KDE Dev Guide


If you write new functions for a KDE project, we certainly hope that you write documentation (apidox) for it, and try to explain as clearly as possible what can be done with the functions. The better you document your work, the more developers are likely to use it and the less likely they are to annoy you by asking basic questions about how it works.

API documentation is sometimes called an API reference manual. It needn't be just a reference manual, though. It can contain extensive additional material, such as tutorials, examples, and historical information. This page refers to all the material that documents and explains the API of a piece of code as "apidox", the term used in the KDE development platform documentation itself.

Basic apidox writing is fun and simple: add specially formatted comments in your code explaining what things are supposed to be for. These comments are nearly indistinguishable from stuff you would be writing in the headers of your code anyway, so that's not hard to do. Here is a sample. 

* @author praxagora
* Returns a CHI square comparing two samples.
* The arrays must be the same size.
* @param a First sample
* @param b Second sample
* @return @size size of each sample.
double chi_square(double a[], double b[], int size) {
double total_a=0.0, total_b=0.0, total, totals[size],
square_a[size], square_b[size], square_totals[size],
terms_total=0.0, sum_total=0.0, square_sum_total=0.0;
int i;
* This loop comprises the whole function and computes the CHI
* square from the two arrays.
for (i = 0; i < size ; i++)

Note that a comment was included before the function, and before the bracket that starts the next level of nesting, a for loop. All the parameters, as well as the return value, are marked.

To write good apidox, you first need technical knowledge: you should understand the code you are documenting--or at least know what it is supposed to do and how it is meant to be used. The other part of good apidox is plain discipline: apidox are most useful when they are exhaustive.

Actually, documentation doesn't usually have to explain what the code does at each step. The code should be so clear, with a clean layout and well-chosen names for methods and variables, that it is self-documenting. Rather, documentation should explain what code is for, when and why it is called, the purposes and ranges of its arguments, and perhaps the algorithm used and the trade-offs made in memory and time.

Look at the Qt documentation to get a feeling for what good apidox look like. They have a consistency of style and are permeated with a concern for thoroughness. You can learn a lot about Qt just from reading the documentation. You do not necessarily need to run the tutorial programs or read the source code of the library to find out what a parameter or flag does in some method of the library. It is all spelled out for you.