Twisted Writing Standard

The Twisted writing standard describes the documentation writing styles we prefer in our documentation. This standard applies particularly to howtos and other descriptive documentation.

This document is meant to help Twisted documentation authors produce documentation that does not have the following problems:

  • misleads users about what is good Twisted style;
  • misleads users into thinking that an advanced howto is an introduction to writing their first Twisted server; and
  • misleads users about whether they fit the document’s target audience: for example, that they are able to use enterprise without knowing how to write SQL queries.

General style

Documents should aim to be clear and concise, allowing the API documentation and the example code to tell as much of the story as they can. Demonstrations and where necessary supported arguments should always preferred to simple statements (“here is how you would simplify this code with Deferreds” rather than “Deferreds make code simpler”).

Documents should be clearly delineated into sections and subsections. Each of these sections, like the overall document, should have a single clear purpose. This is most easily tested by trying to have meaningful headings: a section which is headed by “More details” or “Advanced stuff” is not purposeful enough. There should be fairly obvious ways to split a document. The two most common are task based sectioning and sectioning which follows module and class separations.

Documentation must use American English spelling, and where possible avoid any local variants of either vocabulary or grammar. Grammatically complex sentences should ideally be avoided: these make reading unnecessarily difficult, particularly for non-native speakers.

When referring to a hypothetical person, (such as “a user of a website written with twisted.web”), gender neutral pronouns (they/their/them) should be used.

For reStructuredText documents which are handled by the Sphinx documentation generator make lines short, and break lines at natural places, such as after commas and semicolons, rather than after the 79th column. We call this semantic newlines. This rule does not apply to docstrings.

Sometimes when editing a narrative documentation file, I wrap the lines semantically.
Instead of inserting a newline at 79 columns (or whatever),
or making paragraphs one long line,
I put in newlines at a point that seems logical to me.
Modern code-oriented text editors are very good at wrapping and arranging long lines.

Evangelism and usage documents

The Twisted documentation should maintain a reasonable distinction between “evangelism” documentation, which compares the Twisted design or Twisted best practice with other approaches and argues for the Twisted approach, and “usage” documentation, which describes the Twisted approach in detail without comparison to other possible approaches.

While both kinds of documentation are useful, they have different audiences. The first kind of document, evangelical documents, is useful to a reader who is researching and comparing approaches and seeking to understand the Twisted approach or Twisted functionality in order to decide whether it is useful to them. The second kind of document, usage documents, are useful to a reader who has decided to use Twisted and simply wants further information about available functions and architectures they can use to accomplish their goal.

Since they have distinct audiences, evangelism and detailed usage documentation belongs in separate files. There should be links between them in ‘Further reading’ or similar sections.

Descriptions of features

Descriptions of any feature added since release 2.0 of Twisted core must have a note describing which release of which Twisted project they were added in at the first mention in each document. If they are not yet released, give them the number of the next minor release.

For example, a substantial change might have a version number added in the introduction:

This document describes the Application infrastructure for deploying Twisted applications (added in Twisted 1.3) .

The version does not need to be mentioned elsewhere in the document except for specific features which were added in subsequent releases, which might should be mentioned separately.

The simplest way to create a .tac file, SuperTac (added in Twisted Core 99.7) ...

In the case where the usage of a feature has substantially changed, the number should be that of the release in which the current usage became available. For example:

This document describes the Application infrastructure for deploying Twisted applications (updated[/substantially updated] in Twisted 2.7) .


The first occurrence of the name of any module, class or function should always link to the API documents. Subsequent mentions may or may not link at the author’s discretion: discussions which are very closely bound to a particular API should probably link in the first mention in the given section.

Links between howtos are encouraged. Overview documents and tutorials should always link to reference documents and in depth documents. These documents should link among themselves wherever it’s needed: if you’re tempted to re-describe the functionality of another module, you should certainly link instead.

Linking to standard library documentation is also encouraged when referencing standard library objects. Intersphinx is supported in Twisted documentation, with prefixes for linking to either the Python 2 standard library documentation (via py2) or Python 3 (via py3) as needed.


The introductory section of a Twisted howto should immediately follow the top-level heading and precede any subheadings.

The following items should be present in the introduction to Twisted howtos: the introductory paragraph and the description of the target audience.

