GitLab Documentation guidelines

GitLab’s documentation is intended as the single source of truth (SSOT) for information about how to configure, use, and troubleshoot GitLab. The documentation contains use cases and usage instructions covering every GitLab feature, organized by product area and subject. This includes topics and workflows that span multiple GitLab features, as well as the use of GitLab with other applications.

In addition to this page, the following resources to help craft and contribute documentation are available:

Source files and rendered web locations

Documentation for GitLab Community Edition (CE) and Enterprise Edition (EE), along with GitLab Runner and Omnibus, is published to docs.gitlab.com. The documentation for CE and EE is also published within the application at /help on the domain of the GitLab instance.

At /help, only content for your current edition and version is included, whereas multiple versions’ content is available at docs.gitlab.com.

The source of the documentation exists within the codebase of each GitLab application in the following repository locations:

Project Path
GitLab Community Edition /doc
GitLab Enterprise Edition /doc
GitLab Runner /docs
Omnibus GitLab /doc

Documentation issues and merge requests are part of their respective repositories and all have the label Documentation.

Contributing to docs

Contributions to GitLab docs are welcome from the entire GitLab community.

To ensure that GitLab docs keep up with changes to the product, special processes and responsibilities are in place concerning all feature changes—i.e. development work that impacts the appearance, usage, or administration of a feature.

Meanwhile, anyone can contribute documentation improvements large or small that are not associated with a feature change. For example, adding a new doc on how to accomplish a use case that’s already possible with GitLab or with third-party tools and GitLab.

Markdown and styles

GitLab docs uses GitLab Kramdown as its markdown rendering engine. See the GitLab Markdown Guide for a complete Kramdown reference.

Adhere to the Documentation Style Guide. If a style standard is missing, you are welcome to suggest one via a merge request.

Folder structure and files

See the Structure section of the Documentation Style Guide.

Changing document location

Changing a document’s location requires specific steps to be followed to ensure that users can seamlessly access the new doc page, whether they are accesing content on a GitLab instance domain at /help or at docs.gitlab.com. Be sure to ping a GitLab technical writer if you have any questions during the process (such as whether the move is necessary), and ensure that a technical writer reviews this change prior to merging.

If you indeed need to change a document’s location, do not remove the old document, but rather replace all of its content with a new line:

This document was moved to [another location](path/to/new_doc.md).

where path/to/new_doc.md is the relative path to the root directory doc/.


For example, if you were to move doc/workflow/lfs/lfs_administration.md to doc/administration/lfs.md, then the steps would be:

  1. Copy doc/workflow/lfs/lfs_administration.md to doc/administration/lfs.md
  2. Replace the contents of doc/workflow/lfs/lfs_administration.md with:

     This document was moved to [another location](../../administration/lfs.md).
    
  3. Find and replace any occurrences of the old location with the new one. A quick way to find them is to use git grep. First go to the root directory where you cloned the gitlab-ce repository and then do:

     git grep -n "workflow/lfs/lfs_administration"
     git grep -n "lfs/lfs_administration"
    
Note: If the document being moved has any Disqus comments on it, there are extra steps to follow documented just below.

Things to note:

  • Since we also use inline documentation, except for the documentation itself, the document might also be referenced in the views of GitLab (app/) which will render when visiting /help, and sometimes in the testing suite (spec/). You must search these paths for references to the doc and update them as well.
  • The above git grep command will search recursively in the directory you run it in for workflow/lfs/lfs_administration and lfs/lfs_administration and will print the file and the line where this file is mentioned. You may ask why the two greps. Since we use relative paths to link to documentation, sometimes it might be useful to search a path deeper.
  • The *.md extension is not used when a document is linked to GitLab’s built-in help page, that’s why we omit it in git grep.
  • Use the checklist on the “Change documentation location” MR description template.

Alternative redirection method

Alternatively to the method described above, you can simply replace the content of the old file with a frontmatter containing a redirect link:

---
redirect_to: '../path/to/file/README.md'
---

It supports both full and relative URLs, e.g. https://docs.gitlab.com/ee/path/to/file.html, ../path/to/file.html, path/to/file.md. Note that any *.md paths will be compiled to *.html.

Note: This redirection method will not provide a redirect fallback on GitLab /help. When using it, make sure to add a link to the new page on the doc, otherwise it’s a dead end for users that land on the doc via /help.

