New and improved documentation site

The Across team
23 July 2018

In the past couple of months we've been very actively migrating the available documentation to a new setup. Today is an important milestone as we've integrated the new documentation site in the Across website. All available documentation for every standard module can now easily be accessed from the single new section.

Some background

Both the core projects and all standard modules have always had their own documentation repository. Documentation itself was usually written in Asciidoc and then generated as a separate HTML document, deployed on a static webserver.

We found the flexibility of regular Asciidoc files to sometimes be a bit limited when it came to presenting on - or as - a website. Cross-linking between documents was not very easy, a feature like Edit this page was hard to come by and styling across the different documentation repositories required repeated work in every repository separately.

We had experimented with Gitbook for some modules as well, but the Asciidoc support appeared to be sub-par and after a couple of months we decided to drop Gitbook and revert back to regular Asciidoc generation. It proved to be more stable and less of a hassle.

In comes Antora...

Not that long ago the first version of Antora was released. Antora is a documentation site generator that:

  • supports multiple, separate repositories as documentation sources
  • works on top of Git and uses branches/tags for documentation versions
  • is 100% focused on Asciidoc
  • adds features like cross-linking between documents and generating a navigation section
  • allows you to separate documentation content from the UI, where the latter can also easily be customized

Antora fit our needs perfectly and came at exactly the right time, so we decided to migrate almost immediately. And today we move from development to production with our documentation site.

The advantages

You can see the result on the site documentation section. Using our new setup brings several advantages (both in front and behind the scenes): 

  • We still manage the documentation for different projects in separate Git repositories. Content is still written in Asciidoc.
  • A custom built UI that seamlessly integrates our documentation with the rest of the website.
  • Several navigation sections allowing for more advanced structuring:
    • the bottom-left documentation set selector for switching between modules or projects
    • the left-hand tree navigation to navigate within a single documentation set
    • the table of contents on the right-hand side for navigating in a single document
  • Full-text search across all available documentation. Not so much a feature of Antora itself but easily integrated in the UI.  This is done with Algolia on an community license.
  • Support for multiple versions of a document in the UI. Currenly not visible but relevant for future releases where we can still keep separate versions of the documentation, linked to for example the corresponding module version.
  • An Edit this page function on every page that will bring you straight to the correct file on Github, allowing anyone to launch a pull-request almost instantly from his or her browser. 

Even though we already integrate over 20 documentation repositories, the entire site generation is still only a matter of seconds.

If you are interested in our setup, you can check out our main documentation site repository which holds the main Antora configuration.

Work in progress

Our documentation still remains a big work in progress. We currently only migrated all existing documentation to the new format.

Some additional documentation has also been added over the past weeks, but it was mostly a form and not a content migration. As such some modules are still quite lacking in documentation, and you may encounter broken links in several spots.

Revising and updating the documentation is a big task that will take us several months at least. But we're confident that our current setup with Antora is the right one, and it will help us in developing the docs, as well as our users in using them and finding the information they are looking for.