25.1. pydoc — Documentation generator and online help system

The pydoc module automatically generates documentation from Python modules. The documentation can be presented as pages of text on the console, served to a Web browser, or saved to HTML files.

The built-in function help() invokes the online help system in the interactive interpreter, which uses pydoc to generate its documentation as text on the console. The same text documentation can also be viewed from outside the Python interpreter by running pydoc as a script at the operating system’s command prompt. For example, running

pydoc sys

at a shell prompt will display documentation on the sys module, in a style similar to the manual pages shown by the Unix man command. The argument to pydoc can be the name of a function, module, or package, or a dotted reference to a class, method, or function within a module or module in a package. If the argument to pydoc looks like a path (that is, it contains the path separator for your operating system, such as a slash in Unix), and refers to an existing Python source file, then documentation is produced for that file.


In order to find objects and their documentation, pydoc imports the module(s) to be documented. Therefore, any code on module level will be executed on that occasion. Use an if __name__ == '__main__': guard to only execute code when a file is invoked as a script and not just imported.

Specifying a -w flag before the argument will cause HTML documentation to be written out to a file in the current directory, instead of displaying text on the console.

Specifying a -k flag before the argument will search the synopsis lines of all available modules for the keyword given as the argument, again in a manner similar to the Unix man command. The synopsis line of a module is the first line of its documentation string.

You can also use pydoc to start an HTTP server on the local machine that will serve documentation to visiting Web browsers. pydoc -p 1234 will start a HTTP server on port 1234, allowing you to browse the documentation at http://localhost:1234/ in your preferred Web browser. pydoc -g will start the server and additionally bring up a small tkinter-based graphical interface to help you search for documentation pages.

When pydoc generates documentation, it uses the current environment and path to locate modules. Thus, invoking pydoc spam documents precisely the version of the module you would get if you started the Python interpreter and typed import spam.

Module docs for core modules are assumed to reside in http://docs.python.org/X.Y/library/ where X and Y are the major and minor version numbers of the Python interpreter. This can be overridden by setting the PYTHONDOCS environment variable to a different URL or to a local directory containing the Library Reference Manual pages.

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25. Development Tools

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25.2. doctest — Test interactive Python examples

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