sphinx.ext.autodoc – Include documentation from docstrings

This extension can import the modules you are documenting, and pull in documentation from docstrings in a semi-automatic way.


For Sphinx (actually, the Python interpreter that executes Sphinx) to find your module, it must be importable. That means that the module or the package must be in one of the directories on sys.path – adapt your sys.path in the configuration file accordingly.


autodoc imports the modules to be documented. If any modules have side effects on import, these will be executed by autodoc when sphinx-build is run.

If you document scripts (as opposed to library modules), make sure their main routine is protected by a if __name__ == '__main__' condition.

For this to work, the docstrings must of course be written in correct reStructuredText. You can then use all of the usual Sphinx markup in the docstrings, and it will end up correctly in the documentation. Together with hand-written documentation, this technique eases the pain of having to maintain two locations for documentation, while at the same time avoiding auto-generated-looking pure API documentation.

If you prefer NumPy or Google style docstrings over reStructuredText, you can also enable the napoleon extension. napoleon is a preprocessor that converts your docstrings to correct reStructuredText before autodoc processes them.

autodoc provides several directives that are versions of the usual py:module, py:class and so forth. On parsing time, they import the corresponding module and extract the docstring of the given objects, inserting them into the page source under a suitable py:module, py:class etc. directive.


Just as py:class respects the current py:module, autoclass will also do so. Likewise, automethod will respect the current py:class.

.. automodule::
.. autoclass::
.. autoexception::

Document a module, class or exception. All three directives will by default only insert the docstring of the object itself:

.. autoclass:: Noodle

will produce source like this:

.. class:: Noodle

   Noodle's docstring.

The “auto” directives can also contain content of their own, it will be inserted into the resulting non-auto directive source after the docstring (but before any automatic member documentation).

Therefore, you can also mix automatic and non-automatic member documentation, like so:

.. autoclass:: Noodle
   :members: eat, slurp

   .. method:: boil(time=10)

      Boil the noodle *time* minutes.

Options and advanced usage

  • If you want to automatically document members, there’s a members option:

    .. automodule:: noodle

    will document all module members (recursively), and

    .. autoclass:: Noodle

    will document all non-private member functions and properties (that is, those whose name doesn’t start with _).

    For modules, __all__ will be respected when looking for members; the order of the members will also be the order in __all__.

    You can also give an explicit list of members; only these will then be documented:

    .. autoclass:: Noodle
       :members: eat, slurp
  • If you want to make the members option (or other flag options described below) the default, see autodoc_default_flags.

  • Members without docstrings will be left out, unless you give the undoc-members flag option:

    .. automodule:: noodle
  • “Private” members (that is, those named like _private or __private) will be included if the private-members flag option is given.

    New in version 1.1.

  • Python “special” members (that is, those named like __special__) will be included if the special-members flag option is given:

    .. autoclass:: my.Class

    would document both “private” and “special” members of the class.

    New in version 1.1.

    Changed in version 1.2: The option can now take arguments, i.e. the special members to document.

  • For classes and exceptions, members inherited from base classes will be left out when documenting all members, unless you give the inherited-members flag option, in addition to members:

    .. autoclass:: Noodle

    This can be combined with undoc-members to document all available members of the class or module.

    Note: this will lead to markup errors if the inherited members come from a module whose docstrings are not reST formatted.

    New in version 0.3.

  • It’s possible to override the signature for explicitly documented callable objects (functions, methods, classes) with the regular syntax that will override the signature gained from introspection:

    .. autoclass:: Noodle(type)
       .. automethod:: eat(persona)

    This is useful if the signature from the method is hidden by a decorator.

    New in version 0.4.

  • The automodule, autoclass and autoexception directives also support a flag option called show-inheritance. When given, a list of base classes will be inserted just below the class signature (when used with automodule, this will be inserted for every class that is documented in the module).

    New in version 0.4.

  • All autodoc directives support the noindex flag option that has the same effect as for standard py:function etc. directives: no index entries are generated for the documented object (and all autodocumented members).

