Creating system docs in source control

Wiki’s are a great technology. Well for some things. For documenting systems I am not convinced. Some problems:

  • All the old stuff that piles up. Nobody ever deletes anything.
  • Versions. If you have maintenance versions as well as active development etc. how do you update, merge and maintain several versions?
  • Historical snapshots. What was the state of the entire documentation at the time of release?

Is is possible to solve with a Wiki? Yes. Does Atlassian do it? Yes. Does it work for us? Nope. Maybe we lack discipline but it’s not working. Our tries at fixing this has only seemed like band aids or placebos to the real problem. I want my documentation released, versioned, branched and merged with my code!

I want to put it in my source control (ah, I dream for Git, but I have SVN). When I discovered Flatdoc I was quite excited. It is a JavaScript based rendering of Markdown. So you don’t have to have a server serving it up, or some extra compile steps before viewing. Just write your Markdown and commit. That’s it. Jekyll is nice and all that, but it involves a bit more tooling and different ways of doing stuff than I would like to introduce.

I was already writing some stuff in my README files as Markdown, so I decided to give it a spin. And it works quite nicely. 🙂

Hoping I will be able to replace system doc in the wiki with it, but that will take more testing. Just some short notes on making it work in Subversion.

Making it local

Flatdoc doesn’t really need installing, especially if you run it with a project on Github. But because we have network zones, and I wanted to host it directly off our SVN-server (over HTTP) I downloaded everything:

mv template README.html
mkdir flatdoc && cd flatdoc
cd ..

So now you have a README.html with a subdirectory called flatdoc/ with all the scripts and styles.

Enabling SubVersion hosting

To enable the SubVersion server to serve the files you need to set the mime types. But first, if you have not; add them to SubVersion:

svn add README.html flatdoc
svn commit -m "Installed Flatdoc"

Then set the mime types:

svn propset svn:mime-type text/html README.html
svn propset svn:mime-type text/javascript flatdoc/*.js
svn propset svn:mime-type text/css flatdoc/*.css

Hooking in your Markdown file

Edit the template file you downloaded into README.html.

Change the links to JavaScript and CSS to be:

<!-- Flatdoc -->
<script src="./flatdoc/jquery.min.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src='./flatdoc/legacy.js' type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src='./flatdoc/flatdoc.js' type="text/javascript"></script>

<!-- Flatdoc theme -->
<link href='./flatdoc/style.css' rel='stylesheet' type="text/css"/>
<script src='./flatdoc/script.js' type="text/javascript"></script>

Change the Flatdoc javascript (inside README.html) to point to the Markdown file you want to display. It should look something likes this:

        fetcher: Flatdoc.file('')

That should be it. 🙂 Commit to SubVersion and access through HTTP.

Note about testing and local rendering

Because of security restrictions in your Browser, local testing will not work. You will get an origin-error when trying to read the Markdown file. You can either disable that security check in your browser, or use some kind of Markdown preview locally. The Markdown preview for Sublime Text works pretty well. 🙂

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