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Many languages use docstrings to include code-specific documentation alongside the code it relates to. Elixir does the same, and the docstring format used by elixir is markdown-derived. This is what goes into the documentation on Hexdocs.

One interesting segment of the per-function docstrings is the inclusion of concrete examples of the use. Evaluating a module definition involves treating the examples as simple test cases and checking them. Any failing examples will produce a warning, and – in Livebook – the results get highlighted as seen in the example below. This provides a guarantee – when no warnings are emitted – of the correctness of the examples.

This is sometimes referred to as doctests and can be seen as a form of non-exhaustive unit tests. Elixir does, however, in ExUnit have a fully featured unit testing framework.


A trivial module with five doctests (one of which is failing):

defmodule Math do
  @doc """
  Returns sum of the furst and the second arguments.

  ## Examples:

    iex> Math.add(1, 2)

    iex> Math.add(1, -1)

    iex> Math.add(-1, 1)
  def add(a, b) do
    a + b

  @doc """
  Returns the first argument divided by the second.

  ## Examples:

    iex> Math.div(1, 10)

    iex> Math.div(1, 0)
    ** (ArithmeticError) bad argument in arithmetic expression
  def div(a, b) do
    a / b

We can now use the definitions:

Math.add(1, 1)

Note: If you have evaluating the code cell containing the definition of the Math module and hover your mouse over the “add” text in the above code cell you should see the documentation pop up.