Documentation

Documentation is an important part of any software project, and it's first-class in Rust. Let's talk about the tooling Rust gives you to document your project.

About rustdoc

The Rust distribution includes a tool, rustdoc, that generates documentation. rustdoc is also used by Cargo through cargo doc.

Documentation can be generated in two ways: from source code, and from standalone Markdown files.

Documenting source code

The primary way of documenting a Rust project is through annotating the source code. You can use documentation comments for this purpose:

/// Constructs a new Rc<T>.
///
/// # Examples
///
/// 
/// use std::rc::Rc;
///
/// let five = Rc::new(5);
/// 
pub fn new(value: T) -> Rc<T> {
// implementation goes here
}


This code generates documentation that looks like this. I've left the implementation out, with a regular comment in its place.

The first thing to notice about this annotation is that it uses /// instead of //. The triple slash indicates a documentation comment.

Documentation comments are written in Markdown.

Rust keeps track of these comments, and uses them when generating documentation. This is important when documenting things like enums:

/// The Option type. See [the module level documentation](index.html) for more.
enum Option<T> {
/// No value
None,
/// Some value T
Some(T),
}


The above works, but this does not:

/// The Option type. See [the module level documentation](index.html) for more.
enum Option<T> {
None, /// No value
Some(T), /// Some value T
}


You'll get an error:

hello.rs:4:1: 4:2 error: expected ident, found }
hello.rs:4 }
^


This unfortunate error is correct; documentation comments apply to the thing after them, and there's nothing after that last comment.

Anyway, let's cover each part of this comment in detail:

/// Constructs a new Rc<T>.
# fn foo() {}


The first line of a documentation comment should be a short summary of its functionality. One sentence. Just the basics. High level.

///
/// Other details about constructing Rc<T>s, maybe describing complicated
/// semantics, maybe additional options, all kinds of stuff.
///
# fn foo() {}


Our original example had just a summary line, but if we had more things to say, we could have added more explanation in a new paragraph.

Special sections

Next, are special sections. These are indicated with a header, #. There are four kinds of headers that are commonly used. They aren't special syntax, just convention, for now.

/// # Panics
# fn foo() {}


Unrecoverable misuses of a function (i.e. programming errors) in Rust are usually indicated by panics, which kill the whole current thread at the very least. If your function has a non-trivial contract like this, that is detected/enforced by panics, documenting it is very important.

/// # Errors
# fn foo() {}


If your function or method returns a Result<T, E>, then describing the conditions under which it returns Err(E) is a nice thing to do. This is slightly less important than Panics, because failure is encoded into the type system, but it's still a good thing to do.

/// # Safety
# fn foo() {}


If your function is unsafe, you should explain which invariants the caller is responsible for upholding.

/// # Examples
///
/// 
/// use std::rc::Rc;
///
/// let five = Rc::new(5);
/// 
# fn foo() {}


Fourth, Examples. Include one or more examples of using your function or method, and your users will love you for it. These examples go inside of code block annotations, which we'll talk about in a moment, and can have more than one section:

/// # Examples
///
/// Simple &str patterns:
///
/// 
/// let v: Vec<&str> = "Mary had a little lamb".split(' ').collect();
/// assert_eq!(v, vec!["Mary", "had", "a", "little", "lamb"]);
/// 
///
/// More complex patterns with a lambda:
///
/// 
/// let v: Vec<&str> = "abc1def2ghi".split(|c: char| c.is_numeric()).collect();
/// assert_eq!(v, vec!["abc", "def", "ghi"]);
/// 
# fn foo() {}


Let's discuss the details of these code blocks.

Code block annotations

To write some Rust code in a comment, use the triple graves:

/// 
/// println!("Hello, world");
/// 
# fn foo() {}


If you want something that's not Rust code, you can add an annotation:

/// c
/// printf("Hello, world\n");
/// 
# fn foo() {}


This will highlight according to whatever language you're showing off. If you're only showing plain text, choose text.

It's important to choose the correct annotation here, because rustdoc uses it in an interesting way: It can be used to actually test your examples in a library crate, so that they don't get out of date. If you have some C code but rustdoc thinks it's Rust because you left off the annotation, rustdoc will complain when trying to generate the documentation.

