What to put in a python module docstring?


Ok, so I’ve read both PEP 8 and PEP 257, and I’ve written lots of docstrings for functions and classes, but I’m a little unsure about what should go in a module docstring. I figured, at a minimum, it should document the functions and classes that the module exports, but I’ve also seen a few modules that list author names, copyright information, etc. Does anyone have an example of how a good python docstring should be structured?

Asked By: user297250



Think about somebody doing help(yourmodule) at the interactive interpreter’s prompt — what do they want to know? (Other methods of extracting and displaying the information are roughly equivalent to help in terms of amount of information). So if you have in x.py:

"""This module does blah blah."""

class Blah(object):
  """This class does blah blah."""


>>> import x; help(x)


Help on module x:

    x - This module does blah blah.



    class Blah(__builtin__.object)
     |  This class does blah blah.
     |  Data and other attributes defined here:
     |  __dict__ = <dictproxy object>
     |      dictionary for instance variables (if defined)
     |  __weakref__ = <attribute '__weakref__' of 'Blah' objects>
     |      list of weak references to the object (if defined)

As you see, the detailed information on the classes (and functions too, though I’m not showing one here) is already included from those components’ docstrings; the module’s own docstring should describe them very summarily (if at all) and rather concentrate on a concise summary of what the module as a whole can do for you, ideally with some doctested examples (just like functions and classes ideally should have doctested examples in their docstrings).

I don’t see how metadata such as author name and copyright / license helps the module’s user — it can rather go in comments, since it could help somebody considering whether or not to reuse or modify the module.

Answered By: Alex Martelli

To quote the specifications:

The docstring of a script
(a stand-alone program) should be usable as its “usage” message, printed when the script is invoked with incorrect or missing arguments (or perhaps with a “-h” option, for “help”). Such a docstring should document the script’s function and command line syntax, environment variables, and files. Usage messages can be fairly elaborate (several screens full) and should be sufficient for a new user to use the command properly, as well as a complete quick reference to all options and arguments for the sophisticated user.

The docstring for a module
should generally list the classes, exceptions and functions (and any other objects) that are exported by the module, with a one-line summary of each. (These summaries generally give less detail than the summary line in the object’s docstring.) The docstring for a package (i.e., the docstring of the package’s __init__.py module) should also list the modules and subpackages exported by the package.

The docstring for a class
should summarize its behavior and list the public methods and instance variables. If the class is intended to be subclassed, and has an additional interface for subclasses, this interface should be listed separately (in the docstring). The class constructor should be documented in the docstring for its __init__ method. Individual methods should be documented by their own docstring.

The docstring of a function or method
is a phrase ending in a period. It prescribes the function or method’s effect as a command (“Do this”, “Return that”), not as a description; e.g. don’t write “Returns the pathname …”. A multiline-docstring for a function or method should summarize its behavior and document its arguments, return value(s), side effects, exceptions raised, and restrictions on when it can be called (all if applicable). Optional arguments should be indicated. It should be documented whether keyword arguments are part of the interface.

Answered By: Remi
Categories: questions Tags: , ,
Answers are sorted by their score. The answer accepted by the question owner as the best is marked with
at the top-right corner.