Redirections for pages with Disqus comments

If the documentation page being relocated already has any Disqus comments, we need to preserve the Disqus thread.

Disqus uses an identifier per page, and for docs.gitlab.com, the page identifier is configured to be the page URL. Therefore, when we change the document location, we need to preserve the old URL as the same Disqus identifier.

To do that, add to the frontmatter the variable redirect_from, using the old URL as value. For example, let’s say I moved the document available under https://docs.gitlab.com/my-old-location/README.html to a new location, https://docs.gitlab.com/my-new-location/index.html.

Into the new document frontmatter add the following:

---
redirect_from: 'https://docs.gitlab.com/my-old-location/README.html'
---

Note: it is necessary to include the file name in the redirect_from URL, even if it’s index.html or README.html.

Branch naming

If your contribution contains only documentation changes, you can speed up the CI process by following some branch naming conventions. You have three choices:

Branch name Valid example
Starting with docs/ docs/update-api-issues
Starting with docs- docs-update-api-issues
Ending in -docs 123-update-api-issues-docs

If your branch name matches any of the above, it will run only the docs tests. If it does not, the whole application test suite will run (including docs tests).

Merge requests for GitLab documentation

Before getting started, make sure you read the introductory section “contributing to docs” above and the documentation workflow.

Documentation will be merged if it is an improvement on existing content, represents a good-faith effort to follow the template and style standards, and is believed to be accurate.

Further needs for what would make the doc even better should be immediately addressed in a follow-up MR or issue.

Note: If the release version you want to add the documentation to has already been frozen or released, use the label Pick into X.Y to get it merged into the correct release. Avoid picking into a past release as much as you can, as it increases the work of the release managers.

Cherry-picking from CE to EE

As we have the master branch of CE merged into EE once a day, it’s common to run into merge conflicts. To avoid them, we test for merge conflicts against EE with the ee-compat-check job, and use the following method of creating equivalent branches for CE and EE.

Follow this method for cherry-picking from CE to EE, with a few adjustments:

  • Create the CE branch starting with docs-, e.g.: git checkout -b docs-example
  • Create the EE-equivalent branch ending with -ee, e.g., git checkout -b docs-example-ee
  • Once all the jobs are passing in CE and EE, and you’ve addressed the feedback from your own team, assign the CE MR to a technical writer for review
  • When both MRs are ready, the EE merge request will be merged first, and the CE-equivalent will be merged next.
  • Note that the review will occur only in the CE MR, as the EE MR contains the same commits as the CE MR.
  • If you have a few more changes that apply to the EE-version only, you can submit a couple more commits to the EE branch, but ask the reviewer to review the EE merge request additionally to the CE MR. If there are many EE-only changes though, start a new MR to EE only.

GitLab /help

Every GitLab instance includes the documentation, which is available from /help (http://my-instance.com/help), e.g., https://gitlab.com/help.

The documentation available online on docs.gitlab.com is continuously deployed every hour from the master branch of CE, EE, Omnibus, and Runner. Therefore, once a merge request gets merged, it will be available online on the same day. However, they will be shipped (and available on /help) within the milestone assigned to the MR.

For instance, let’s say your merge request has a milestone set to 11.3, which will be released on 2018-09-22. If it gets merged on 2018-09-15, it will be available online on 2018-09-15, but, as the feature freeze date has passed, if the MR does not have a “pick into 11.3” label, the milestone has to be changed to 11.4 and it will be shipped with all GitLab packages only on 2018-10-22, with GitLab 11.4. Meaning, it will only be available under /help from GitLab 11.4 onwards, but available on docs.gitlab.com on the same day it was merged.

Linking to /help

When you’re building a new feature, you may need to link the documentation from GitLab, the application. This is normally done in files inside the app/views/ directory with the help of the help_page_path helper method.

