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. Clone the SecureDrop repository:

    git clone
  2. Install the dependencies:

    pip install --no-deps --require-hashes -r securedrop/requirements/python3/develop-requirements.txt
  3. Build the docs for viewing in your web browser:

    make docs

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

Testing Documentation Changes

You can check 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.

To test the documentation for broken links, run the following command from a reliable internet connection:

make docs-linkcheck

The CI tests by default create staging servers to test the application code. If your PR only makes documentation changes, you should prefix the branch name with docs- to skip the staging run. Project maintainers will still need to approve the PR prior to merge, and the linting checks will also still run.

Updating Screenshots

The user guides for SecureDrop contain screenshots of the web applications. To update these screenshots automatically you can run:

make update-user-guides

This will generate screenshots for each page in the web application and copy them to the folder under docs/images/manual/screenshots where they will replace the existing screenshots. Stage for commit any screenshots you wish to update. If you wish to update all screenshots, simply stage for commit all changed files in that directory.

Integration with Read the Docs


SecureDrop maintains two versions of documentation: stable and latest. stable is the default used by our Read the Docs site, and is built from our latest signed git tag. latest is built from the head of the develop git branch. In almost all cases involving development work, you’ll want to make sure you have the latest version selected by using the menu in the bottom left corner of the Read the Docs site.

Our documentation is built and hosted by Read the Docs and is available at We use a webhook to rebuild the documentation automatically when commits get pushed to the branch.

Style Guide

Line Wrapping

Lines in the plain-text documentation files should wrap at 80 characters. (Some exceptions: complex code blocks showing example commands, or long URLs.)


Text taken directly from a user interface is in bold face.

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

SecureDrop-specific glossary is in italics.

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

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

app-staging VM

Code Blocks

Ensure that example commands in codeblocks are easy to copy and paste. 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, use $ before the typed commands:

$ echo hello
$ echo sunshine

File Paths

Cloning the SecureDrop git repository creates a directory called securedrop. This securedrop directory also contains a securedrop subdirectory for app code.

 ├── securedrop
 │   │
 │  ...
 │   ├── securedrop
... ...

To avoid confusion, paths to files anywhere inside the SecureDrop git repository should be written as ./some_dir/file, where . is the top level directory of the SecureDrop repo.

Use absolute paths when refering to files outside the SecureDrop repository: /usr/local/bin/tor-browser.

Usage and Style

To avoid confusion, lists should include the so-called “Oxford comma”:

“You will need an email address, a public GPG key for that address, and the fingerprint for that key.”

Capitalize all section headings in title case:

Before You Begin

Read the Docs


Before you begin

Read the docs