Documentation as tests

Let's discuss our sample example documentation:

/// 
/// println!("Hello, world");
/// 
# fn foo() {}


You'll notice that you don't need a fn main() or anything here. rustdoc will automatically add a main() wrapper around your code, using heuristics to attempt to put it in the right place. For example:

/// 
/// use std::rc::Rc;
///
/// let five = Rc::new(5);
/// 
# fn foo() {}


This will end up testing:

fn main() {
use std::rc::Rc;
let five = Rc::new(5);
}


Here's the full algorithm rustdoc uses to preprocess examples:

1. Any leading #![foo] attributes are left intact as crate attributes.
2. Some common allow attributes are inserted, including unused_variables, unused_assignments, unused_mut, unused_attributes, and dead_code. Small examples often trigger these lints.
3. If the example does not contain extern crate, then extern crate <mycrate>; is inserted (note the lack of #[macro_use]).
4. Finally, if the example does not contain fn main, the remainder of the text is wrapped in fn main() { your_code }.

This generated fn main can be a problem! If you have extern crate or a mod statements in the example code that are referred to by use statements, they will fail to resolve unless you include at least fn main() {} to inhibit step 4. #[macro_use] extern crate also does not work except at the crate root, so when testing macros an explicit main is always required. It doesn't have to clutter up your docs, though -- keep reading!

Sometimes this algorithm isn't enough, though. For example, all of these code samples with /// we've been talking about? The raw text:

/// Some documentation.
# fn foo() {}


looks different than the output:

/// Some documentation.
# fn foo() {}


Yes, that's right: you can add lines that start with #, and they will be hidden from the output, but will be used when compiling your code. You can use this to your advantage. In this case, documentation comments need to apply to some kind of function, so if I want to show you just a documentation comment, I need to add a little function definition below it. At the same time, it's only there to satisfy the compiler, so hiding it makes the example more clear. You can use this technique to explain longer examples in detail, while still preserving the testability of your documentation.

For example, imagine that we wanted to document this code:

let x = 5;
let y = 6;
println!("{}", x + y);


We might want the documentation to end up looking like this:

First, we set x to five:

let x = 5;
# let y = 6;
# println!("{}", x + y);


Next, we set y to six:

# let x = 5;
let y = 6;
# println!("{}", x + y);


Finally, we print the sum of x and y:

# let x = 5;
# let y = 6;
println!("{}", x + y);


To keep each code block testable, we want the whole program in each block, but we don't want the reader to see every line every time. Here's what we put in our source code:

    First, we set x to five:

rust
let x = 5;
# let y = 6;
# println!("{}", x + y);


Next, we set y to six:

rust
# let x = 5;
let y = 6;
# println!("{}", x + y);


Finally, we print the sum of x and y:

rust
# let x = 5;
# let y = 6;
println!("{}", x + y);



By repeating all parts of the example, you can ensure that your example still compiles, while only showing the parts that are relevant to that part of your explanation.

Documenting macros

Here’s an example of documenting a macro:

/// Panic with a given message unless an expression evaluates to true.
///
/// # Examples
///
/// 
/// # #[macro_use] extern crate foo;
/// # fn main() {
/// panic_unless!(1 + 1 == 2, “Math is broken.”);
/// # }
/// 
///
/// should_panic
/// # #[macro_use] extern crate foo;
/// # fn main() {
/// panic_unless!(true == false, “I’m broken.”);
/// # }
/// 
#[macro_export]
macro_rules! panic_unless {
($condition:expr,$($rest:expr),+) => ({ if !$condition { panic!($($rest),+); } });
}
# fn main() {}


You’ll note three things: we need to add our own extern crate line, so that we can add the #[macro_use] attribute. Second, we’ll need to add our own main() as well (for reasons discussed above). Finally, a judicious use of # to comment out those two things, so they don’t show up in the output.

Another case where the use of # is handy is when you want to ignore error handling. Lets say you want the following,

/// use std::io;
/// let mut input = String::new();


The problem is that try! returns a Result<T, E> and test functions don't return anything so this will give a mismatched types error.

/// A doc test using try!
///
/// 
/// use std::io;
/// # fn foo() -> io::Result<()> {
/// let mut input = String::new();
/// # Ok(())
/// # }
/// 
# fn foo() {}


You can get around this by wrapping the code in a function. This catches and swallows the Result<T, E> when running tests on the docs. This pattern appears regularly in the standard library.

