Sphinx configuration and libraries for Safari Books Online documentation
Safari Books Online technical documentation is now being written and collected in a form that can be processed by Sphinx, a utility for generating documentation in HTML, PDF, Epub, and other formats from text files using reST (reStructuredText) wiki markup. In addition to writing docs directly, we can have Sphinx grab API documentation from our core programming languages:
- Python docstrings are collected using the sphinx-apidoc command.
Web service APIs can be documented using httpdomain from sphinx-contrib.
pip install sbo-sphinx
sbo-sphinx uses the standard Sphinx conf.py file, but offloads the vast majority of the configuration to an sbo_sphinx.conf module which should be appropriate for most SBO projects. Hence a minimal docs/conf.py file can be as simple as:
from sbo_sphinx.conf import * project = 'my_project_name'
There should also be a docs/index.rst file to serve as the documentation home page; see the one in this project for an example.
Use the standard sphinx-build syntax. For the usual case of wanting to generate the documentation in HTML format:
sphinx-build -b html . _build
reStructuredText not inside the docs directory hierarchy can’t be directly included in a table of contents. To include a README.rst file from the repository’s root directory in the generated documentation, create a placeholder inside the docs directory which uses an include directive to pull in its content:
.. include:: ../README.rst
For an example, see docs/readme.rst in this project.
PyPI Description Validation
If PyPI encounters something it doesn’t know how to handle in a reStructuredText package description, it just silently shows it as plain text instead of formatting it as expected. To get some warning of this before uploading your package, use the validate_readme.py script which gets installed along with sbo-sphinx. Basic usage is:
For more details, see the output of validate_readme.py -h.
Sphinx currently has no real support for Markdown-style wiki markup. If a project has a README.md which you want to include in the documentation, there are a few options:
- Convert it to README.rst instead, changing the markup accordingly. pandoc may do a reasonably good job of automating this conversion.
- Add a reStructuredText-formatted copy of the file to the docs directory and include that in the documentation instead. This does run the risk of the copy getting out of sync with the original, however.
- Implement a Sphinx extension which uses pandoc to automatically convert and copy the Markdown files specified in a configured list. The drawback with this approach is that it requires pandoc to be installed on each system on which the documentation will be generated.
Read the Docs
sbo-sphinx was written to be mostly compatible with the Read the Docs service, but there are still a few gotchas:
- The public Read the Docs site is still using Sphinx 1.2, which has a bug that prevents the sbo_sphinx.apidoc extension from working correctly. A local Read the Docs installation which upgrades to Sphinx 1.2.1 works fine, though.
- The Read the Docs Sphinx theme currently doesn’t display an HTML logo specified in the configuration. Additionally, setting an HTML logo with Sphinx 1.2.1 generates a spurious warning in the build output. Until at least the first bug is fixed, a logo can really only be usefully specified for the LaTeX/PDF output.
- Keep in mind that private source code repositories cannot be used on the public Read the Docs service (but can be on a suitably configured private installation).
- The RST-Template library for creating reST files from JSDoc comments currently uses jsdoc-toolkit, which is no longer in active development. If we decide that its successor JSDoc 3 has enough useful improvements, we can look into updating the library to use that instead.
- error: unrecognized arguments - If this pops up and breaks the build while parsing the code being documented, odds are that file has code at the module level which uses argparse or optparse, and it’s unsuccessfully trying to parse the command line parameters which were given to sphinx-build. Put such code inside a function which is only called inside an if __name__ == '__main__' condition (i.e., if that script was the one called).
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