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Add Python docstring to the beginning of anything in Emacs














Gergely Polonkai

Now that I write Python code for a living, I write a lot of functions, classes, and modules. What I still tend to forget, and also find tedious, is adding docstrings. Unlike many developers, writing documentation is not an enemy of mine, but it usually comes to my mind when I finish implementation. The procedure, roughly, is this:

  • Decide where I am (in a function, in a class but not in one of its methods, or not inside such a block at all)
  • Go to the beginning of the thing
  • Insert """
  • Leave a blank line
  • Insert """

One of my mottos is if something takes more than one step and you have to do it more than twice, you should automate it after the first time. This puts a small(ish) overhead on the second invocation (when you implement the automation), but it usually worth the time.

Since I use Emacs for pretty much everything coding-related (and many more, but that’s the topic of a different post), I wrote a small function to do it for me.

(defun gpolonkai/prog-in-string-p ()
  "Return `t' if point is inside a string."
  (nth 3 (syntax-ppss)))

(defun gpolonkai/prog-in-comment-p ()
  "Return `t' if point is inside a comment."
  (nth 4 (syntax-ppss)))

(defun gpolonkai/python-add-docstring ()
  "Add a Python docstring to the current thing.  If point is
  inside a function, add docstring to that.  If point is in a
  class, add docstring to that.  If neither, add docstring to the
  beginning of the file."
    (if (not (looking-at-p "\\(def\\|class\\) "))
          (goto-char (point-min))
          (while (gpolonkai/prog-in-comment-p)
      (search-forward ":")
      (while (or (gpolonkai/prog-in-string-p)
        (search-forward ":")))
    (if (eq 1 (count-lines 1 (point)))
    (insert "\"\"\"")
    (insert "\"\"\"")

There are still a lot of things to improve:

  • it always inserts double quotes (althoug I couldn’t show a use-case when single quotes are preferred)
  • it doesn’t check for an existing docstring, just happily inserts a new one (leaving the old one alone, but generating a syntax error this way)
  • it would also be nice if I could jump to the beginning of a file even from a class method. I guess I will use prefix keys for that, but I’m not sure yet.

You can bet I will implement these features, so check back soon for an updated version!