Running documentation tests

To run the tests, either:

$rustdoc --test path/to/my/crate/root.rs # or$ cargo test


That's right, cargo test tests embedded documentation too. However, cargo test will not test binary crates, only library ones. This is due to the way rustdoc works: it links against the library to be tested, but with a binary, there’s nothing to link to.

There are a few more annotations that are useful to help rustdoc do the right thing when testing your code:

/// ignore
/// fn foo() {
/// 
# fn foo() {}


The ignore directive tells Rust to ignore your code. This is almost never what you want, as it's the most generic. Instead, consider annotating it with text if it's not code, or using #s to get a working example that only shows the part you care about.

/// should_panic
/// assert!(false);
/// 
# fn foo() {}


should_panic tells rustdoc that the code should compile correctly, but not actually pass as a test.

/// no_run
/// loop {
///     println!("Hello, world");
/// }
/// 
# fn foo() {}


The no_run attribute will compile your code, but not run it. This is important for examples such as "Here's how to start up a network service," which you would want to make sure compile, but might run in an infinite loop!

Documenting modules

Rust has another kind of doc comment, //!. This comment doesn't document the next item, but the enclosing item. In other words:

mod foo {
//! This is documentation for the foo module.
//!
//! # Examples

// ...
}


This is where you'll see //! used most often: for module documentation. If you have a module in foo.rs, you'll often open its code and see this:

//! A module for using foos.
//!
//! The foo module contains a lot of useful functionality blah blah blah


Documentation comment style

Check out RFC 505 for full conventions around the style and format of documentation.

Other documentation

All of this behavior works in non-Rust source files too. Because comments are written in Markdown, they're often .md files.

When you write documentation in Markdown files, you don't need to prefix the documentation with comments. For example:

/// # Examples
///
/// 
/// use std::rc::Rc;
///
/// let five = Rc::new(5);
/// 
# fn foo() {}


is:

# Examples


use std::rc::Rc;

let five = Rc::new(5);



when it's in a Markdown file. There is one wrinkle though: Markdown files need to have a title like this:

% The title

This is the example documentation.


This % line needs to be the very first line of the file.

doc attributes

At a deeper level, documentation comments are syntactic sugar for documentation attributes:

/// this
# fn foo() {}

#[doc="this"]
# fn bar() {}


are the same, as are these:

//! this

#![doc="this"]


You won't often see this attribute used for writing documentation, but it can be useful when changing some options, or when writing a macro.

Re-exports

rustdoc will show the documentation for a public re-export in both places:

extern crate foo;

pub use foo::bar;


This will create documentation for bar both inside the documentation for the crate foo, as well as the documentation for your crate. It will use the same documentation in both places.

This behavior can be suppressed with no_inline:

extern crate foo;

#[doc(no_inline)]
pub use foo::bar;


Missing documentation

Sometimes you want to make sure that every single public thing in your project is documented, especially when you are working on a library. Rust allows you to to generate warnings or errors, when an item is missing documentation. To generate warnings you use warn:

#![warn(missing_docs)]


And to generate errors you use deny:

#![deny(missing_docs)]


There are cases where you want to disable these warnings/errors to explicitly leave something undocumented. This is done by using allow:

#[allow(missing_docs)]
struct Undocumented;


You might even want to hide items from the documentation completely:

#[doc(hidden)]
struct Hidden;


Controlling HTML

You can control a few aspects of the HTML that rustdoc generates through the #![doc] version of the attribute:

#![doc(html_logo_url = "https://www.rust-lang.org/logos/rust-logo-128x128-blk-v2.png",
html_favicon_url = "https://www.rust-lang.org/favicon.ico",
html_root_url = "https://doc.rust-lang.org/")]


This sets a few different options, with a logo, favicon, and a root URL.

Configuring documentation tests

You can also configure the way that rustdoc tests your documentation examples through the #![doc(test(..))] attribute.

#![doc(test(attr(allow(unused_variables), deny(warnings))))]


This allows unused variables within the examples, but will fail the test for any other lint warning thrown.

Generation options

rustdoc also contains a few other options on the command line, for further customization:

• --html-in-header FILE: includes the contents of FILE at the end of the <head>...</head> section.
• --html-before-content FILE: includes the contents of FILE directly after <body>, before the rendered content (including the search bar).
• --html-after-content FILE: includes the contents of FILE after all the rendered content.

Security note

The Markdown in documentation comments is placed without processing into the final webpage. Be careful with literal HTML:

/// <script>alert(document.cookie)</script>
# fn foo() {}