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HappyDoc Source Documentation  

HappyDoc Documentation Extraction Tool

HappyDoc is a tool for extracting documentation from Python source code. It differs from other such applications by the fact that it uses the parse tree for a module to derive the information used in its output, rather that importing the module directly. This allows the user to generate documentation for modules which need special context to be imported.


Download the latest version of HappyDoc from SourceForge .

Thanks to SourceForge for hosting HappyDoc development.


HappyDoc uses the Distutils package for installation. Unpack the tarball downloaded from SourceForge in a temporary directory. Then run:

    % python ./ install

to install the package in a central location. Alternatively, HappyDoc can be run directly from its unpacked distribution archive. Use this method if you do not have write access to the site-packages directory for your Python installation.

For the Impatient

After installation, the HappyDoc command-line application should be in your path. Simply run happydoc with appropriate arguments. The default behavior for HappyDoc is to read the files and directories specified as arguments and generate HTML output to the directory ./doc. Give it a whirl!

General Information

HappyDoc uses the Python parser to extract information from __doc__ strings. It also examines the signatures of functions and methods to include function prototypes in the output.

To use HappyDoc, simply run it against your source files or directory. Use the -h or --help arguments to learn about the arguments and options accepted. See below for more detailed directions about configuring your source for documentation purposes.

Controlling the Output

HappyDoc uses two different pluggable classes for controlling output. A formatter class is responsible for producing the syntax of the actual output (e.g. HTML, XML, SGML, or PDF). A docset class is responsible for controlling the formatter and managing the logical flow of the information (e.g., writing to multiple files or a single file, putting class documentation in a different file from the module, etc.). Formatters and DocSets should be implemented so that any two can be combined. It will not always be desirable to do this, but it should be possible.

Documentation not in Doc-strings

It is not always desirable to put all documentation in __doc__ strings. Sometimes, notably when working with Zope , special meaning is attached to the presence of __doc__ strings. For this reason, and to support existing code which might not have __doc__ strings, HappyDoc will find and extract documentation in Python comments.

Comment documentation can contain all of the same formatting as __doc__ strings. The preceding comment marker will be stripped off and the lines will be assembled and treated as a block of text in the same way that the __doc__ strings are treated.

To use this feature, it is important to place the comments before the named object which they describe. In this example:

      # Class documentation goes here
      class ClassWithNoDocStrings:
         "Using __doc__ strings overrides comment documentation."

         def method1(self, params):
             "This method uses a __doc__ string."

         # Method2 does not use a __doc__ string.
         def method2(self):

The output would include the __doc__ strings for the class and for method1. It would also make it appear that method2 had a __doc__ string with the contents "Method2 does not use a __doc__ string."

Flexible Behavior

HappyDoc provides several different abstractions to allow the same engine to process different types of inputs and convert them to different types of output.

Docstring Converters

How does an author write documentation so that it will be marked up and look fancy? This is a perennial question for Python users, and seems to have introduced a roadblock into the development of more robust and useful documentation tools. HappyDoc stands firmly on the fence and does not attempt to resolve the issue.

Refer to the happydoclib.docset package for more details.


Formatters are responsible for tranlating the higher level docset concepts into specific structures for an output type. For example, the specific way a descriptive list might be rendered in HTML could vary between different HTML formatters. The API for a formatter depends on the docset types which is is meant to support.

Refer to the happydoclib.formatter package for more details.

DocSet types

The docset, or documentation set, defines the structure of the collected documentation being generated. All aspects of the structure are left up to the docset. Whether to use multiple or a single file, a file or a database, and what specific metadata to include in the output is left up to the docset. The docset drives the documentation generation using controls available from the formatter.

Refer to the happydoclib.docset package for more details.

Using HappyDoc

Command Line Options

HappyDoc uses standard getopt style command line processing. For the complete reference of argument syntax, call the command line program with the -h or --help options. The specific options supported are not documented here since they change over time.

Parser, DocSet and Formatter Parameters

Many DocSets and Formatters will take parameters. The Parser also accepts global options using this method (see below for another way to control the parser). To pass parameters past the command line argument processing of HappyDoc and in to the Parser, DocSet or Formatter being used, the variable is passed as an argument rather than option (no dashes) to HappyDoc.

To allow the Parser, DocSets and Formatters to share variable namespace, the options passed are prefixed with a value indicating whether the variable is for the parser_, docset_ or formatter_.

For example:

      % ./happydoc -d MySources/doc MySources \

Or on Windows:

      > .\ -d MySources\doc MySources \

Use the --help command line option to get a complete list of the options available for each Parser, DocSets, and Formatter.

File-specific Parser Configuration Values

Parameters to the HappyDoc Parser can also be embedded within the first comment block of the module. The parameter values recognized and their meanings are listed below.

To provide file-specific parser configuration settings, any Python code can be embedded in the comments of the file. For example:

      #!/usr/bin/env python
      # HappyDoc:# These variables should be discovered.
      # HappyDoc:TestInt=1
      # HappyDoc:TestString="String"
      # HappyDoc:TestStringModule=string.strip(' this has spaces in front and back ')
      # HappyDoc:url=urlencode({'a':'A', 'b':'B'})
      # HappyDoc:docStringFormat='StructuredText'

All lines beginning with the pattern "'# HappyDoc:'" will be concatenated (separated by newlines) and execed. The local namespace resulting from the execution of the code will be examined for variables of interest to the parser. The incoming global namespace for the configuration code will have a few pre-populated names for convenience.

Refer to the happydoclib.parseinfo module for more details.

Input Types

HappyDoc accepts 3 basic input types for documentation.

  1. Any file name passed will be treated as a Python source file. The file will be parsed (but not imported) and the documentation text will be extracted from the resulting parse tree.

  2. Any directory passed will be interpreted to mean to document all of the files in that directory, so HappyDoc will recurse into the directory to find files.

  3. A single, regular, text file can be passed as the "package description file." This file, defaulting to README.txt, will be interepreted as appropriate and included in the place of a __doc__ string in the generated index.html file.

Examples of HappyDoc Documentation

Two example output documentation sets are available.

Who else is using HappyDoc?

  • Biopython

    The Biopython project uses HappyDoc to generate the documentation for their libraries

  • Numerical Python

    Numerical Python adds a fast, compact multidimensional array language facility to Python.

  • CDAT

    Climate Data Analysis Tool is a Python-based, easily extendible system for accessing and analyzing climate data. It contains a generally useful system for scientific graphics.


    The NOAA Space Environment Center group responsible for supporting the effort to forecast solar activity having a direct impact on earth-orbiting satellites and other earth-based systems.

  • ZOD

    The Zope Online Documentation tools use the HappyDoc parsing engine to extract information about source code.


Please use the bug tracker on the SourceForge project page for HappyDoc to report bugs and the feature tracker to request new features.


There are also public forums and mailing lists available on SourceForge for questions regarding the use of HappyDoc, or plans for its future.

Modules and Packages   



HappyDoc Change History


Copyright 2000 Doug Hellmann


HappyDoc Documentation Extraction Tool


HappyDoc Components


HappyDoc command-line app for Windows.


Distutils setup file for HappyDoc


Driver for unit tests for HappyDoc.



Announcing the latest version of HappyDoc, a Python documentation extraction tool.


Run HappyDoc in the debugger.


GUI App for testing HappyDoc.


Run the Python profiler against HappyDoc.

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This document was automatically generated on Sat Aug 24 16:57:23 2002 by HappyDoc version 2.1