What is Docs-as-Code: Tools & Best Practices

Writing software documentation is super important. It means creating clear and easy-to-understand info about how a software system works, how to use it, and how to maintain it. This includes user guides, technical manuals, API docs, and tutorials. The goal is to give users and developers straightforward instructions and references to help them use the software effectively.

Docs-as-Code is an approach to writing and maintaining documentation using the same tools and processes as software code. This methodology applies software development best practices such as version control, continuous integration, and automated testing to documentation.

By treating documentation as code, it ensures consistency, quality, and collaboration in the documentation process. This approach often involves the use of Markdown or reStructuredText for writing, Git for version control, and CI/CD pipelines for building and deploying documentation.

Key aspects of Docs-as-Code include collaborative writing and editing through pull requests and code reviews, which enable multiple contributors to work on the documentation simultaneously. Automated testing can be used to validate links, formatting, and code examples within the documentation. This approach also allows for the integration of documentation updates with software releases, ensuring that documentation remains current and aligned with the software’s state.

Implementing Docs-as-Code can lead to higher-quality documentation that is easier to maintain and update, fostering a more collaborative environment for developers and writers. It also enables more efficient workflows by leveraging the same tools and practices used in software development, ultimately resulting in better and more reliable documentation for users.

Docs-as-Code Tools

Various tools are used in the Docs-as-Code approach to make the documentation process more efficient and consistent. Here are some commonly used tools:

  1. Version Control Systems (VCS):
    • Git: A distributed version control system that tracks changes in source code during software development. It is fundamental in Docs-as-Code for managing changes to documentation.
  2. Markup Languages:
    • Markdown: A lightweight markup language with plain text formatting syntax, widely used for writing documentation due to its simplicity and readability.
    • reStructuredText (reST): A file format for textual data used primarily in the Python programming language community for technical documentation.
  3. Documentation Generators:
    • Sphinx: A documentation generator that transforms reStructuredText files into HTML, LaTeX, ePub, and other formats.
    • MkDocs: A static site generator geared towards project documentation, written in Markdown and configured with a YAML file.
    • Jekyll: A static site generator that converts plain text into static websites and blogs, often used with GitHub Pages.
  4. Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) Tools:
    • Jenkins: An open-source automation server that supports building, deploying, and automating documentation workflows.
    • GitHub Actions: Integrated with GitHub, it allows for automated workflows, including the building and deployment of documentation.
    • GitLab CI: GitLab’s integrated continuous integration and delivery tool, facilitates automated documentation processes.
  5. Static Site Hosting:
    • GitHub Pages: A service by GitHub that hosts static websites directly from a Git repository.
    • GitLab Pages: Similar to GitHub Pages, it allows for the hosting of static websites from a GitLab repository.
    • Netlify: A platform for automating modern web projects, offering continuous deployment from Git repositories.
  6. Text Editors and Integrated Development Environments (IDEs):
    • Visual Studio Code: A versatile code editor with support for various extensions that enhance the writing and managing of documentation.
    • Atom: A hackable text editor for the 21st century, customizable with various packages for documentation writing.
  7. Collaboration and Review Tools:
    • Pull Requests (PRs): Used in platforms like GitHub and GitLab to propose changes to the documentation, allowing for code review and discussions.
    • Code Reviews: The process of systematically examining documentation changes by other contributors, ensuring quality and accuracy.
  8. Automation and Scripting:
    • Python: Often used for writing scripts that automate parts of the documentation workflow, such as link checking and document generation.
    • Make: A build automation tool that can be used to manage and automate the generation of documentation.

Using these tools, the Docs-as-Code approach applies software development practices to improve the creation, maintenance, and deployment of documentation. This ensures that the documentation stays up-to-date, consistent, and high quality.

Docs-as-Code Best Practices

Implementing Docs-as-Code effectively requires adherence to several best practices. These practices ensure the documentation process is efficient, and collaborative, and maintains high quality. Here are some key best practices:

Consistency and Standardization

  • Style Guides: Establish and adhere to a documentation style guide to ensure consistency in tone, formatting, and terminology.
  • Templates: Use templates for common documentation types (e.g., API documentation, user guides) to maintain uniformity.

Collaborative Workflow

  • Version Control: Use Git for version control to track changes, collaborate, and manage documentation updates.
  • Pull Requests: Implement a pull request workflow for reviewing and merging documentation changes, allowing team members to propose updates and receive feedback.
  • Code Reviews: Conduct regular code reviews for documentation to catch errors, ensure clarity, and maintain quality.

