Documentation is an important part of every software project, and it usually takes a lot of time to complete. But the good news is that nowadays there are tools that can help you generate the code documentation for your web applications. These tools are not only easy to use, but they can also save you a lot of time. In this article, I will focus on the most popular online document generators and provide some references that detail how to use them.
An application should have a good API documentation to make it easy for developers to use the API. Documentation helps developers in understanding how an API works, what can be achieved using the API and many more things associated with its usage. However, it’s impossible that a company can create and maintain individual documentation for every developer using its API individually as well as provide them access to a private library environment. That’s why we have free tools available online to generate the documentation automatically. For creating swagger documenting tools, there are no doubts on their magic and quality of their performance but still, one has to make few considerations beforehand before selecting any tool for its work.
Documentation and code comments are two of the most important factors that can contribute to the quality of your software. Whenever you’re writing code, it’s always best to improve its readability in order to make it maintainable by future developers.
Documentation Open source projects use documentation to assist developers, software testers, and users. The goal of writing documentation is to help developers understand what a project is intended to accomplish, how it works and the reason for its design decisions. Software documentation also helps users understand how to install and run software packages on any computer, regardless if they’re using an Apple OS X, Linux or Windows based computer. There are many sizes of projects and many types of open source software. Therefore, some methods of generating documentation are better than others depending on the type of software being developed.
What is Software Documentation?
Software documentation is any written document that explains how a piece of software is built, operates, or used. For more complex software, it typically includes a section on general use as well as sections about each of the software’s various functions and features. Documentation comes in many forms, including user tutorials that demonstrate how to perform tasks, printed manuals or books with step-by-step instructions, or knowledge bases and FAQ pages on a company’s website.
Software documentation varies depending on the complexity of the software and the technical knowledge of the audience. For example, it can walk end-users through the basics of a piece of consumer software, assist IT and system administrators with software installation, and help software developers build or update programs.
Types of Software Documentation
There are many types of software documentation, from internal documents only accessible to software developers to user manuals for those who use a piece of software regularly. Two main types of software documentation are developer documentation and software documentation targeted toward the end-user.
Developer Software Documentation
Developers use a specific type of documentation created as part of, or in conjunction with, the software development process. These documents can include release notes that describe features and updates, README files in text documents that offer a brief explanation of the software, system documentation that describes requirements for installation, and API documentation explaining how to integrate and work with an API.
End-User Software Documentation
End-user software documentation provides information about how to install, use, or configure a piece of software. This type of documentation helps people understand how to operate a product. End-user documentation can include user guides, tutorials, troubleshooting manuals, and knowledge bases.
There are areas where the lines blur between different types of software documentation, especially when it comes to technical documentation. An example of this is the minimum system requirements for installing a piece of software. Even though it’s considered a technical document, it falls under end-user documentation because it’s written for software users.
What Are Software Documentation Tools?
Software documentation tools streamline the process of creating and managing documents by making writing or distributing documentation faster and easier.
Many documentation tools give you the ability to publish your documents once complete and distribute documents to internal teams or external users. Some documentation tools offer version control systems so your teams can track changes made over time.
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Best Software Documentation Tools in 2022
The software documentation tool you choose will depend on the type of documents you need to create. Here’s a list of the best software documentation tools for end-users and developers to help you make your choice:
BEST END-USER SOFTWARE DOCUMENTATION TOOLS
Whatfix is a Digital Adoption Platform that allows you to create step-by-step walkthroughs that act as real-time software documentation by guiding employees through your software. If you already have a knowledge base, you can display your documentation in a self-help widget.
Whatfix is redefining how software documentation is displayed and consumed, with new content embedded directly within your software applications in forms such as interactive guidance, contextual walkthroughs, self-help FAQs, popup notifications and beacons, and more. The platform also allows you to measure the usage and effectiveness of your documentation with user analytics.
Bit.ai is a documentation collaboration platform that allows you to manage all of your documents in one place. It allows you to create notes, documents, and wikis, and you can manage your company’s documentation across teams or departments.
ProProfs knowledge base software is a knowledge management tool that lets you create searchable online FAQs and help docs. In addition, you can add videos, audio, images, and infographics to your documentation to make your software documentation more interactive and compelling.
4. Dropbox Paper
Dropbox Paper is an online document workspace that lets you organize and display text, media, and files all in one place. It’s a web-based tool, so it’s accessible as long as you have an internet connection. If you’re already a Dropbox user, you can create and edit documents without leaving Dropbox.
Tettra is a tool for internal company use. It’s a wiki and knowledge management system that lets teams create content other employees can read and comment on. This tool is specifically built to work with Slack and features integrations with several other tools, including GSuite, Microsoft Teams, GitHub, and Zapier.
Tallyfy is workflow and process management software that lets you capture and automate your company’s knowledge. This software offers the ability to see the status of your tasks, and it is built to integrate into many other systems like Slack or Gmail. It also automates the process of tracking document changes.
Scribe is tool that automatically creates software documentation. It’s a Chrome extension and desktop application that captures a process you complete in a software tool, then turns your actions into instructions and screenshots in seconds.
Users can then modify instructions, edit screenshots, redact sensitive information, and more. Scribes can be shared to select people or teams, or be made available publicly. They can be embedded in a CMS, knowledge base, wiki, help center, or other platforms.
BEST DEVELOPER DOCUMENTATION TOOLS
GitHub is a cloud-based website and service that stores code and helps developers control and track changes through a version control system called GIT to host and review code. In addition to their repository, they offer GitHub Pages, a website hosting service that takes files directly from a GitHub repository and runs the files through a process that creates a website. This feature gives developers an easy way to create software documentation in plain text or Markdown.
