Writing documentation#

cuDF documentation is split into multiple pieces. All core functionality is documented using inline docstrings. Additional pages like user or developer guides are written independently. While docstrings are written using reStructuredText (reST), the latter are written using MyST The inline docstrings are organized using a small set of additional reST pages. The results are all then compiled together using Sphinx. This document discusses each of these components and how to contribute to them.


cuDF docstrings use the numpy style. In lieu of a complete explanation, we include here an example of the format and the commonly used sections:

class A:
    """Brief description of A.

    Longer description of A.

    x : int
        Description of x, the first constructor parameter.
    def __init__(self, x: int):

    def foo(self, bar: str):
        """Short description of foo.

        Longer description of foo.

        bar : str
            Description of bar.

            Description of the return value of foo.

            Explanation of when a ValueError is raised.
            In this case, a ValueError is raised if bar is "fail".

        The examples section is _strongly_ encouraged.
        Where appropriate, it may mimic the examples for the corresponding pandas API.
        >>> a = A()
        >>> a.foo('baz')
        >>> a.foo('fail')
        ValueError: Failed!
        if bar == "fail":
            raise ValueError("Failed!")
        return 0.0

numpydoc supports a number of other sections of docstrings. Developers should familiarize themselves with them, since many are useful in different scenarios. Our guidelines include one addition to the standard the numpydoc guide. Class properties, which are not explicitly covered, should be documented in the getter function. That choice makes help more useful as well as enabling docstring inheritance in subclasses.

All of our docstrings are validated using pydocstyle. This ensures that docstring style is consistent and conformant across the codebase.

Published documentation#

Documentation is compiled using Sphinx, which pulls docstrings from the code. Rather than simply listing all APIs, however, we aim to mimic the pandas documentation. To do so, we organize API docs into specific pages and sections. These pages are stored in docs/cudf/source/api_docs. For example, all DataFrame documentation is contained in docs/cudf/source/api_docs/dataframe.rst. That page contains sections like “Computations / descriptive stats” to make APIs more easily discoverable.

Within each section, documentation is created using autosummary This plugin makes it easy to generate pages for each documented API. To do so, each section of the docs looks like the following:

Section name
.. autosummary::

Each listed will automatically have its docstring rendered into a separate page. This layout comes from the Sphinx theme that we use.


Under the hood, autosummary generates stub pages that look like this (using cudf.concat as an example):


.. currentmodule:: cudf

.. autofunction:: concat

Commands like autofunction come from autodoc. This directive will import cudf and pull the docstring from cudf.concat. This approach allows us to do the minimal amount of manual work in organizing our docs, while still matching the pandas layout as closely as possible.

When adding a new API, developers simply have to add the API to the appropriate page. Adding the name of the function to the appropriate autosummary list is sufficient for it to be documented.

Documenting classes#

Python classes and the Sphinx plugins used in RAPIDS interact in nontrivial ways. autosummary’s default page generated for a class uses autodoc to automatically detect and document all methods of a class. That means that in addition to the manually created autosummary pages where class methods are grouped into sections of related features, there is another page for each class where all the methods of that class are automatically summarized in a table for quick access. However, we also use the numpydoc extension, which offers the same feature. We use both in order to match the contents and style of the pandas documentation as closely as possible.

pandas is also particular about what information is included in a class’s documentation. While the documentation pages for the major user-facing classes like DataFrame, Series, and Index contain all APIs, less visible classes or subclasses (such as subclasses of Index) only include the methods that are specific to those subclasses. For example, cudf.CategoricalIndex only includes codes and categories on its page, not the entire set of Index functionality.

To accommodate these requirements, we take the following approach:

  1. The default autosummary template for classes is overridden with a simpler template that does not generate method or attribute documentation. In other words, we disable autosummary’s generation of Methods and Attributes lists.

  2. We rely on numpydoc entirely for the classes that need their entire APIs listed (DataFrame/Series/etc). numpydoc will automatically populate Methods and Attributes section if (and only if) they are not already defined in the class’s docstring.

  3. For classes that should only include a subset of APIs, we include those explicitly in the class’s documentation. When those lists exist, numpydoc will not override them. If either the Methods or Attributes section should be empty, that section must still be included but should simply contain “None”. For example, the class documentation for CategoricalIndex could include something like the following:



Comparing to pandas#

cuDF aims to provide a pandas-like experience. However, for various reasons cuDF APIs may exhibit differences from pandas. Where such differences exist, they should be documented. We facilitate such documentation with the pandas-compat directive. The directive should be used inside docstrings like so:


Docstring body

.. pandas-compat::

    Explanation of differences

All such API compatibility notes are collected and displayed in the rendered documentation.

Writing documentation pages#

In addition to docstrings, our docs also contain a number of more dedicated user guides. These pages are stored in docs/cudf/source/user_guide. These pages are all written using MyST, a superset of Markdown. MyST allows developers to write using familiar Markdown syntax, while also providing the full power of reST where needed. These pages do not conform to any specific style or set of use cases. However, if you develop any sufficiently complex new features, consider whether users would benefit from a more complete demonstration of them.


We encourage using links between pages. We enable Myst auto-generated anchors, so links should make use of the appropriately namespaced anchors for links rather than adding manual links.

Building documentation#


The following are required to build the documentation:

  • A RAPIDS-compatible GPU. This is necessary because the documentation execute code.

  • A working copy of cudf in the same build environment. We recommend following the build instructions.

  • Sphinx, numpydoc, and MyST-NB. Assuming you follow the build instructions, these should automatically be installed into your environment.

Building and viewing docs#

Once you have a working copy of cudf, building the docs is straightforward:

  1. Navigate to /path/to/cudf/docs/cudf/.

  2. Execute make html

This will run Sphinx in your shell and generate outputs at build/html/index.html. To view the results.

  1. Navigate to build/html

  2. Execute python -m http.server

Then, open a web browser and go to https://localhost:8000. If something else is currently running on port 8000, python -m http.server will automatically find the next available port. Alternatively, you may specify a port with python -m http.server $PORT.

You may build docs on a remote machine but want to view them locally. Assuming the other machine’s IP address is visible on your local network, you can view the docs by replacing localhost with the IP address of the host machine. Alternatively, you may also forward the port using e.g. ssh -N -f -L localhost:$LOCAL_PORT:localhost:$REMOTE_PORT $REMOTE_IP. That will make $REMOTE_IP:$REMOTE_PORT visible at localhost:$LOCAL_PORT.

Documenting cuDF internals#

Unlike public APIs, the documentation of internal code (functions, classes, etc) is not linted. Documenting internals is strongly encouraged, but not enforced in any particular way. Regarding style, either full numpy-style docstrings or regular # comments are acceptable. The former can be useful for complex or widely used functionality, while the latter is fine for small one-off functions.