A little-known bit of trivia about our book, Python Web Development with Django: we wrote the manuscript in Markdown.

I think it was my idea. One of the major motivations for using a text-based format – versus the unfortunate de facto standard, Microsoft Word – was integration with good developer tools and workflow.

Our manuscript and all our project code was in a Subversion repo, so each author always had the latest updates. HTML generated from the Markdown files was great for generating nice printed/printable output too.

We could have used any number of similar formats: Markdown, Textile, reStructuredText. If we did it again we’d probably use reST plus Sphinx. That would grant all the same advantages, plus give us a little more formatting flexibility and tool support.

This workflow enabled certain kinds of programmatic action on our text, notably two things: automated testing of the interactive examples within the text, and automated extraction of example snippets from source code files.

I wrote scripts for each of these tasks. I’ve cleaned them up a little, to try to make them a little more general-purpose, and published them (with minimal example files) in a bitbucket repo:

There’s a little documentation in the docstrings of the scripts. Here’s the summary:

To test code snippets in the manuscript file: example/text.txt

To extract code from source files into the manuscript file: example/text.txt

Authors, make use of this if you can – or maybe even better, take inspiration from the idea and implement a system of your own.

matt harrison commented :

Very cool. I’ve been doing the same thing with reST (generating pdf, docs and presos) and having all the code tested. How many people have coverage reports for their docs?

Paul commented :

It’s a good thing, eh? The first time I ran the example tester I found a slew of easy-to-fix errors.