Documentation Guidelines

SecureDrop’s documentation is written in ReStructuredText (ReST), and is built by and hosted on Read the Docs (RTD). The documentation files are stored in the primary SecureDrop git repository under the docs/ directory.

To get started editing the docs:

  1. Install the dependencies:

    pip install -r securedrop/requirements/develop-requirements.txt
  2. Clone the SecureDrop repository:

    git clone
  3. Build the docs and open the index page in your web browser:

    make docs

You can then can browse the documentation at As you make changes, the docs will automatically rebuild in the browser window, so you don’t need to refresh the page manually.

You can also check the docs for formatting violations by running the linting option:

make docs-lint

The make docs command will display warnings, but will still build the documentation if formatting mistakes are found. Using make docs-lint will convert any warnings to errors, causing the build to fail. The CI tests will automatically perform linting via the same command.

Integration with Read the Docs

Our documentation is built and hosted by Read the Docs and is available at The “latest” documentation is currently based on the develop branch of the upstream Git repository. We use a webhook so the docs are rebuilt automatically when commits get pushed to the branch.

Style Guide

When specific elements from a user interface are mentioned by name or by label, bold it.

“Once you’re sure you have the right drive, click Format Drive.”

When SecureDrop-specific terminology is used, italicize it.

“To get started, you’ll need two Tails drives: one for the Admin Workstation and one for the Secure Viewing Station.”

Try to keep your lines wrapped to near 80 characters when editing the docs. Some exceptions are warranted, such as complex code blocks showing example commands, or long URLs, but in general the docs should be tightly wrapped.

When referring to virtual machines in the development environment, use lowercase for the name:

app-staging VM

Ensure that example commands in codeblocks are easily copy/pasteable. Do not prepend the $ shell prompt indicator to example commands:

echo hello

In the context of a terminal session, with both typed commands and printed output text, then use $, but only on the typed command lines:

$ echo hello
$ echo sunshine

Use absolute paths when referring to files outside the SecureDrop repository. Exceptions made for when it’s clear from the surrounding context what the intended working directory is. For files inside the SecureDrop directory, write them as ./some_dir/file, where . is the top level directory of the SecureDrop repo. Since by default the git repo will be cloned under the name securedrop and it also contains a securedrop subdirectory this is intended to avoid confusion. Exceptions made for when it’s clear from the context we’re outside of the SecureDrop repo, but would like to somehow interact with it (e.g., we just cloned the repo and now we’re going to cd into it).