Documentation

# Documentation

Julia enables package developers and users to document functions, types and other objects easily via a built-in documentation system since Julia 0.4.

The basic syntax is simple: any string appearing at the top-level right before an object (function, macro, type or instance) will be interpreted as documenting it (these are called docstrings). Note that no blank lines or comments may intervene between a docstring and the documented object. Here is a basic example:

"Tell whether there are too foo items in the array."
foo(xs::Array) = ...

Documentation is interpreted as Markdown, so you can use indentation and code fences to delimit code examples from text. Technically, any object can be associated with any other as metadata; Markdown happens to be the default, but one can construct other string macros and pass them to the @doc macro just as well.

Note

Markdown support is implemented in the Markdown standard library and for a full list of supported syntax see the documentation.

Here is a more complex example, still using Markdown:

"""
bar(x[, y])

Compute the Bar index between x and y. If y is missing, compute
the Bar index between all pairs of columns of x.

# Examples
julia-repl
julia> bar([1, 2], [1, 2])
1

"""
function bar(x, y) ...

As in the example above, we recommend following some simple conventions when writing documentation:

1. Always show the signature of a function at the top of the documentation, with a four-space indent so that it is printed as Julia code.

This can be identical to the signature present in the Julia code (like mean(x::AbstractArray)), or a simplified form. Optional arguments should be represented with their default values (i.e. f(x, y=1)) when possible, following the actual Julia syntax. Optional arguments which do not have a default value should be put in brackets (i.e. f(x[, y]) and f(x[, y[, z]])). An alternative solution is to use several lines: one without optional arguments, the other(s) with them. This solution can also be used to document several related methods of a given function. When a function accepts many keyword arguments, only include a <keyword arguments> placeholder in the signature (i.e. f(x; <keyword arguments>)), and give the complete list under an # Arguments section (see point 4 below).

2. Include a single one-line sentence describing what the function does or what the object represents after the simplified signature block. If needed, provide more details in a second paragraph, after a blank line.

The one-line sentence should use the imperative form ("Do this", "Return that") instead of the third person (do not write "Returns the length...") when documenting functions. It should end with a period. If the meaning of a function cannot be summarized easily, splitting it into separate composable parts could be beneficial (this should not be taken as an absolute requirement for every single case though).

3. Do not repeat yourself.

Since the function name is given by the signature, there is no need to start the documentation with "The function bar...": go straight to the point. Similarly, if the signature specifies the types of the arguments, mentioning them in the description is redundant.

4. Only provide an argument list when really necessary.

For simple functions, it is often clearer to mention the role of the arguments directly in the description of the function's purpose. An argument list would only repeat information already provided elsewhere. However, providing an argument list can be a good idea for complex functions with many arguments (in particular keyword arguments). In that case, insert it after the general description of the function, under an # Arguments header, with one - bullet for each argument. The list should mention the types and default values (if any) of the arguments:

"""
...
# Arguments
- n::Integer: the number of elements to compute.
- dim::Integer=1: the dimensions along which to perform the computation.
...
"""
5. Provide hints to related functions.

Sometimes there are functions of related functionality. To increase discoverability please provide a short list of these in a See also: paragraph.

See also: [bar!](@ref), [baz](@ref), [baaz](@ref)
6. Include any code examples in an # Examples section.

Examples should, whenever possible, be written as doctests. A doctest is a fenced code block (see Code blocks) starting with jldoctest and contains any number of julia> prompts together with inputs and expected outputs that mimic the Julia REPL.

Note

Doctests are enabled by Documenter.jl. For more detailed documentation see Documenter's manual.

For example in the following docstring a variable a is defined and the expected result, as printed in a Julia REPL, appears afterwards:

"""
Some nice documentation here.

# Examples
jldoctest
julia> a = [1 2; 3 4]
2×2 Array{Int64,2}:
1  2
3  4

"""
Warning

Calling rand and other RNG-related functions should be avoided in doctests since they will not produce consistent outputs during different Julia sessions. If you would like to show some random number generation related functionality, one option is to explicitly construct and seed your own MersenneTwister (or other pseudorandom number generator) and pass it to the functions you are doctesting.

Operating system word size (Int32 or Int64) as well as path separator differences (/ or \) will also affect the reproducibility of some doctests.

Note that whitespace in your doctest is significant! The doctest will fail if you misalign the output of pretty-printing an array, for example.