Automation

  • Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD): Set up CI/CD pipelines to automate the building, testing, and deployment of documentation.
  • Automated Testing: Use tools to automate testing for broken links, syntax errors, and formatting issues.

Integration with Development Process

  • Documentation as Part of the Definition of Done: Ensure that updating the documentation is part of the task completion criteria in the development process.
  • Synchronize Releases: Align documentation updates with software releases to ensure that changes in the software are reflected in the documentation.

Readability and Accessibility

  • Clear and Concise Writing: Write in a clear, concise, and user-friendly manner, avoiding jargon and complex sentences.
  • Use of Visuals: Incorporate diagrams, screenshots, and videos to enhance understanding.
  • Search Functionality: Implement a search feature to make it easy for users to find specific information.

Maintenance and Updates

  • Regular Audits: Periodically review and update documentation to keep it current and relevant.
  • Feedback Loops: Establish mechanisms for users to provide feedback on documentation, and use this feedback to make improvements.
  • Track Metrics: Monitor metrics such as page views, search queries, and feedback to understand usage patterns and identify areas for improvement.

Documentation Types and Structure

  • Comprehensive Coverage: Ensure that documentation covers all aspects of the software, including installation, configuration, usage, and troubleshooting.
  • Logical Organization: Structure documentation logically with a clear hierarchy and navigation, using headings, subheadings, and a table of contents.

Security and Access Control

  • Access Control: Manage permissions to ensure that only authorized contributors can make changes to the documentation.
  • Backup and Recovery: Implement backup and recovery processes to safeguard documentation data.

Tools and Environment

  • Integrated Tools: Use tools that integrate well with your existing development environment, such as GitHub, GitLab, or Bitbucket.
  • Editor Configurations: Configure text editors and IDEs with plugins and extensions that facilitate Markdown or reStructuredText editing.

Continuous Improvement

  • Training and Onboarding: Provide training for team members on Docs-as-Code practices and tools.
  • Community Involvement: Engage with the community and contribute to or learn from open-source documentation practices.

Adhering to these best practices helps create high-quality, maintainable, and user-friendly documentation that evolves with the software and meets the needs of its users.

Docs-as-Code Culture

Creating a culture that embraces Docs-as-Code is essential for its successful implementation. This culture emphasizes collaboration, continuous improvement, and a shared commitment to high-quality documentation. Here are key aspects of fostering such a culture:

Collaboration and Communication

  • Cross-Functional Teams: Encourage collaboration between developers, technical writers, product managers, and other stakeholders to ensure that documentation is comprehensive and accurate.
  • Open Communication: Promote open communication channels where team members can discuss documentation needs, issues, and improvements.
  • Documentation Ownership: Assign clear ownership of documentation sections to specific team members or roles to ensure accountability.

Shared Responsibility

  • Integrated Documentation Tasks: Integrate documentation tasks into the regular workflow, making it a part of everyone’s responsibilities, not just the technical writers.
  • Definition of Done: Include documentation as a criterion for completing any task or feature in the development process.

Continuous Learning and Improvement

  • Training and Workshops: Provide regular training sessions and workshops on best practices, tools, and techniques for Docs-as-Code.
  • Knowledge Sharing: Create opportunities for team members to share knowledge and learn from each other’s experiences with documentation.

Recognition and Incentives

  • Acknowledge Contributions: Recognize and celebrate contributions to the documentation, whether through formal rewards or informal acknowledgments.
  • Feedback and Improvement: Encourage a feedback loop where team members can suggest improvements and see their contributions recognized and implemented.

Quality and Standards

  • High Standards: Maintain high standards for documentation quality, ensuring it is clear, concise, and useful.
  • Consistent Review Process: Implement a consistent review process to catch errors and ensure adherence to style guides and templates.

Tools and Integration

  • User-Friendly Tools: Provide and promote the use of tools that make it easy to contribute to documentation, such as Markdown editors, integrated development environments (IDEs), and automated CI/CD pipelines.
  • Seamless Integration: Ensure that documentation tools integrate seamlessly with the development environment, making it easy to update documentation as part of the regular development process.

