Documentation Guidelines

SecureDrop’s documentation for end users (sources, journalists and administrators) is available at It is written in reStructuredText (reST) and hosted by Freedom of the Press Foundation using a theme by Read the Docs. The documentation files are stored in the docs/ directory of the SecureDrop docs repository.

Developer documentation is maintained separately via the SecureDrop developer documentation repository and published to

Documentation versions

SecureDrop maintains two versions of its end user documentation: stable (appropriate for end users) and latest (appropriate for developers). stable is the default, and is built from our latest signed git tag. latest is built from the head of the main git branch of the securedrop-docs repository.

The developer documentation at is published only in a single version. When changes are merged into the main branch of the securedrop-dev-docs repository, a new version of the documentation is built immediately.

Updating Documentation

To get started editing the docs:

  1. Clone the SecureDrop documentation repository.

    For the end user documentation:

    git clone

    For the developer documentation:

    git clone
  2. Install Poetry, which is used to manage the Python dependencies of the project.

    If you are not already using Poetry, follow the installation guide to set up Poetry on your operating system.

  3. Install the Python dependencies of the project.

    poetry install

    We use the version of Python included with the most recent stable release of the Debian GNU/Linux distribution. The project configuration therefore specifies that this version of Python is required.

    If you receive a warning that the required version of Python cannot be found, you may need to install it. If necessary, you can use pyenv to manage multiple versions of Python alongside each other.

  4. Build the docs for viewing in your web browser:

    make docs

    You can then preview the documentation at Navigate to the docs/ directory to make changes to the documentation rendered on or The documentation pages will automatically rebuild in the browser window, as you make changes; you don’t need to refresh the page manually.

    After performing lint checks, open a PR against the main branch of the appropriate repository.

Testing Documentation Changes

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

make docs-lint

The make docs command will display warnings if mistakes are found, but will still build the documentation. Using make docs-lint will convert any warnings to errors, causing the build to fail.

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

make docs-linkcheck

Project maintainers will need to approve the PR before it can be merged.


It is generally good practice to maintain a clean git history by reducing the number of commits to a reasonable minimum. You can do this by squashing closely related commits through an interactive rebase once your PR is close to being merged.

If you would like a project maintainer to help you with squashing commits in a PR, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment requesting assistance.

Pushing to a contributor fork

As a maintainer, you can push directly to a contributor fork, as long as there is an active Pull Request corresponding to the branch you are pushing to, and you have added the contributor remote with authentication enabled (i.e. the url value in .git/config starts with

Updating Screenshots

The user guides for SecureDrop contain screenshots of the web applications. To update these screenshots automatically you can run this command from within your main SecureDrop repository checkout:

DOCS_REPO_DIR=/path/to/docs make update-user-guides

This will generate screenshots for each page in the web application and copy them to the folder docs/images/manual/screenshots in your documentation repository checkout, 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.

Prior to generating screenshots as part of a release update:

  1. Ensure that the version string shown in the screenshots is the version that will be released. You can manually edit securedrop/ in your SecureDrop repository checkout if it currently contains a release candidate string.

  2. Configure the New York World sample instance logo. Because the functional tests used to generate the logo may themselves update the logo, it is safest to temporarily overwrite the stock logo in securedrop/static/i/logo.png in your SecureDrop repository checkout.


The automated screenshots update does not update screenshots for Tails, the Tor Browser UI, the firewall captive portal, etc. If you notice discrepancies in those screenshots, please open issues so they can be addressed at a later point.

Updating Upgrade Guides

We ship an upgrade guide for each release. As part of updating the documentation for a release:

  1. Create a new upgrade guide copied from the most recent one and add it to the index.

  2. Ensure that the latest_upgrade_guide reference at the top of the document is only present in the latest upgrade guide.

  3. If this is a major-level or minor-level release, remove the oldest upgrade guide and associated patch-level guides from the documentation.

    Example: If you are adding a guide to upgrade from 4.5.0 to 4.6.0, and the oldest guide present is from 4.2.0 to 4.3.0, remove it along with any guides for 4.2.1, 4.2.2, etc.).

  4. If this is a major-level or minor-level release, make sure to include the reminders in docs/includes/backup-and-update-reminders.txt towards the end of the document.

  5. If you are not also the release manager, check with them about any other pertinent release-specific instructions that should be included.

  6. Finally, ensure that mentions of the current version are up to date. You can use the convenience script to do so.

    Example: If you are adding a guide to upgrade to 2.4.2, you can run ./ 2.4.2, then verify that the version changes are pertinent and save them.

Style Guide

Please see the reStructuredText Primer by the Sphinx project as a reference for writing in the markup language used for this documentation.

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

Date Format

Follow AP guidelines for formatting dates. Don’t use the ISO format for adding dates to the documentation.

To avoid confusion, format dates in the documentation as Month_Name Day, Year:

October 13, 2020


13 October, 2020

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 referring to files outside the SecureDrop repository: /usr/local/bin/tor-browser.


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

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.)

Usage and Style

To avoid confusion, lists should include the “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

Set up the Environment


Before you begin

Set up the environment