Introducing diagrams-haddock

I am quite pleased to announce the release of diagrams-haddock, a tool enabling you to easily include programmatically generated diagrams in your Haddock documentation. Why might you want to do this? “A picture is worth a thousand words”—in many instances a diagram or illustration can dramatically increase the comprehension of users reading your library’s documentation. The diagrams project itself will be using this for documentation, beginning with the diagrams-contrib package (for example, check out the documentation for Diagrams.TwoD.Path.IteratedSubset). But inline images can benefit the documentation of just about any library.

Before jumping into a more detailed example, here are the main selling points of diagrams-haddock:

  1. You get to create arbitrary images to enhance your documentation, using the powerful diagrams framework.

  2. The code for your images goes right into your source files themselves, alongside the documentation—there is no need to maintain a bunch of auxiliary files, or (heaven forbid) multiple versions of your source files.

  3. Images are regenerated when, and only when, their definition changes—so you can include many diagrams in your documentation without having to recompile all of them every time you make a change to just one.

  4. You have to do a little bit of work to integrate the generated images into your Cabal package, but it’s relatively simple and you only have to do it once per package. No one else needs to have diagrams-haddock installed in order to build your documentation with the images (this includes Hackage).

So, how does it work? (For full details, consult the diagrams-haddock documentation.) Suppose we have some Haddock documentation that looks like this:

-- | The foozle function takes a widget and turns it into an
--   infinite list of widgets which alternate between red and
--   yellow.
--
foozle :: Widget -> [Widget]
foozle = ...

It would be really nice to illustrate this with a picture, don’t you think? First, we insert an image placeholder like so:

-- | The foozle function takes a widget and turns it into an
--   infinite list of widgets which alternate between red and
--   yellow.
--
--   <<dummy#diagram=foozleDia&width=300>>
--
foozle :: Widget -> [Widget]
foozle = ...

It doesn’t matter what we put in place of dummy; diagrams-haddock is going to shortly replace it anyway. The stuff following the # is a list of parameters to diagrams-haddock: we tell it to insert here an image built from the diagram called foozleDia, and that it should have a width of 300 pixels.

Now we just have to give a definition for foozleDia, which we do simply by creating a code block (set off with bird tracks) in a comment:

-- | The foozle function takes a widget and turns it into an
--   infinite list of widgets which alternate between red and
--   yellow.
--
--   <<dummy#diagram=foozleDia&width=300>>
--
foozle :: Widget -> [Widget]
foozle = ...

-- > widget =
-- >   (  stroke (circle 1.25 <> circle 0.75 # reversePath)
-- >   <> mconcat (iterateN 10 (rotateBy (1/10)) (square 0.5 # translateX 1.3))
-- >   )
-- >   # lw 0
-- >
-- > foozleDia =
-- >   hcat' with {sep = 2}
-- >   [ widget # fc black
-- >   , hrule 4 # alignR <> triangle 1 # rotateBy (-1/4) # fc black
-- >   , hcat' with {sep = 0.5} (zipWith fc (cycle [red, yellow]) (replicate 6 widget))
-- >   ]

Note that this definition for foozleDia isn’t in a Haddock comment, so it won’t be typeset in the Haddock output. (However, if you want users reading your documentation to see the code used to generate the pictures—as, e.g., we often do in the documentation for diagrams itself—it’s as simple as sticking the definitions in a Haddock comment.) It also doesn’t have to go right after the definition of foozle—for example, we could stick it all the way at the end of the source file if we didn’t want it cluttering up the code.

Now we simply run diagrams-haddock on our file (or on the whole Cabal project), and it will generate an appropriate SVG image and replace <<dummy#...>> with something like <<diagrams/foozleDia.svg#...>>. The Haddock documentation now displays something like

after the documentation for foozle. Hooray! Note that diagrams-haddock only replaces the stuff before the # (the clever bit is that browsers will ignore everything after the #). Running diagrams-haddock again at this point will do nothing. If we change the definition of foozleDia and then rerun diagrams-haddock, it will regenerate the image.

Okay, but how will others (or, for that matter, Hackage) be able to see the diagram for foozle when they build the documentation, without needing diagrams-haddock themselves? It’s actually fairly straightforward—we simply include the generated images in the source tarball, and tell cabal to copy the images in alongside the documentation when it is built, using either a custom Setup.hs, or (once it is released and sufficiently ubiquitous) the new extra-html-files: field in the .cabal file. The diagrams-haddock documentation has full details with step-by-step instructions.

I hope this silly example has piqued your interest; again, for full details please consult the diagrams-haddock documentation. Now go forth and illustrate your documentation!

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4 Responses to Introducing diagrams-haddock

  1. Hi. Nice to see this live. What has become of the idea of putting the diagrams in the source as data URLs? Just too ugly while editing it?

    • Brent says:

      Yes, in my opinion not just ugly but an active hindrance — when editing a source file it is a real inconvenience to have giant globs of base64-encoded stuff in the middle of it. Unlike the diagrams code, which can go anywhere in the file (e.g. at the end if you don’t want it cluttering up the code), data URLs have to go exactly where you want the images to go, and they can be quite long depending on the image.

    • Brent says:

      After thinking about it a bit more, however, I realized that it would be quite simple to add this behavior and have it enabled by an optional flag. There is certainly a tradeoff involved here, but the benefit of course is that you don’t have to mess with your `Setup.hs` or `.cabal` file at all.

  2. Pingback: Diagrams 1.0 | blog :: Brent -> [String]

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