Document your code with XML comments

You can produce documentation from triple-slash (///) code comments in F#. XML comments can precede declarations in code files (.fs) or signature (.fsi) files.

XML documentation comments are a special kind of comment, added above the definition of any user-defined type or member. They are special because they can be processed by the compiler to generate an XML documentation file at compile time. The compiler-generated XML file can be distributed alongside your .NET assembly so that IDEs can use tooltips to show quick information about types or members. Additionally, the XML file can be run through tools like fsdocs to generate API reference websites.

XML documentation comments, like all other comments, are ignored by the compiler, unless the options described below are enabled to check the validity and completeness of comments at compile time.

You can generate the XML file at compile time by doing one of the following:

  • You can add a GenerateDocumentationFile element to the <PropertyGroup> section of your .fsproj project file, which generates an XML file in the project directory with the same root filename as the assembly. For example:

    <GenerateDocumentationFile>true</GenerateDocumentationFile>
    
  • If you are developing an application using Visual Studio, right-click on the project and select Properties. In the properties dialog, select the Build tab, and check XML documentation file. You can also change the location to which the compiler writes the file.

There are two ways to write XML documentation comments: with and without XML tags. Both use triple-slash comments.

Comments without XML tags

If a /// comment does not start with a <, then the entire comment text is taken as the summary documentation for the code construct that immediately follows. Use this method when you want to write only a brief summary for each construct.

The comment is encoded to XML during documentation preparation, so characters such as <, >, and & need not be escaped. If you don't specify a summary tag explicitly, you should not specify other tags, such as param or returns tags.

The following example shows the alternative method, without XML tags. In this example, the entire text in the comment is considered a summary.

/// Creates a new string whose characters are the result of applying
/// the function mapping to each of the characters of the input string
/// and concatenating the resulting strings.
val collect : (char -> string) -> string -> string

Comments with XML tags

If a comment body begins with < (normally <summary>), then it is treated as an XML formatted comment body using XML tags. This second enables you to specify separate notes for a short summary, additional remarks, documentation for each parameter and type parameter and exceptions thrown, and a description of the return value.

The following is a typical XML documentation comment in a signature file:

/// <summary>Builds a new string whose characters are the results of applying the function <c>mapping</c>
/// to each of the characters of the input string and concatenating the resulting
/// strings.</summary>
/// <param name="mapping">The function to produce a string from each character of the input string.</param>
///<param name="str">The input string.</param>
///<returns>The concatenated string.</returns>
///<exception cref="System.ArgumentNullException">Thrown when the input string is null.</exception>
val collect : (char -> string) -> string -> string

If you are using XML tags, the following table describes the outer tags recognized in F# XML code comments.

Tag syntax Description
<summary>text</summary> Specifies that text is a brief description of the program element. The description is usually one or two sentences.
<remarks>text</remarks> Specifies that text contains supplementary information about the program element.
<param name="name">description</param> Specifies the name and description for a function or method parameter.
<typeparam name="name">description</typeparam> Specifies the name and description for a type parameter.
<returns>text</returns> Specifies that text describes the return value of a function or method.
<exception cref="type">description</exception> Specifies the type of exception that can be generated and the circumstances under which it is thrown.
<seealso cref="reference"/> Specifies a See Also link to the documentation for another type. The reference is the name as it appears in the XML documentation file. See Also links usually appear at the bottom of a documentation page.

The following table describes the tags for use inside description sections:

Tag syntax Description
<para>text</para> Specifies a paragraph of text. This is used to separate text inside the remarks tag.
<code>text</code> Specifies that text is multiple lines of code. This tag can be used by documentation generators to display text in a font that is appropriate for code.
<paramref name="name"/> Specifies a reference to a parameter in the same documentation comment.
<typeparamref name="name"/> Specifies a reference to a type parameter in the same documentation comment.
<c>text</c> Specifies that text is inline code. This tag can be used by documentation generators to display text in a font that is appropriate for code.
<see cref="reference">text</see> Specifies an inline link to another program element. The reference is the name as it appears in the XML documentation file. The text is the text shown in the link.

User-defined tags

The previous tags represent those that are recognized by the F# compiler and typical F# editor tooling. However, a user is free to define their own tags. Tools like fsdocs bring support for extra tags like <namespacedoc>. Custom or in-house documentation generation tools can also be used with the standard tags and multiple output formats from HTML to PDF can be supported.

Compile-time checking

When --warnon:3390 is enabled, the compiler verifies the syntax of the XML and the parameters referred to in <param> and <paramref> tags.

Documenting F# Constructs

F# constructs such as modules, members, union cases, and record fields are documented by a /// comment immediately prior to their declaration. If needed, implicit constructors of classes are documented by giving a /// comment prior to the argument list. For example:

/// This is the type
type SomeType
      /// This is the implicit constructor
      (a: int, b: int) =

    /// This is the member
    member _.Sum() = a + b

Limitations

Some features of XML documentation in C# and other .NET languages are not supported in F#.

  • In F#, cross-references must use the full XML signature of the corresponding symbol, for example cref="T:System.Console". Simple C#-style cross-references such as cref="Console" are not elaborated to full XML signatures and these elements are not checked by the F# compiler. Some documentation tooling may allow the use of these cross-references by subsequent processing, but the full signatures should be used.

  • The tags <include>, <inheritdoc> are not supported by the F# compiler. No error is given if they are used, but they are simply copied to the generated documentation file without otherwise affecting the documentation generated.

  • Cross-references are not checked by the F# compiler, even when -warnon:3390 is used.

  • The names used in the tags <typeparam> and <typeparamref> are not checked by the F# compiler, even when --warnon:3390 is used.

  • No warnings are given if documentation is missing, even when --warnon:3390 is used.

Recommendations

Documenting code is recommended for many reasons. What follows are some best practices, general use case scenarios, and things that you should know when using XML documentation tags in your F# code.

  • Enable the option --warnon:3390 in your code to help ensure your XML documentation is valid XML.

  • Consider adding signature files to separate long XML documentation comments from your implementation.

  • For the sake of consistency, all publicly visible types and their members should be documented. If you must do it, do it all.

  • At a bare minimum, modules, types, and their members should have a plain /// comment or <summary> tag. This will show in an autocompletion tooltip window in F# editing tools.

  • Documentation text should be written using complete sentences ending with full stops.

See also