Documentation: a god-send when it exists, but always bottom of the priority list when creating your own projects. Fortunately, Sphinx is here to make it (a bit) easier to document Python projects. Here’s a quick, bare-bones run down of how to do it, and host it on readthedocs.


I think the easiest way is to just use pip

pip install -U sphinx

This way it’s packaged with your environment, and you can easily update or remove it as needed. The downside is you will have a separate install for each environment, so if disk space is a concern this isn’t the best approach, and you might want to choose another option here.


Navigate to your project directory, and create a docs folder.

mkdir docs
cd docs

Then you can run sphinx-quickstart in this directory.


This will ask you a few questions, which you can answer yes to the defaults to in most cases. I like to separate the source and build directories to make managing the documentation with git easier.

Build the docs

It’s as simple as running make with the format desired in the docs directory. For example, for html:

make html

Push to github

Your project is all up to date in source control, right? Good. (If not, go sort that out now).

Commit and push your new docs. You can ignore the build folder and just add the make files and contents of the source folder.

Deploy to Read the docs

If you upload your code as-is to readthedocs your build will initially fail. This is because readthedocs by default assumes that the default master document is conf.rst, not index.rst. To fix it, just add this line anywhere within source/ (I stuck mine at the bottom with a ‘custom features’ comment).

master_doc = 'index'

Then go to, sign up, and search for your repository. You should then be able to just follow the instricutions and build your beautiful documentation.