Skip to main content

24.2 Access to Documentation Strings

function documentation-property symbol property \&optional verbatim

This function returns the documentation string recorded in symbol’s property list under property property. It is most often used to look up the documentation strings of variables, for which property is variable-documentation. However, it can also be used to look up other kinds of documentation, such as for customization groups (but for function documentation, use the documentation function, below).

If the property value refers to a documentation string stored in the DOC file or a byte-compiled file, this function looks up that string and returns it.

If the property value isn’t nil, isn’t a string, and doesn’t refer to text in a file, then it is evaluated as a Lisp expression to obtain a string.

Finally, this function passes the string through substitute-command-keys to substitute key bindings (see Keys in Documentation). It skips this step if verbatim is non-nil.

(documentation-property 'command-line-processed
⇒ "Non-nil once command line has been processed"
(symbol-plist 'command-line-processed)
⇒ (variable-documentation 188902)
(documentation-property 'emacs 'group-documentation)
⇒ "Customization of the One True Editor."

function documentation function \&optional verbatim

This function returns the documentation string of function. It handles macros, named keyboard macros, and special forms, as well as ordinary functions.

If function is a symbol, this function first looks for the function-documentation property of that symbol; if that has a non-nil value, the documentation comes from that value (if the value is not a string, it is evaluated).

If function is not a symbol, or if it has no function-documentation property, then documentation extracts the documentation string from the actual function definition, reading it from a file if called for.

Finally, unless verbatim is non-nil, this function calls substitute-command-keys. The result is the documentation string to return.

The documentation function signals a void-function error if function has no function definition. However, it is OK if the function definition has no documentation string. In that case, documentation returns nil.

function face-documentation face

This function returns the documentation string of face as a face.

Here is an example of using the two functions, documentation and documentation-property, to display the documentation strings for several symbols in a *Help* buffer.

(defun describe-symbols (pattern)
"Describe the Emacs Lisp symbols matching PATTERN.
All symbols that have PATTERN in their name are described
in the *Help* buffer."
(interactive "sDescribe symbols matching: ")
(let ((describe-func
(lambda (s)
           ;; Print description of symbol.
(if (fboundp s) ; It is a function.
(format "%s\t%s\n%s\n\n" s
(if (commandp s)
(let ((keys (where-is-internal s)))
(if keys
"Keys: "
(mapconcat 'key-description
keys " "))
"Keys: none"))
                  (or (documentation s)
"not documented"))))

(if (boundp s) ; It is a variable.
(format "%s\t%s\n%s\n\n" s
(if (custom-variable-p s)
"Option " "Variable")
                  (or (documentation-property
s 'variable-documentation)
"not documented"))))))
    ;; Build a list of symbols that match pattern.
(mapatoms (lambda (sym)
(if (string-match pattern (symbol-name sym))
(setq sym-list (cons sym sym-list)))))
    ;; Display the data.
(help-setup-xref (list 'describe-symbols pattern) (interactive-p))
(with-help-window (help-buffer)
(mapcar describe-func (sort sym-list 'string<)))))

The describe-symbols function works like apropos, but provides more information.

(describe-symbols "goal")

---------- Buffer: *Help* ----------
goal-column Option
Semipermanent goal column for vertical motion, as set by …
minibuffer-temporary-goal-position      Variable
not documented
set-goal-column Keys: C-x C-n
Set the current horizontal position as a goal for C-n and C-p.
Those commands will move to this position in the line moved to
rather than trying to keep the same horizontal position.
With a non-nil argument ARG, clears out the goal column
so that C-n and C-p resume vertical motion.
The goal column is stored in the variable ‘goal-column’.

(fn ARG)
temporary-goal-column   Variable
Current goal column for vertical motion.
It is the column where point was at the start of the current run
of vertical motion commands.

When moving by visual lines via the function ‘line-move-visual’, it is a cons
cell (COL . HSCROLL), where COL is the x-position, in pixels,
divided by the default column width, and HSCROLL is the number of
columns by which window is scrolled from left margin.

When the ‘track-eol’ feature is doing its job, the value is
---------- Buffer: *Help* ----------

function Snarf-documentation filename

This function is used when building Emacs, just before the runnable Emacs is dumped. It finds the positions of the documentation strings stored in the file filename, and records those positions into memory in the function definitions and variable property lists. See Building Emacs.

Emacs reads the file filename from the emacs/etc directory. When the dumped Emacs is later executed, the same file will be looked for in the directory doc-directory. Usually filename is "DOC".

variable doc-directory

This variable holds the name of the directory which should contain the file "DOC" that contains documentation strings for built-in and preloaded functions and variables.

In most cases, this is the same as data-directory. They may be different when you run Emacs from the directory where you built it, without actually installing it. See Definition of data-directory.