    New in version 0.4.

  • automodule also recognizes the synopsis, platform and deprecated options that the standard py:module directive supports.

    New in version 0.5.

  • automodule and autoclass also has an member-order option that can be used to override the global value of autodoc_member_order for one directive.

    New in version 0.6.

  • The directives supporting member documentation also have a exclude-members option that can be used to exclude single member names from documentation, if all members are to be documented.

    New in version 0.6.

  • In an automodule directive with the members option set, only module members whose __module__ attribute is equal to the module name as given to automodule will be documented. This is to prevent documentation of imported classes or functions. Set the imported-members option if you want to prevent this behavior and document all available members. Note that attributes from imported modules will not be documented, because attribute documentation is discovered by parsing the source file of the current module.

    New in version 1.2.

  • Add a list of modules in the autodoc_mock_imports to prevent import errors to halt the building process when some external dependencies are not importable at build time.

    New in version 1.3.

.. autofunction::
.. autodata::
.. automethod::
.. autoattribute::

These work exactly like autoclass etc., but do not offer the options used for automatic member documentation.

autodata and autoattribute support the annotation option. Without this option, the representation of the object will be shown in the documentation. When the option is given without arguments, only the name of the object will be printed:

.. autodata:: CD_DRIVE

You can tell sphinx what should be printed after the name:

.. autodata:: CD_DRIVE
   :annotation: = your CD device name

For module data members and class attributes, documentation can either be put into a comment with special formatting (using a #: to start the comment instead of just #), or in a docstring after the definition. Comments need to be either on a line of their own before the definition, or immediately after the assignment on the same line. The latter form is restricted to one line only.

This means that in the following class definition, all attributes can be autodocumented:

class Foo:
    """Docstring for class Foo."""

    #: Doc comment for class attribute Foo.bar.
    #: It can have multiple lines.
    bar = 1

    flox = 1.5   #: Doc comment for Foo.flox. One line only.

    baz = 2
    """Docstring for class attribute Foo.baz."""

    def __init__(self):
        #: Doc comment for instance attribute qux.
        self.qux = 3

        self.spam = 4
        """Docstring for instance attribute spam."""

Changed in version 0.6: autodata and autoattribute can now extract docstrings.

Changed in version 1.1: Comment docs are now allowed on the same line after an assignment.

Changed in version 1.2: autodata and autoattribute have an annotation option.


If you document decorated functions or methods, keep in mind that autodoc retrieves its docstrings by importing the module and inspecting the __doc__ attribute of the given function or method. That means that if a decorator replaces the decorated function with another, it must copy the original __doc__ to the new function.

From Python 2.5, functools.wraps() can be used to create well-behaved decorating functions.

There are also new config values that you can set:


This value selects what content will be inserted into the main body of an autoclass directive. The possible values are:

Only the class’ docstring is inserted. This is the default. You can still document __init__ as a separate method using automethod or the members option to autoclass.
Both the class’ and the __init__ method’s docstring are concatenated and inserted.
Only the __init__ method’s docstring is inserted.

New in version 0.3.

If the class has no __init__ method or if the __init__ method’s docstring is empty, but the class has a __new__ method’s docstring, it is used instead.

New in version 1.4.


This value selects if automatically documented members are sorted alphabetical (value 'alphabetical'), by member type (value 'groupwise') or by source order (value 'bysource'). The default is alphabetical.

Note that for source order, the module must be a Python module with the source code available.

New in version 0.6.

Changed in version 1.0: Support for 'bysource'.


This value is a list of autodoc directive flags that should be automatically applied to all autodoc directives. The supported flags are 'members', 'undoc-members', 'private-members', 'special-members', 'inherited-members' and 'show-inheritance'.

If you set one of these flags in this config value, you can use a negated form, 'no-flag', in an autodoc directive, to disable it once. For example, if autodoc_default_flags is set to ['members', 'undoc-members'], and you write a directive like this:

.. automodule:: foo

the directive will be interpreted as if only :members: was given.