Transparency and Accessibility

  • Open Access: Make documentation easily accessible to all team members, encouraging contributions and feedback.
  • Transparency in Changes: Maintain transparency in changes to documentation through version control and changelogs, allowing everyone to see what has been updated and why.

User-Centric Approach

  • Focus on User Needs: Always keep the end-user in mind, ensuring that the documentation addresses their needs and provides clear, actionable information.
  • Gather User Feedback: Actively seek and incorporate feedback from users to continuously improve the documentation.

Leadership and Advocacy

  • Leadership Support: Ensure that leadership supports and advocates for the importance of good documentation, providing the necessary resources and time.
  • Documentation Champions: Identify and empower documentation champions within the team who can advocate for best practices and mentor others.

By fostering a culture that values and supports Docs-as-Code, organizations can ensure that their documentation is not only high quality but also evolves alongside their software, meeting the needs of both developers and users effectively.

In Conclusion

We have covered several important topics that are crucial for maintaining high-quality documentation in a Docs-as-Code environment. By making documentation easily accessible to all team members, we encourage contributions and feedback, fostering a collaborative atmosphere. Transparency in changes is maintained through version control and changelogs, allowing everyone to see what has been updated and understand the reasons behind those changes.

Focusing on user needs ensures that our documentation remains relevant and useful, providing clear and actionable information. Actively seeking and incorporating user feedback helps us continuously improve the documentation, making it more effective for its intended audience.

Leadership support is essential for the success of Docs-as-Code. When leadership advocates for the importance of good documentation and provides the necessary resources and time, it sets a strong foundation. Identifying and empowering documentation champions within the team can further promote best practices and mentor others, ensuring that the documentation culture thrives.

By fostering a culture that values and supports Docs-as-Code, organizations can ensure that their documentation is not only of high quality but also evolves alongside their software. This approach effectively meets the needs of both developers and users, contributing to the overall success of the project.

آشنایی با Docs-as-Code

برای بسیاری از وبسایت‌ها داشتن مستندات یکپارچه ضروری و بسیار مهم است. درست همانطور که فرایند کدنویسی نیاز به تمیز نوشتن و نگهداری درست دارد، مستندات سرویس‌ها و محصولات نیز به این میزان از مراقبت نیاز دارند. اما چالشی که وجود دارد این است که چنین باوری به یک باور عمومی در بین شرکت‌ها تبدیل نشده است: آنقدری که کدها به‌خوبی نگهداری و توسعه داده می‌شوند، مستندات به‌خوبی پیش نمی‌روند. راهکار این مسئله کمک گرفتن از رویکرد Docs-as-Code است.

منظور از رویکرد Docs-as-Code چیست؟

در رویکرد Docs-as-Code، مستندات در جریان توسعه کدنویسی و افزودن ویژگی‌های جدید به محصولات به‌صورت هماهنگ توسعه داده می‌شوند. چالش اصلی این موضوع در همان هماهنگی بین تیم‌های توسعه و تیم مستندات است. برای حل این مشکل Docs-as-Code رویکردی را پیشنهاد می‌دهد که در آن مستندنویسان برای ساختن مستندات‌شان نیاز دارند که از همان ابزارهایی استفاده کنند که توسعه‌دهندگان برای پیشبرد محصول از آن‌ها بهره می‌گیرند.

برای مثال گیت از جمله پرکاربردترین ابزارهای مدیریت نسخه در بین توسعه‌دهندگان است. در این حالت با هر بار Commit کُد توسط توسعه‌دهنده، مستندنویس براساس آن، مستندات جدیدی نوشته و روی ریپو مستندات قرار می‌دهد.

در چنین رویکردی فضای همکاری به قدرت خود پیش خواهد رفت و همچنین هماهنگی‌های لازم در همان فضای کدنویسی صورت می‌گیرد.

چرا باید از Docs-as-Code استفاده کنیم؟

برای درک چرایی استفاده از Docs-as-Code باید به سناریوهای قدیمی فکر کنیم. سناریویی که مشکلات زیر در آن وجود داشت:

