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Contributing to the documentation

If you're not the developer type, contributing to the documentation is still of huge value. You don't even have to be an expert on pandas to do so! Something as simple as rewriting small passages for clarity as you reference the docs is a simple but effective way to contribute. The next person to read that passage will be in your debt!

Actually, there are sections of the docs that are worse off by being written by experts. If something in the docs doesn't make sense to you, updating the relevant section after you figure it out is a simple way to ensure it will help the next person.

About the pandas documentation

The documentation is written in reStructuredText, which is almost like writing in plain English, and built using Sphinx. The Sphinx Documentation has an excellent introduction to reST. Review the Sphinx docs to perform more complex changes to the documentation as well.

Some other important things to know about the docs:

  • The pandas documentation consists of two parts: the docstrings in the code itself and the docs in this folder pandas/doc/.

    The docstrings provide a clear explanation of the usage of the individual functions, while the documentation in this folder consists of tutorial-like overviews per topic together with some other information (what's new, installation, etc).

  • The docstrings follow the Numpy Docstring Standard which is used widely in the Scientific Python community. This standard specifies the format of the different sections of the docstring. See this document for a detailed explanation, or look at some of the existing functions to extend it in a similar manner.

  • The tutorials make heavy use of the ipython directive sphinx extension. This directive lets you put code in the documentation which will be run during the doc build. For example:

    .. ipython:: python
        x = 2

    will be rendered as

    In [1]: x = 2
    In [2]: x**3
    Out[2]: 8

    This means that almost all code examples in the docs are always run (and the output saved) during the doc build. This way, they will always be up to date, but it makes the doc building a bit more complex.

How to build the pandas documentation


To build the pandas docs there are some extra requirements: you will need to have sphinx and ipython installed. numpydoc is used to parse the docstrings that follow the Numpy Docstring Standard (see above), but you don't need to install this because a local copy of numpydoc is included in the pandas source code.

Furthermore, it is recommended to have all optional dependencies installed. This is not needed, but be aware that you will see some error messages. Because all the code in the documentation is executed during the doc build, the examples using this optional dependencies will generate errors. Run pd.show_version() to get an overview of the installed version of all dependencies.


Building the docs with Sphinx version 1.2 is broken. Use the latest stable version (1.2.1) or the older 1.1.3.

Building pandas

For a step-by-step overview on how to set up your environment, to work with the pandas code and git, see the developer pages. When you start to work on some docs, be sure to update your code to the latest development version ('master'):

git fetch upstream
git rebase upstream/master

Often it will be necessary to rebuild the C extension after updating:

python setup.py build_ext --inplace

Building the documentation

So how do you build the docs? Navigate to your local the folder pandas/doc/ directory in the console and run:

python make.py html

And then you can find the html output in the folder pandas/doc/build/html/.

The first time it will take quite a while, because it has to run all the code examples in the documentation and build all generated docstring pages. In subsequent evocations, sphinx will try to only build the pages that have been modified.

If you want to do a full clean build, do:

python make.py clean
python make.py build

Staring with 0.13.1 you can tell make.py to compile only a single section of the docs, greatly reducing the turn-around time for checking your changes. You will be prompted to delete .rst files that aren't required, since the last committed version can always be restored from git.

#omit autosummary and API section
python make.py clean
python make.py --no-api

# compile the docs with only a single
# section, that which is in indexing.rst
python make.py clean
python make.py --single indexing

For comparison, a full doc build may take 10 minutes. a -no-api build may take 3 minutes and a single section may take 15 seconds.

Where to start?

There are a number of issues listed under Docs and Good as first PR where you could start out.

Or maybe you have an idea of you own, by using pandas, looking for something in the documentation and thinking 'this can be improved', let's do something about that!

Feel free to ask questions on mailing list or submit an issue on Github.