Introducing pdocs - Documentation Powered by Your Python Code

pdocs Logo

project: 3/52
Title/Link: pdocs
Pitch: Modern MIT fork of pdoc. Automatic Documentation from Python code.
Read if: You want to use pdoc but not AGPL OR are interested in documenting Python projects.
Skip if: You don't create Python projects. Or, you've already created documentation sites for your Python projects and are happy with the tooling around them.
Prior Work: pdoc, portray.

Sometimes We Don't Pick our Projects

This next project isn't one I chose. I had many different ideas of what to work on after portray, but after that project unexpectedly reached the top of Hacker News, priorities changed. I work on these projects with the hope that some of them will not only scratch an itch that I have but one that's shared with many other developers. So I saw the interest shown in that post as a confirmation that I was on the right track. The most immediate fallout of this was improvements made to portray in the days following the post, as can be seen in portray's changelog. I was thrilled to be able to solve the most immediate pieces of user feedback quickly.

However, one thread brought up a controversy I noticed late into the project: I had hoped I could quickly pivot to using the original pdoc that pdoc3 was based on. If only to be able to bring the focus back to the problems I was trying to solve. However, as I researched, I realized things wouldn't be quite so easy. pdoc hadn't seen a release since 2016. It had, however, received code contribution up until last year. Upon investigation, much of this work was broken, leading to the lack of a PyPI release. I was tempted to give up, but then I reread the GitHub conversation between the original pdoc maintainer and the pdoc3 maintainer, and I knew I couldn't. When pdoc was forked into pdoc3 the license was changed from "Unlicensed" to AGPL. Because of the confusing naming and forking, when I had started working on portray, I saw the unlicense of pdoc and the MIT of mkdocs and missed the AGPL of pdoc3. The license incompatibility of an MIT project using an AGPL project forced my hand. My next project would be a fork of the original pdoc.

Creating pdocs

I decided to call my fork pdocs as I felt it had nice symmetry with the other portray dependency mkdocs while holding a dual meaning well:

  1. Python Docs
  2. pdoc successor

Now that I had a name decided, all I had to do was:

  1. Fork the original project
  2. Fix anything that might be wrong
  3. Update portray to use the new fork
  4. ???
  5. Profit

Of course, it is much easier said than done. I have to guess that most Open Source developers don't look forward to forking an old project with a long history. I know I dreaded it. There tends to be technical debt in old Open Source projects, just as there is in commercial ones. The moment you fork, especially if your fork is successful, you own that debt. And, since you likely aren't the creator, you probably don't understand the debt you now possess.

The one thing I did have going for me, is that the work done on pdoc most recently was work to refactor it. While the pdoc repository was in a broken disarray: the refactoring that had already been taken on made it much easier to grasp:

The CLI included numerous settings that didn't go anywhere and most simple commands I tried threw an exception, but the groundwork was in-place.

Over the next several days, I played whack-a-mole with various bugs as I encountered them. Eventually, I took inventory of what I needed for portray, that pdoc even without bugs, didn't have:

And one bonus:

To accomplish this, I decided it would be best to split the API from the CLI as I did with portray while limiting the API and commands to the bare minimum to start. I ended up with a stripped-down version of pdoc that could (given a list of modules):

And, that's it. Of course, it could do so both over HTTP and a simplified Python API. By simplifying the scope, I was able to complete the first working fork in a reasonable amount of time, and quickly update portray to use it. pdocs can't do everything pdoc could do, but it does everything portray used. And, I hope, most of what users of pdoc use.

Using pdocs from portray

Since I knew my intended use from the beginning, I tested pdocs against portray throughout the development. So not only am I able to release pdocs today but also an updated portray that uses it. If you currently use portray this change should be transparent to you unless you have manual pdoc3 settings defined. If so, simply change your settings from living in [tool.portray.pdoc3] to [tool.portray.pdocs]

Thanks For Reading

Thanks for taking the time to read about this new project! What do you think of pdocs? Any projects you would like to see in the future? Any projects I should try out?

~Timothy Crosley