  • بواسطه نبود فرهنگ سازمانی Docs-as-Code، مسئول مشخصی (یا تیم مشخصی) برای مستندات پیدا نمی‌شد. حال در رویکرد Docs-as-Code نیاز است که حتما چنین فرد یا تیمی به‌صورت یکپارچه روی مستندات کار کند.
  • نبود فضای همکاری در بین تیم‌های مختلف بدلیل استفاده از ابزارهای متفاوت، چالش اصلی سناریوهای قدیمی بود. استفاده از Microsoft Office و کُپی کردن محتوا روی وبسایت و تکنیک‌هایی از این دست فضای همکاری را واقعا دشوار کرده و در نتیجه یکپارچگی کُد و مستندات را برهم می‌زند.
  • پیگیری تغییرات در نبود فضای یکپارچه، چالش دیگر سناریوهای قدیمی بود. با هر بار تغییر در کدبیس مستندنویس باید زمانی را برای هماهنگی با برنامه‌نویسان در نظر می‌گرفت و کدها را از آن‌ها دریافت می‌کرد. در نتیجه خودکارسازی کارها کمتر اتفاق می‌افتاد و بیشتر فرایندها به‌صورت دستی پیش می‌رفت.

Docs-as-Code روی یکپارچه‌سازی فضای توسعه و مستندات تمرکز دارد. در نتیجه با ایجاد هماهنگی بین تیم‌های مختلف این امکان را فراهم می‌کند تا روی مستندات تمرکز بیشتری داشته باشیم و تعاملات مستقیم با خود برنامه‌نویسان را برای دریافت تغییرات و اطلاع از چنین مواردی کمتر کنیم. در نتیجه زمان بسیاری صرف نخواهد شد.

ابزارهای لازم برای Docs-as-Code

برای بهره‌گیری از رویکرد Docs-as-Code یادگیری و استفاده از چند ابزار بسیار ضروری است:

  • یک IDE یا کد ادیتور با قابلیت پشتیبانی از Markdown
  • یادگیری و استفاده از static site generatorهایی مانند (Sphinx, Hugo)
  • توانایی کار با فضاهای میزبانی وبسایت‌های استاتیک hosting platform مانند (GitHub Pages, Netlify)
  • یادگیری Git و سرویس‌هایی مانند Github و Gitlab
  • یادگیری و به‌کارگیری CI/CD و ابزارهایی مانند (Jenkins, GitHub Actions)

بهترین نکات برای اجرا کردن Docs-as-Code

  • با جریان به‌روزرسانی‌های کدبیس پیش برید: هدف اصلی Docs-as-Code ایجاد هماهنگی بیشتر بین تیم توسعه و تیم مستندات است. در نتیجه با به‌روزرسانی‌های کدبیس حتما مستندات را آپدیت کنید. جدای از آن برای هرچه بهتر کردن مستندات تلاش کنید و مستندات قبلی را در بازه‌های زمانی مختلف بررسی و بهینه کنید.
  • مستندات قدیمی را حذف کنید: با ایجاد تغییرات در محصول و حذف ویژگی‌ها، نیاز است که مستندات مربوط به آن نیز کاملا حذف شود. در نتیجه هیچوقت مستندات قدیمی را نگهداری و حتی آرشیو (با قابلیت دسترسی عموم) نکنید.
  • از تکنیک‌های نوشتن به زبان ساده استفاده کنید: خواه مخاطب شما عمومی باشد و خواه فنی، نیاز است که مستندات با ساده‌ترین زبان ممکن نوشته شود. این موضوع وابستگی فرد استفاده کننده را به سرویس پشتیبانی کمتر از هر زمانی می‌کند. کاری کنید مستندات بهترین منبع برای یادگیری استفاده از سرویس شود و به تمام مشکلات آدرس بدهد.
  • پروسه‌ها را خودکارسازی کنید: تا جایی که ممکن است از انجام فرایندهای دستی که رویکردی برای خودکارسازی آن وجود دارد پرهیز کنید. به‌جای پیام فرستادن به توسعه‌دهنده برای بررسی کد جدید، ریپو را مطالعه کنید، فرایند دیپلوی کدها را در یک بستر CI/CD پیش ببرید و از حالت‌های قدیمی برای استقرار مستندات جدید استفاده نکنید.

در پایان

Docs-as-Code تلاش دارد تا رویکردی را برای هر چه بهتر پیش‌بردن مستندات سرویس‌ها ارائه کند. با بهره‌گیری از تکنیک‌ها و استانداردهای Docs-as-Code می‌توانید توسعه مستندات را با بیشترین هماهنگی با بخش کدنویسی پیش ببرید. برای مطالعه و آموزش بیشتر در زمینه Docs-as-Code می‌توانید به این منبع آموزشی مراجعه کنید.

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