While working with the awesome documentation tool Sphinx, I ran into a situation where I could not seem to make sphinx-apidoc to recognize modules under a subdirectory of my project. I triple checked my command but it was fine. The same command worked properly in my other project where it located all the files under a package and created documents for them all. However, this time it seemed to be refusing to recognize and create documents for only a few subdirectories(packages). I found it hard understand what could possibly cause this bizarre behavior all of a sudden.

After extensive hopeless attempt, I found the cause. sphinx-apidoc seemed to search through packages(subdirectories) that contained __init__.py in them. I usually use python3 which does not require __init__.py file to exist in order for the python interpreter to recognize a directory as a package. This naturally lead to the absence of __init__.py files in my projects and if they did exist, it was a mistake that auto generated by python2. And to my luck, my previous project did have __init__.py files created by accident and sphinx-apidoc command worked as expected.

To demonstrate this pesky bug(so I say) that exists in sphinx-apidoc, here is a simple project structured in the following way.

$ tree .
├── docs
│   ├── build
│   ├── Makefile
│   └── source
│       ├── conf.py
│       ├── index.rst
│       ├── _static
│       └── _templates
├── file1.py
├── package1
│   └── first_funcs.py
└── package2
    ├── __init__.py
    └── second_funcs.py

I have initialized my sphinx files under docs/ directory. There are two packages in this project: package1 and package2. Each package contains a module with one dummy function defined in it, and it has docstrings.

How see what happend when I run the sphinx-apidoc command upon the project.

$ cd docs
$ sphinx-apidoc -f -o source/api ..
Creating file source/api/file1.rst.
Creating file source/api/package2.rst.
Creating file source/api/modules.rst.

notice that a document has been created for only package2. The only difference between package1 and package2 was that package2 contained a __init__.py file while the other did not.

Here is a screenshot of the generated html files just to emphasize the difference that this little dummy file can make.

So the next time you run into a situation where sphinx-apidoc doesn’t seem to include some packages in its “to document” list, check the existence of __init__.py file in that package to verify that this really is a package to sphinx-apidoc.

Categories: python


Lood van Niekerk · February 1, 2020 at 12:02 am

The flag –implicit-namespaces solved this for me.

I also ended up putting everything in the conf.py file using https://github.com/sphinx-contrib/apidoc 🙂

    can unal · July 11, 2022 at 5:36 pm


    after investigating so much time about this topic, your input about the flag “–implicit-namespaces” and Chawdicks “adding the init.py into the subfolders” made it.

    Thank you so much guys..

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