[erlang-questions] Erlang documentation -- a modest proposal

Michał Muskała <>
Wed Sep 28 11:33:37 CEST 2016

While talking about Elixir documentation everybody seems to focus exclusively on the HTML docs. Surprisingly that's not the primary way of how I (and most of the people I know) interact with the documentation that Elixir provides - the primary way is the direct access to documentation from IEx.

I guess that's in many ways similar to the access through man pages, but instead of using an external tool, it comes built-in right into the language itself. In the shell you can use the h/1 helper macro to access documentation on modules (h Kernel), all functions with a particular name (h Enum.reduce) or for a specific function with a particular arity (h Enum.reduce/3). Similarly there are helpers for accessing documentation on behaviours (b/1) and types (t/1). It works both for the standard library and the external packages. For those complaining about use of external tools - here you don't need any of them, only erlang/elixir - no lynx, no man, no browser. This has also a huge advantage of perfectly working offline - again for both the built-in modules as well as all the external dependencies in the exact same way. I cannot stress enough how valuable it is I can access documentation for all the modules I'm using in the same way.

Here are some examples:

Related to that is the ability to easily get the documentation programatically from the loaded code with the Code.get_docs/2 function. This allows various tools to access the documentation and present it directly in the code editor or whatever you can imagine.


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