New in version 1.0.


Functions imported from C modules cannot be introspected, and therefore the signature for such functions cannot be automatically determined. However, it is an often-used convention to put the signature into the first line of the function’s docstring.

If this boolean value is set to True (which is the default), autodoc will look at the first line of the docstring for functions and methods, and if it looks like a signature, use the line as the signature and remove it from the docstring content.

New in version 1.1.


This value contains a list of modules to be mocked up. This is useful when some external dependencies are not met at build time and break the building process.

New in version 1.3.

Docstring preprocessing

autodoc provides the following additional events:

autodoc-process-docstring(app, what, name, obj, options, lines)

New in version 0.4.

Emitted when autodoc has read and processed a docstring. lines is a list of strings – the lines of the processed docstring – that the event handler can modify in place to change what Sphinx puts into the output.

  • app – the Sphinx application object
  • what – the type of the object which the docstring belongs to (one of "module", "class", "exception", "function", "method", "attribute")
  • name – the fully qualified name of the object
  • obj – the object itself
  • options – the options given to the directive: an object with attributes inherited_members, undoc_members, show_inheritance and noindex that are true if the flag option of same name was given to the auto directive
  • lines – the lines of the docstring, see above
autodoc-process-signature(app, what, name, obj, options, signature, return_annotation)

New in version 0.5.

Emitted when autodoc has formatted a signature for an object. The event handler can return a new tuple (signature, return_annotation) to change what Sphinx puts into the output.

  • app – the Sphinx application object
  • what – the type of the object which the docstring belongs to (one of "module", "class", "exception", "function", "method", "attribute")
  • name – the fully qualified name of the object
  • obj – the object itself
  • options – the options given to the directive: an object with attributes inherited_members, undoc_members, show_inheritance and noindex that are true if the flag option of same name was given to the auto directive
  • signature – function signature, as a string of the form "(parameter_1, parameter_2)", or None if introspection didn’t succeed and signature wasn’t specified in the directive.
  • return_annotation – function return annotation as a string of the form " -> annotation", or None if there is no return annotation

The sphinx.ext.autodoc module provides factory functions for commonly needed docstring processing in event autodoc-process-docstring:

sphinx.ext.autodoc.cut_lines(pre, post=0, what=None)[source]

Return a listener that removes the first pre and last post lines of every docstring. If what is a sequence of strings, only docstrings of a type in what will be processed.

Use like this (e.g. in the setup() function of conf.py):

from sphinx.ext.autodoc import cut_lines
app.connect('autodoc-process-docstring', cut_lines(4, what=['module']))

This can (and should) be used in place of automodule_skip_lines.

sphinx.ext.autodoc.between(marker, what=None, keepempty=False, exclude=False)[source]

Return a listener that either keeps, or if exclude is True excludes, lines between lines that match the marker regular expression. If no line matches, the resulting docstring would be empty, so no change will be made unless keepempty is true.

If what is a sequence of strings, only docstrings of a type in what will be processed.

Skipping members

autodoc allows the user to define a custom method for determining whether a member should be included in the documentation by using the following event:

autodoc-skip-member(app, what, name, obj, skip, options)

New in version 0.5.

Emitted when autodoc has to decide whether a member should be included in the documentation. The member is excluded if a handler returns True. It is included if the handler returns False.

If more than one enabled extension handles the autodoc-skip-member event, autodoc will use the first non-None value returned by a handler. Handlers should return None to fall back to the skipping behavior of autodoc and other enabled extensions.

  • app – the Sphinx application object
  • what – the type of the object which the docstring belongs to (one of "module", "class", "exception", "function", "method", "attribute")
  • name – the fully qualified name of the object
  • obj – the object itself
  • skip – a boolean indicating if autodoc will skip this member if the user handler does not override the decision
  • options – the options given to the directive: an object with attributes inherited_members, undoc_members, show_inheritance and noindex that are true if the flag option of same name was given to the auto directive