In its simplest form, the HAML code to generate a link to the /help page is:

= link_to 'Help page', help_page_path('user/permissions')

The help_page_path contains the path to the document you want to link to with the following conventions:

  • it is relative to the doc/ directory in the GitLab repository
  • the .md extension must be omitted
  • it must not end with a slash (/)

Below are some special cases where should be used depending on the context. You can combine one or more of the following:

  1. Linking to an anchor link. Use anchor as part of the help_page_path method:

     = link_to 'Help page', help_page_path('user/permissions', anchor: 'anchor-link')
    
  2. Opening links in a new tab. This should be the default behavior:

     = link_to 'Help page', help_page_path('user/permissions'), target: '_blank'
    
  3. Linking to a circle icon. Usually used in settings where a long description cannot be used, like near checkboxes. You can basically use any font awesome icon, but prefer the question-circle:

     = link_to icon('question-circle'), help_page_path('user/permissions')
    
  4. Using a button link. Useful in places where text would be out of context with the rest of the page layout:

     = link_to 'Help page', help_page_path('user/permissions'),  class: 'btn btn-info'
    
  5. Using links inline of some text.

     Description to #{link_to 'Help page', help_page_path('user/permissions')}.
    
  6. Adding a period at the end of the sentence. Useful when you don’t want the period to be part of the link:

     = succeed '.' do
       Learn more in the
       = link_to 'Help page', help_page_path('user/permissions')
    

GitLab /help tests

Several rspec tests are run to ensure GitLab documentation renders and works correctly. In particular, that main docs landing page will work correctly from /help. For example, GitLab.com’s /help.

Caution: Because the rspec tests only run in a full pipeline, and not a special docs-only pipeline, it is possible to merge changes that will break master from a merge request with a successful docs-only pipeline run.

Docs site architecture

See the Docs site architecture page to learn how we build and deploy the site at docs.gitlab.com and to review all the assets and libraries in use.

See the Global navigation doc for information on how the left-side navigation menu is built and updated.

Previewing the changes live

Note: To preview your changes to documentation locally, follow this development guide or these instructions for GDK.

The live preview is currently enabled for the following projects:

If your branch contains only documentation changes, you can use special branch names to avoid long-running pipelines.

For docs-only changes, the review app is run automatically. For all other branches, you can use the manual review-docs-deploy-manual job in your merge request. You will need at least Maintainer permissions to be able to run it. In the mini pipeline graph, you should see a >> icon. Clicking it will reveal the review-docs-deploy-manual job. Click the play button to start the job.

Manual trigger a docs build

Note: You will need to push a branch to those repositories, it doesn’t work for forks.

The review-docs-deploy* job will:

  1. Create a new branch in the gitlab-docs project named after the scheme: $DOCS_GITLAB_REPO_SUFFIX-$CI_ENVIRONMENT_SLUG, where DOCS_GITLAB_REPO_SUFFIX is the suffix for each product, e.g, ce for CE, etc.
  2. Trigger a cross project pipeline and build the docs site with your changes

After a few minutes, the Review App will be deployed and you will be able to preview the changes. The docs URL can be found in two places:

  • In the merge request widget
  • In the output of the review-docs-deploy* job, which also includes the triggered pipeline so that you can investigate whether something went wrong
Tip: Someone that has no merge rights to the CE/EE projects (think of forks from contributors) will not be able to run the manual job. In that case, you can ask someone from the GitLab team who has the permissions to do that for you.
Note: Make sure that you always delete the branch of the merge request you were working on. If you don’t, the remote docs branch won’t be removed either, and the server where the Review Apps are hosted will eventually be out of disk space.

Troubleshooting review apps

In case the review app URL returns 404, follow these steps to debug:

  1. Did you follow the URL from the merge request widget? If yes, then check if the link is the same as the one in the job output.
  2. Did you follow the URL from the job output? If yes, then it means that either the site is not yet deployed or something went wrong with the remote pipeline. Give it a few minutes and it should appear online, otherwise you can check the status of the remote pipeline from the link in the job output. If the pipeline failed or got stuck, drop a line in the #docs chat channel.

