[Bioperl-l] Proposal for documentation generation

Pjotr Prins pjotr.public21 at thebird.nl
Sun Mar 29 06:32:58 EDT 2009

As you probably know I have been working on mapping microarray and
sequencer IO libraries to Perl - see http://biolib.open-bio.org/. The
idea is to write a mapping once and run on Perl, Python, Ruby, R, JAVA

I am turning to this list because I need to create API documentation
for Perl (and the others) from the C/C++ code base. Maybe I am missing
something, I would like to have your opinion.

= API Documentation =

Generating good API documentation for multiple languages is a problem.
Ideally we would use the C/C++ code base to expose the interface for
all mapped languages - if possible including generated example code
for every language (!). SWIG has little support for that (there have
been attempts in the past, but apparently dropped). Unfortunately the
code SWIG generates does not lend itself to the native scripting
language documentation generators.

What SWIG can do is generate XML. The C function:

  int my_mod(int x, int y);

gets output like the (simplified):

      <attribute name="sym_name" value="my_mod">
      <attribute name="name" value="my_mod">
      <attribute name="decl" value="f(int,int).">
            <attribute name="name" value="x">
            <attribute name="type" value="int">
            <attribute name="name" value="y">
            <attribute name="type" value="int">
      <attribute name="kind" value="function">
      <attribute name="type" value="int">

Which allows transforming the function definitions into some other
format. Likewise there are facilities for structs, classes etc.

Still, this does not solve sharing function descriptions and/or
examples. It would also be nice to have languages use the native
documentation generators - as these are what users are comfortable
with and allows Biolib inclusion into CPAN etc.

BioLib opts for a new generator 'docigen' (the 'i' for interpreted
languages) which can create Perl POD files, Python Pydoc, Ruby rdoc
etc. - and examples using doctests (for the untyped languages).  The
Doxygen C/C++ documentation is linked in to (as this may include extra
information on a method or structure).  This does away of handling
complex data types - Doxygen does a good job there.

Above XML can be a starting point for creating a list of methods with 
parameters for every function.

The input for docigen is a list of methods and parameters, as
well as descriptions, used variables, return values and examples. A
YAML like interface could be:

module: example
# int my_mod(int x, int y);
  name: my_mod
  type: int
    - name: x
      type: int
    - name: y
      type: int
  description: "Calculate the modulo of x and y"
    - line: "my_mod(8,7)"
      expects: 1
where examples my be a bit tricky for different languges. In case no
automatic translation is possible those can be made explicit:

      - line: $result = test('filename')
      - line: $result->num
      - expects: 1

though this particular example is probably easy to generalize across

What do you think, is there an easier way to do this?


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