Have you ever use Sphinx to create beautiful documentation in your project? Although I have heard about Sphinx and usefulness of it before, this is the first experience for me. In my case, I want to generate an API documentation of my python project. If you create API documentation by your hand, it must be very troublesome. So I decided to delegate this task to Sphinx.

Build Flow

Ordinal build flow might be like below.

  • Generate reStructuredText with sphinx-apidoc.
  • Build reStructuredText to html with sphinx-build command.

Most of sphinx projects will do above flow to generate api documentations. However it is necessary to embed this flow into distutils flow this time. So it does not require sphinx environment in advance because setup.py installs some packages which is required by my project. I want to build api document on this temporary environment. In other words, there is no way to use sphinx-apidoc or sphinx-build tool because they are not included egg packages!! So I tried and succeeded.

Project structure

Directory structure of my project is like below.

├── docs
│   ├── _build
│   ├── conf.py
│   ├── index.rst
│   ├── make.bat
│   ├── Makefile
│   ├── _static
│   └── _templates
├── lib
├── README.md
├── setup.cfg
└── setup.py

5 directories, 7 files

setup.py is written like this.

from setuptools import setup, find_packages
import sys
import os
from docs.build_apidoc import BuildApiCommand

version = '0.0.1'
long_description = open('README.md', 'r').read().decode('utf-8')

    description='My Package',
    cmdclass = {
        'build_apidoc': BuildApiCommand

What is the docs.build_apidoc? This is the core component of this build process written for this project. This is the code of it.

import os
import sys
import re

import distutils.cmd
import distutils.log
import setuptools
import subprocess

class BuildApiCommand(distutils.cmd.Command):
  """A custom command to build api document with Sphinx"""

  description = 'run sphinx-apidoc'

  def initialize_options(self):
    """Set default values for options."""
    # Each user option must be listed here with their default value.

  def finalize_options(self):
    """Post-process options."""

  def run(self):
    from sphinx.apidoc import main
    """Run command."""
    sys.argv[0] = re.sub(r'(-script\.pyw|\.exe)?$', '', sys.argv[0])
    exit = main(['sphinx-apidoc', '-f', '-o', './docs', './lib'])

There are two notes which you should pay attention to. One is that you should import sphinx inside run method. Because when this script is called, there could not the case when Sphinx is not installed your environment. Running command is always kicked after installing all dependencies. So importing inside run method does not cause such problem. And second is the question about why run method is written like. The answer is inside the sphinx-apidoc command itself. This is here. Simple script.


# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
import re
import sys

from sphinx.apidoc import main

if __name__ == '__main__':
    sys.argv[0] = re.sub(r'(-script\.pyw|\.exe)?$', '', sys.argv[0])

Yes. All I did was copy and paste it.

These are the preparation. All your library codes are under lib directory. build-apidoc generate html files under docs/html with this command.

$ python setup.py build_apidoc

It is great to see a beautiful documentation of your project. It must make you motivated!

Thank you.