Technical aspects

If you want to know the in-depth details, here’s what’s really happening:

  1. You manually run the review-docs-deploy job in a CE/EE merge request.
  2. The job runs the scripts/trigger-build-docs script with the deploy flag, which in turn:
    1. Takes your branch name and applies the following:
      • The slug of the branch name is used to avoid special characters since ultimately this will be used by NGINX.
      • The preview- prefix is added to avoid conflicts if there’s a remote branch with the same name that you created in the merge request.
      • The final branch name is truncated to 42 characters to avoid filesystem limitations with long branch names (> 63 chars).
    2. The remote branch is then created if it doesn’t exist (meaning you can re-run the manual job as many times as you want and this step will be skipped).
    3. A new cross-project pipeline is triggered in the docs project.
    4. The preview URL is shown both at the job output and in the merge request widget. You also get the link to the remote pipeline.
  3. In the docs project, the pipeline is created and it skips the test jobs to lower the build time.
  4. Once the docs site is built, the HTML files are uploaded as artifacts.
  5. A specific Runner tied only to the docs project, runs the Review App job that downloads the artifacts and uses rsync to transfer the files over to a location where NGINX serves them.

The following GitLab features are used among others:

Testing

We treat documentation as code, thus have implemented some testing. Currently, the following tests are in place:

  1. docs lint: Check that all internal (relative) links work correctly and that all cURL examples in API docs use the full switches. It’s recommended to check locally before pushing to GitLab by executing the command bundle exec nanoc check internal_links on your local gitlab-docs directory.
  2. ee_compat_check (runs on CE only): When you submit a merge request to GitLab Community Edition (CE), there is this additional job that runs against Enterprise Edition (EE) and checks if your changes can apply cleanly to the EE codebase. If that job fails, read the instructions in the job log for what to do next. As CE is merged into EE once a day, it’s important to avoid merge conflicts. Submitting an EE-equivalent merge request cherry-picking all commits from CE to EE is essential to avoid them.
  3. In a full pipeline, tests for /help.

Linting

To help adhere to the documentation style guidelines, and to improve the content added to documentation, consider locally installing and running documentation linters. This will help you catch common issues before raising merge requests for review of documentation.

The following are some suggested linters you can install locally and sample configuration:

Note: This list does not limit what other linters you can add to your local documentation writing toolchain.

proselint

proselint checks for common problems with English prose. It provides a plethora of checks that are helpful for technical writing.

proselint can be used on the command line, either on a single Markdown file or on all Markdown files in a project. For example, to run proselint on all documentation in the gitlab-ce project, run the following commands from within the gitlab-ce project:

cd doc
proselint **/*.md

proselint can also be run from within editors using plugins. For example, the following plugins are available:

Sample proselint configuration

All of the checks are good to use. However, excluding the typography.symbols and misc.phrasal_adjectives checks will reduce noise. The following sample proselint configuration disables these checks:

{
  "checks": {
    "typography.symbols": false,
    "misc.phrasal_adjectives": false
  }
}

A file with proselint configuration must be placed in a valid location. For example, ~/.config/proselint/config.

markdownlint

markdownlint checks that certain rules (example) are followed for Markdown syntax. Our Documentation Style Guide and Markdown Guide elaborate on which choices must be made when selecting Markdown syntax for GitLab documentation. This tool helps catch deviations from those guidelines.

markdownlint can be used on the command line, either on a single Markdown file or on all Markdown files in a project. For example, to run markdownlint on all documentation in the gitlab-ce project, run the following commands from within the gitlab-ce project:

cd doc
markdownlint **/*.md

markdownlint can also be run from within editors using plugins. For example, the following plugins are available:

Sample markdownlint configuration

The following sample markdownlint configuration modifies the available default rules to:

  • Adhere to the Documentation Style Guide.
  • Apply conventions found in the GitLab documentation.
  • Allow the flexibility of using some inline HTML.
{
  "default": true,
  "header-style": { "style": "atx" },
  "ul-style": { "style": "dash" },
  "line-length": false,
  "no-trailing-punctuation": false,
  "ol-prefix": { "style": "one" },
  "blanks-around-fences": false,
  "no-inline-html": {
    "allowed_elements": [
      "table",
      "tbody",
      "tr",
      "td",
      "ul",
      "ol",
      "li",
      "br",
      "img",
      "a",
      "strong",
      "i",
      "div"
    ]
  },
  "hr-style": { "style": "---" },
  "fenced-code-language": false
}

For markdownlint, this configuration must be placed in a valid location. For example, ~/.markdownlintrc.

Danger Bot

GitLab uses Danger for some elements in code review. For docs changes in merge requests, whenever a change to files under /doc is made, Danger Bot leaves a comment with further instructions about the documentation process. This is configured in the Dangerfile in the GitLab CE and EE repo under /danger/documentation/.