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These are notes for a possible future PEP providing the final piece of the Python docstring puzzle: docstring semantics or documentation methodology. PEP 257, Docstring Conventions, sketches out some guidelines, but does not get into methodology details.
I haven’t explored documentation methodology more because, in my opinion, it is a completely separate issue from syntax, and it’s even more controversial than syntax. Nobody wants to be told how to lay out their documentation, a la JavaDoc. I think the JavaDoc way is butt-ugly, but it is an established standard for the Java world. Any standard documentation methodology has to be formal enough to be useful but remain light enough to be usable. If the methodology is too strict, too heavy, or too ugly, many/most will not want to use it.
I think a standard methodology could benefit the Python community, but it would be a hard sell. A PEP would be the place to start. For most human-readable documentation needs, the free-form text approach is adequate. We’d only need a formal methodology if we want to extract the parameters into a data dictionary, index, or summary of some kind.
(Not to be confused with Daniel Larsson’s pythondoc project.)
A Python version of the JavaDoc semantics (not syntax). A set of conventions which are understood by the Docutils. What JavaDoc has done is to establish a syntax that enables a certain documentation methodology, or standard semantics. JavaDoc is not just syntax; it prescribes a methodology.
Use field lists or definition lists for “tagged blocks”. By this I mean that field lists can be used similarly to JavaDoc’s @tag syntax. That’s actually one of the motivators behind field lists. For example, we could have:
""" :Parameters: - `lines`: a list of one-line strings without newlines. - `until_blank`: Stop collecting at the first blank line if true (1). - `strip_indent`: Strip common leading indent if true (1, default). :Return: - a list of indented lines with mininum indent removed; - the amount of the indent; - whether or not the block finished with a blank line or at the end of `lines`. """
This is taken straight out of docutils/statemachine.py, in which I experimented with a simple documentation methodology. Another variation I’ve thought of exploits the Grouch-compatible “classifier” element of definition lists. For example:
:Parameters: `lines` : [string] List of one-line strings without newlines. `until_blank` : boolean Stop collecting at the first blank line if true (1). `strip_indent` : boolean Strip common leading indent if true (1, default).
Field lists could even be used in a one-to-one correspondence with JavaDoc @tags, although I doubt if I’d recommend it. Several ports of JavaDoc’s @tag methodology exist in Python, most recently Ed Loper’s “epydoc”.
Can we extract comments from parsed modules? Could be handy for documenting function/method parameters:
def method(self, source, # path of input file dest # path of output file ):
This would save having to repeat parameter names in the docstring.
Idea from Mark Hammond’s 1998-06-23 Doc-SIG post, “Re: [Doc-SIG] Documentation tool”:
it would be quite hard to add a new param to this method without realising you should document it
Frederic Giacometti’s iPhrase Python documentation conventions is an attachment to his Doc-SIG post of 2001-05-30.