You can then run make -C doc doctest=true to run all the doctests in the Julia Manual and API documentation, which will ensure that your example works.

To indicate that the output result is truncated, you may write [...] at the line where checking should stop. This is useful to hide a stacktrace (which contains non-permanent references to lines of julia code) when the doctest shows that an exception is thrown, for example:

jldoctest
julia> div(1, 0)
ERROR: DivideError: integer division error
[...]


Examples that are untestable should be written within fenced code blocks starting with julia so that they are highlighted correctly in the generated documentation.

Tip

Wherever possible examples should be self-contained and runnable so that readers are able to try them out without having to include any dependencies.

7. Use backticks to identify code and equations.

Julia identifiers and code excerpts should always appear between backticks  to enable highlighting. Equations in the LaTeX syntax can be inserted between double backticks . Use Unicode characters rather than their LaTeX escape sequence, i.e. α = 1 rather than \\alpha = 1.

8. Place the starting and ending """ characters on lines by themselves.

That is, write:

"""
...

...
"""
f(x, y) = ...

rather than:

"""...

..."""
f(x, y) = ...

This makes it more clear where docstrings start and end.

9. Respect the line length limit used in the surrounding code.

Docstrings are edited using the same tools as code. Therefore, the same conventions should apply. It is advised to add line breaks after 92 characters.

10. Provide information allowing custom types to implement the function in an # Implementation section. These implementation details intended for developers rather than users, explaining e.g. which functions should be overridden and which functions automatically use appropriate fallbacks, are better kept separate from the main description of the function's behavior.

## Accessing Documentation

Documentation can be accessed at the REPL or in IJulia by typing ? followed by the name of a function or macro, and pressing Enter. For example,

?cos
?@time
?r""

will bring up docs for the relevant function, macro or string macro respectively. In Juno using Ctrl-J, Ctrl-D will bring up documentation for the object under the cursor.

## Functions & Methods

Functions in Julia may have multiple implementations, known as methods. While it's good practice for generic functions to have a single purpose, Julia allows methods to be documented individually if necessary. In general, only the most generic method should be documented, or even the function itself (i.e. the object created without any methods by function bar end). Specific methods should only be documented if their behaviour differs from the more generic ones. In any case, they should not repeat the information provided elsewhere. For example:

"""
*(x, y, z...)

Multiplication operator. x * y * z *... calls this function with multiple
arguments, i.e. *(x, y, z...).
"""
function *(x, y, z...)
# ... [implementation sold separately] ...
end

"""
*(x::AbstractString, y::AbstractString, z::AbstractString...)

When applied to strings, concatenates them.
"""
function *(x::AbstractString, y::AbstractString, z::AbstractString...)
# ... [insert secret sauce here] ...
end

help?> *
search: * .*

*(x, y, z...)

Multiplication operator. x * y * z *... calls this function with multiple
arguments, i.e. *(x,y,z...).

*(x::AbstractString, y::AbstractString, z::AbstractString...)

When applied to strings, concatenates them.

When retrieving documentation for a generic function, the metadata for each method is concatenated with the catdoc function, which can of course be overridden for custom types.

The @doc macro associates its first argument with its second in a per-module dictionary called META. By default, documentation is expected to be written in Markdown, and the doc"" string macro simply creates an object representing the Markdown content. In the future it is likely to do more advanced things such as allowing for relative image or link paths.

To make it easier to write documentation, the parser treats the macro name @doc specially: if a call to @doc has one argument, but another expression appears after a single line break, then that additional expression is added as an argument to the macro. Therefore the following syntax is parsed as a 2-argument call to @doc:

@doc raw"""
...
"""
f(x) = x

This makes it easy to use an arbitrary object (here a raw string) as a docstring.

When used for retrieving documentation, the @doc macro (or equally, the doc function) will search all META dictionaries for metadata relevant to the given object and return it. The returned object (some Markdown content, for example) will by default display itself intelligently. This design also makes it easy to use the doc system in a programmatic way; for example, to re-use documentation between different versions of a function:

@doc "..." foo!
@doc (@doc foo!) foo

Or for use with Julia's metaprogramming functionality:

for (f, op) in ((:add, :+), (:subtract, :-), (:multiply, :*), (:divide, :/))
@eval begin
$f(a,b) =$op(a,b)
end
end
@doc "add(a,b) adds a and b together" add
@doc "subtract(a,b) subtracts b from a" subtract

Documentation written in non-toplevel blocks, such as begin, if, for, and let, is added to the documentation system as blocks are evaluated. For example:

if condition()
"..."
f(x) = x
end

will add documentation to f(x) when condition() is true. Note that even if f(x) goes out of scope at the end of the block, its documentation will remain.

