rather than another list item, the list will terminate at this point. If this happens, you’ll notice that a subsequent list item will be placed into a new list. For ordered lists, that means the numbering will restart.

To keep the list, and thus the numbering, continuous in those cases—​such as when you’re documenting complex steps in a procedure—​you must use a list continuation to attach blocks to the list item.

Attach blocks using a list continuation

In addition to the principal text, a list item may contain any type of AsciiDoc content, including paragraphs, delimited blocks, and block macros. To add block elements to a list item, you must “attach” them (in a series) using a list continuation. A list continuation is a + symbol on a line by itself, immediately adjacent to the block being attached.

A + at the end of a line, rather than on a line by itself, is not a list continuation. Instead, it creates a hard line break.

Here’s an example of a list item that uses a list continuation:

* The header in AsciiDoc must start with a document title.
+
The header is optional.
  • The header in AsciiDoc must start with a document title.

    The header is optional.

Using a list continuation, you can attach any number of block elements to a list item. Unless the block is inside a delimited block which itself has been attached, each block must be preceded by a list continuation to form a chain of blocks.

Here’s an example that attaches both a listing block and an admonition paragraph to the first list item:

* The header in AsciiDoc must start with a document title.
+
----
= Document Title
----
+
Keep in mind that the header is optional.

* Optional author and revision information lines immediately follow the document title.
+
----
= Document Title
Doc Writer <doc.writer@asciidoc.org>
v1.0, 2022-01-01
----

Here’s how the source is rendered:

A list with complex content
  • The header in AsciiDoc must start with a document title.

    = Document Title

    Keep in mind that the header is optional.

  • Optional author and revision information lines immediately follow the document title.

    = Document Title
    Doc Writer <doc.writer@asciidoc.org>
    v1.0, 2022-01-01

If you’re attaching more than one block to a list item, you’re strongly encouraged to wrap the content inside an open block. That way, you only need a single list continuation line to attach the open block to the list item. Within the open block, you write like you normally would, no longer having to worry about adding list continuations between the blocks to keep them attached to the list item.

Here’s an example of wrapping complex list content in an open block:

* The header in AsciiDoc must start with a document title.
+
--
Here's an example of a document title:

----
= Document Title
----

NOTE: The header is optional.
--

Here’s how that content is rendered:

A list with complex content wrapped in an open block
  • The header in AsciiDoc must start with a document title.

    Here’s an example of a document title:

    = Document Title
    The header is optional.

The open block wrapper is also useful if you’re including content from a shared file into a list item. For example:

* list item
+
--
include::shared-content.adoc[]
--

By wrapping the include directive in an open block, the content can be used unmodified.

The only limitation of this technique is that the content itself may not contain an open block since open blocks cannot (yet) be nested.

Drop the principal text

If the principal text of a list item is empty, the node for the principal text is dropped. This is how you can get the first block (such as a listing block) to line up with the list marker. You can make the principal text empty by using the {empty} attribute reference.

Here’s an example of a list that has items with only complex content.

. {empty}
+
----
print("one")
----
. {empty}
+
----
print("one")
----

Here’s how the source is rendered:

A list with complex content
  1. print("one")
  2. print("one")

Attach blocks to an ancestor list

Instead of attaching a block to the current list item, you may need to end that list and attach a block to its ancestor instead. There are two ways to express this composition in the AsciiDoc syntax. You can either enclose the child list in an open block, or you can use insert empty lines above the list continuation to first escape from the nesting. Let’s look at enclosing the child list in an open block first, since that is the preferred method.

Enclose in open block

If you plan to attach blocks to a list item as a sibling of a nested list, the most robust way of creating that structure is to enclose the nested list in an open block. That way, it’s clear where the nested list ends and the current list item continues.

Here’s an example of a list item with a nested list followed by an attached paragraph. The open block makes the boundaries of the nested list clear.

* grandparent list item
+
--
** parent list item
*** child list item
--
+
paragraph attached to grandparent list item

Here’s how the source is rendered:

A nested list enclosed in an open block
  • grandparent list item

    • parent list item

      • child list item

    paragraph attached to grandparent list item

The main limitation of this approach is that it can only be used once in the hierarchy (i.e., it can only enclose a single nested list). That’s because the open block itself cannot be nested. If you require more control, then you must use the ancestor list continuation.

Ancestor list continuation

Normally, a list continuation will attach a block to the current list item. For each empty line you add before the list continuation, the association will move up one level in the nesting. In other words, an empty line signals to the list continuation to back out of the current list by one level. As a result, the block will be attached to the current item in an ancestor list. This syntax is referred to as an ancestor list continuation.

The ancestor list continuation is a fragile syntax. For one, it may not be apparent to new authors that the empty lines before the list continuation are significant. That’s because the AsciiDoc syntax generally ignores repeating empty lines. There are also scenarios where even these empty lines are collapsed, thus preventing the ancestor list continuation from working as expected. Use this feature of the syntax with caution. If possible, enclose the nested list in an open block, as described in the previous section.

Here’s an example of a paragraph that’s attached to the parent list item after the nested list ends. The empty line above the list continuation indicates that the block should be attached to current list item in the parent list.

* parent list item
** child list item

+
paragraph attached to parent list item

Here’s how the source is rendered:

A block attached to the parent list item
  • parent list item

    • child list item

    paragraph attached to parent list item

Each empty line that precedes the list continuation signals a move up one level of nesting. Here’s an example that shows how to attach a paragraph to a grandparent list item using two leading empty lines:

* grandparent list item
** parent list item
*** child list item


+
paragraph attached to grandparent list item

Here’s how the source is rendered:

A block attached to the grandparent list item
  • grandparent list item

    • parent list item

      • child list item

    paragraph attached to grandparent list item

Summary

On this page, you learned that the principal text of a list item can span multiple contiguous lines, and that those lines can be indented for readability without affecting the output. You learned that you can attach any type of block content to a list item using the list continuation. You also learned that using this feature in combination with the open block makes it easier to create list items with complex content, to attach blocks to a parent list, or to drop the principal text. Finally, you learned that you can use the ancestor list continution to attach blocks to the current item in an ancestor list, and the risks with doing so.