How to Edit PINT’s Documentation

PINT’s documentation is in the Sphinx format, which is based on reStructuredText. This is a plain-text-based documentation format, which means that the documentation is largely editable as plain text with various arcane bits of punctuation strewn throughout to keep you on your toes. This documentation can be converted automatically into HTML, LaTeX, and PDF, but in practice by far the most useful form is that produced by and served up on the readthedocs servers. You can find that rendered version here.

PINT’s documentation is created from three different inputs:

  • reStructuredText files (.rst) under docs/ (but not docs/api/; see below),

  • docstrings in the code; these follow the numpy docstring guidelines and thus are not pure reStructuredText, and

  • Jupyter notebooks under docs/examples; see How to Work With Example Notebooks.

It should be fairly clear where to look for any given piece of documentation’s code, but if there is any question, start from docs/index.rst. Everything is in a tree depending from here. If you add a function or a class to a file, make sure that the new function/class is included in the __all__ list, so that it will be included in the documentation.

To build a local copy of the documentation, run:

$ make docs


$ tox -e docs
$ firefox docs/_build/index.html

These both use Sphinx to construct the documentation, check it for formatting and internal consistency, and open it in a browser window. If you have a browser window already open, say on a page you are working on, I recommend using tox and skipping the new window and just hitting reload. You can also run a faster build that regenerates only what has changed (though this can become confused, and may not detect errors as vigorously):

$ make -C docs/ html

If something goes wrong, the error messages should be fairly clear, but it may not be obvious what the right way is to do what you are trying to do. In an ideal world, the documentation tools themselves would have good documentation, and it would be easy to look up the right way to do things. A few pointers:

In a .rst file:

  • Web links: short_ and `long text`_, then at the bottom of the section add lines .. _short: http://... and .. _`long text`: http://...

  • Section references: :ref:`label`; before the section header add a line .. _`label`:

  • To refer to a class, module, or function in text, use :class:`~astropy.module.ClassName`, :mod:`~astropy.module`, or :func:`~astropy.module.function`.

  • To get typewriter font for text, use double back-ticks. Single back-ticks are for Sphinx special objects like links and class names and things.

  • To get emphasis, use asterisks.

  • To get lists, start with a blank line, start each list item with an indented hyphen, indent successive lines further, and end with a blank line.

  • To get definition lists (lists where each item starts with a highlighted word or phrase), start with a blank line, then the word or phrase, then the definition indented, then the next word or phrase at indentation level zero, then its definition indented… end with a blank line.

  • To get a code block, end the preceding line with a double colon ::, leave a blank line, indent every line of the code, then leave a blank line at the end.

In a docstring:

  • In most text, you can write things the way you do in normal documentation.

  • When specifying an argument type, just type the fully qualified name (for example astropy.units.Quantity) and napoleon will fill in the link.

  • Use the standard sections Parameters, Returns, and Note as appropriate.

Of course you can also just look at existing documentation to see how it is done, but please check that the documentation you are using as a reference renders correctly!

You may also want to run, from time to time:

$ make linkcheck

This will try to make sure that all the external links in the documentation still work, though of course they can’t verify that the page that comes up is still the intended one and not something else.