### Dynamic documentation

Sometimes the appropriate documentation for an instance of a type depends on the field values of that instance, rather than just on the type itself. In these cases, you can add a method to Docs.getdoc for your custom type that returns the documentation on a per-instance basis. For instance,

struct MyType
value::String
end

Docs.getdoc(t::MyType) = "Documentation for MyType with value $(t.value)" x = MyType("x") y = MyType("y") ?x will display "Documentation for MyType with value x" while ?y will display "Documentation for MyType with value y". ## Syntax Guide A comprehensive overview of all documentable Julia syntax. In the following examples "..." is used to illustrate an arbitrary docstring. doc"" should only be used when the docstring contains $ or \ characters that should not be parsed by Julia such as LaTeX syntax or Julia source code examples containing interpolation.

### Functions and Methods

"..."
function f end

"..."
f

Adds docstring "..." to the function f. The first version is the preferred syntax, however both are equivalent.

"..."
f(x) = x

"..."
function f(x)
x
end

"..."
f(x)

Adds docstring "..." to the method f(::Any).

"..."
f(x, y = 1) = x + y

Adds docstring "..." to two Methods, namely f(::Any) and f(::Any, ::Any).

### Macros

"..."
macro m(x) end

Adds docstring "..." to the @m(::Any) macro definition.

"..."
:(@m)

Adds docstring "..." to the macro named @m.

### Types

"..."
abstract type T1 end

"..."
mutable struct T2
...
end

"..."
struct T3
...
end

Adds the docstring "..." to types T1, T2, and T3.

"..."
struct T
"x"
x
"y"
y
end

Adds docstring "..." to type T, "x" to field T.x and "y" to field T.y. Also applicable to mutable struct types.

### Modules

"..."
module M end

module M

"..."
M

end

Adds docstring "..." to the ModuleM. Adding the docstring above the Module is the preferred syntax, however both are equivalent.

"..."
baremodule M
# ...
end

baremodule M

import Base: @doc

"..."
f(x) = x

end

Documenting a baremodule by placing a docstring above the expression automatically imports @doc into the module. These imports must be done manually when the module expression is not documented. Empty baremodules cannot be documented.

### Global Variables

"..."
const a = 1

"..."
b = 2

"..."
global c = 3

Adds docstring "..." to the Bindings a, b, and c.

Bindings are used to store a reference to a particular Symbol in a Module without storing the referenced value itself.

Note

When a const definition is only used to define an alias of another definition, such as is the case with the function div and its alias ÷ in Base, do not document the alias and instead document the actual function.

If the alias is documented and not the real definition then the docsystem (? mode) will not return the docstring attached to the alias when the real definition is searched for.

For example you should write

"..."
f(x) = x + 1
const alias = f

rather than

f(x) = x + 1
"..."
const alias = f
"..."
sym

Adds docstring "..." to the value associated with sym. Users should prefer documenting sym at its definition.

### Multiple Objects

"..."
a, b

Adds docstring "..." to a and b each of which should be a documentable expression. This syntax is equivalent to

"..."
a

"..."
b

Any number of expressions many be documented together in this way. This syntax can be useful when two functions are related, such as non-mutating and mutating versions f and f!.

### Macro-generated code

"..."
@m expression

Adds docstring "..." to expression generated by expanding @m expression. This allows for expressions decorated with @inline, @noinline, @generated, or any other macro to be documented in the same way as undecorated expressions.

Macro authors should take note that only macros that generate a single expression will automatically support docstrings. If a macro returns a block containing multiple subexpressions then the subexpression that should be documented must be marked using the @__doc__ macro.

The @enum macro makes use of @__doc__ to allow for documenting Enums. Examining its definition should serve as an example of how to use @__doc__ correctly.

@__doc__(ex)

Low-level macro used to mark expressions returned by a macro that should be documented. If more than one expression is marked then the same docstring is applied to each expression.

macro example(f)
quote
$(f)() = 0 @__doc__$(f)(x) = 1
\$(f)(x, y) = 2
end |> esc
end

@__doc__` has no effect when a macro that uses it is not documented.

source