Python: View Documentation With the help() Function

This short article will show you how to use the Python help() function to view the documentation (Docstring) for a Python module, class, or function.

Documenting Your Python Code with Docstrings

You can document your Python code with a special string called a docstring.

We’ve got a whole article on that here.

The short version of it is this: put a triple quoted string immediately after declaring a function, class, or module in Python:

""" Just like this """

…and you can later read from it using the help() function – allowing you to quickly look up what a function is intended to do without having to look at the code.

Using the help() Function to View Documentation/Docstrings

The help() function is built-in to Python and will display the docstring for a given object – this will not just print the docstring, but it will display the documentation for the function in an interactive shell similar to using the man command in the Linux shell.

To demonstrate, here’s a simple python function with a docstring documenting its functionality:

def multiplyNumbers(num1, num2):
    """
    Multiplies two given numbers passed as parameters

    Parameters:
    num1 (integer)
    num2 (integer)

    Returns:
    The product of num1 and num2

    """
    return num1 * num2

And here’s how to use the help() function to view the docstring for the above:

help(multiplyNumbers)

The following text documentation will be displayed:

    Multiplies two given numbers passed as parameters

    Parameters:
    num1 (integer)
    num2 (integer)

    Returns:
    The product of num1 and num2

Note that calling the help() function will halt the execution of your Python code until the q key is pressed to exit viewing the documentation/docstring.

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I'm Brad, and I'm nearing 20 years of experience with Linux. I've worked in just about every IT role there is before taking the leap into software development. Currently, I'm building desktop and web-based solutions with NodeJS and PHP hosted on Linux infrastructure. Visit my blog or find me on Twitter to see what I'm up to.

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