Introductory paragraph

The introductory paragraph of a document should summarize what the document is designed to present. It should use the both proper names for the Twisted technologies and simple non-Twisted descriptions of the technologies. For example, in this paragraph both the name of the technology (“Conch”) and a description (“SSH server”) are used:

This document describes setting up a SSH server to serve data from the file system using Conch, the Twisted SSH implementation.

The introductory paragraph should be relatively short, but should, like the above, somewhere define the document’s objective: what the reader should be able to do using instructions in the document.

Description of target audience

Subsequent paragraphs in the introduction should describe the target audience of the document: who would want to read it, and what they should know before they can expect to use your document. For example:

The target audience of this document is a Twisted user who has a set of filesystem like data objects that they would like to make available to authenticated users over SFTP.

Following the directions in this document will require that you are familiar with managing authentication via the Twisted Cred system.

Use your discretion about the extent to which you list assumed knowledge. Very introductory documents that are going to be among a reader’s first exposure to Twisted will even need to specify that they rely on knowledge of Python and of certain networking concepts (ports, servers, clients, connections) but documents that are going to be sought out by existing Twisted users for particular purposes only need to specify other Twisted knowledge that is assumed.

Any knowledge of technologies that wouldn’t be considered “core Python” and/or “simple networking” need to be explicitly specified, no matter how obvious they seem to someone familiar with the technology. For example, it needs to be stated that someone using enterprise should know SQL and should know how to set up and populate databases for testing purposes.

Where possible, link to other documents that will fill in missing knowledge for the reader. Linking to documents in the Twisted repository is preferred but not essential.

Goals of document

The introduction should finish with a list of tasks that the user can expect to see the document accomplish. These tasks should be concrete rather than abstract, so rather than telling the user that they will “understand Twisted Conch”, you would list the specific tasks that they will see the document do. For example:

This document will demonstrate the following tasks using Twisted Conch:

  • creating an anonymous access read-only SFTP server using a filesystem backend;
  • creating an anonymous access read-only SFTP server using a proxy backend connecting to an HTTP server; and
  • creating a anonymous access read and write SFTP server using a filesystem backend.

In many cases this will essentially be a list of your code examples, but it need not be. If large sections of your code are devoted to design discussions, your goals might resemble the following:

This document will discuss the following design aspects of writing Conch servers:

  • authentication of users; and
  • choice of data backends.

Example code

Wherever possible, example code should be provided to illustrate a certain technique or piece of functionality.

Example code should try and meet as many of the following requirements as possible:

  • example code should be a complete working example suitable for copying and pasting and running by the reader (where possible, provide a link to a file to download);
  • example code should be short;
  • example code should be commented very extensively, with the assumption that this code may be read by a Twisted newcomer;
  • example code should conform to the coding standard ; and
  • example code should exhibit ‘best practice’, not only for dealing with the target functionality, but also for use of the application framework and so on.

The requirement to have a complete working example will occasionally impose upon authors the need to have a few dummy functions: in Twisted documentation the most common example is where a function is needed to generate a Deferred and fire it after some time has passed. An example might be this, where deferLater is used to fire a callback after a period of time:

from twisted.internet import task, reactor

def getDummyDeferred():
    Dummy method which returns a deferred that will fire in 5 seconds with
    a result
    return task.deferLater(reactor, 5, lambda x: "RESULT")

As in the above example, it is imperative to clearly mark that the function is a dummy in as many ways as you can: using Dummy in the function name, explaining that it is a dummy in the docstring, and marking particular lines as being required to create an effect for the purposes of demonstration. In most cases, this will save the reader from mistaking this dummy method for an idiom they should use in their Twisted code.


The conclusion of a howto should follow the very last section heading in a file. This heading would usually be called “Conclusion”.

The conclusion of a howto should remind the reader of the tasks that they have done while reading the document. For example:

In this document, you have seen how to:

  1. set up an anonymous read-only SFTP server;
  2. set up a SFTP server where users authenticate;
  3. set up a SFTP server where users are restricted to some parts of the filesystem based on authentication; and
  4. set up a SFTP server where users have write access to some parts of the filesystem based on authentication.

If appropriate, the howto could follow this description with links to other documents that might be of interest to the reader with their newfound knowledge. However, these links should be limited to fairly obvious extensions of at least one of the listed tasks.