Apiary by Oracle is a dedicated host for Application Programming Interface (API) documentation that lets you design, prototype, document, and test APIs. One helpful feature is the ability to prototype an API without written code.
10. Read the Docs
Read the Docs is open-source documentation software that helps developers build and host documents. It can also build multiple versions of your documents by creating a separate branch or tag in your version control system, which is helpful for making sure your documents stay up to date.
MarkdownPad is a full-featured Markdown editor for Windows. This tool allows you to create text-based web content, blog posts, websites, articles, READMEs, and software documentation.
Typora is a simple document reader and writer that provides support for Markdown — a plain text format that’s easy to read and write. This software appeals to developers who want to remove distractions by hiding unwanted elements, like preview windows. It also has a live preview feature to allow you to focus on your content.
Doxygen is a top-rated tool for generating documentation from annotated C++ sources, and it supports other programming languages. It can generate online documentation and offline reference manuals from specific source files by extracting information directly from the source, creating continuity between your documentation and source code.
Select a Software Documentation Tools Based on Your Needs
When choosing a software documentation tool, there is no such thing as the “perfect” option.
To make sure you choose the right tool, start by creating a list of crucial features to look for — at the least, your software documentation tool should integrate with other tools to reduce friction and increase productivity across departments.
It should also have options for customization and encourage collaboration. You should also ask your employees how they currently complete tasks to help you choose the right tool and improve adoption when it comes time to start using the new documentation software.
Bit.ai is robust technical documentation software that you can use for your projects. It’s a knowledge management tool that enables companies to keep track of their documentation and make edits, all in one place. Bit documents allow developers to add code directly in the interface, and are more interactive than your standard Word docs. Bit.ai supports multiple collaborators on a document in real-time, so you never have version conflicts. It’s constructed like a wiki so users can easily interlink documents together and share knowledge properly. Bit.ai supports Markdown so developers can document their code without any distractions from the editor. You can easily share the work you complete in Bit.ai with other platforms like GitHub, or export as PDFs and Word files. Bit.ai’s pro plan starts from $8 per member per month.
- Bit.ai is extremely easy to get up and running with an intuitive interface.
- Comes with pre-made templates that provide a launchpad for new projects.
- Limited formatting and design options which means you can’t match your company’s branding.
Apiary is a powerful software documentation tool for creating API documentation. It has a user-friendly interface that lets anyone get started with documenting their APIs, and supports powerful collaboration so teams can work together easily. It has a dedicated web-based team and API blueprint management dashboard, and features role-based access control over API documents. The roles available in Apiary are Admin, Editor and Viewer roles, so you can manage who exactly has access to your content. Apiary comes built-in with API Blueprint templates so you can quickly bootstrap new projects. It’s easy to transfer access between teams throughout the API design life cycle so you always have the right people contributing to the right designs. Apiary is free.
- Easy for users to get started documenting APIs even if they are complete beginners.
- Supported by thorough documentation.
- Not suitable for your project if you’re not documenting APIs.
- It’s not easy to transfer ownership of API documentation once it has been created.
Typora is a minimalist Markdown editor that is perfectly suited to creating software documentation. When you open the editor it is completely clean and free of distractions, and it renders your Markdown as HTML while you type so you get a smooth viewing experience, being able to write and read in the same view. You can choose from many built-in themes and download new themes from the Typora Themes page, or even create your own theme. It’s not necessary to remember all the Markdown syntax since you can insert formatting from the top menu.
Typora allows you to export your documents to PDF, HTML, Word document, RTF, Epub, LaTeX and so on. Typora is free in beta mode.
- Provides support for inserting diagrams and mathematics
- Doesn’t host your documentation online so you will need to integrate with another tool.
KnowAll is the most popular knowledge base solution on WordPress and you can use it to create your technical documentation. The main advantage of KnowAll is that is a WordPress theme so you can create all your content using this familiar platform – it’s as easy as creating a blog post. It comes with Google-grade search so users can search for the content they need, also combined with auto suggest, making the searching process much quicker. You can restrict user access and require a login for users to view your site. You can customize the theme to make it match your company branding, and the software supports complex content hierarchy with multiple categories. You can customize the way categories are ordered, making them alphabetical or ensuring that the most useful articles remain at the top. KnowAll costs $149 per year.
- KnowAll comes with a wealth of analytics options to help you gauge your content’s performance.
- Takes advantage of the popularity of WordPress as a Content Management System.
- Customizations are limited without diving into the code.
Sphinx is a python documentation generator that makes it easy to create beautiful and intelligent documentation. It was originally created for the Python documentation, but supports documentation creation in a range of languages. Documentation is written in reStructuredText which is a powerful and flexible markup language. Sphinx supports output to HTML (including Windows HTML Help), LaTeX (for printable PDF versions), ePub, Texinfo, manual pages, and plain text. Sphinx is free and open source.
- Sphinx provides extensive documentation to help you get to grips with its product.
- Sphinx requires development knowledge to install and use.
- You can’t use Sphinx to host your documentation – you’ll need to integrate with another tool.
- Easy to get set up with virtually no training involved.
- Strong support team who get back to you quickly and solve any problem.
- Documents can only be exported as a PDF or Excel file and not in an editable format.
- A few bugs in the editor such as adding an extra bullet point to a list.
Confluence is one of the oldest software documentation tools on the market and has over 75,000 customers. One of the main strengths of Atlassian’s Confluence is its integration with other Atlassian products such as Jira and Bitbucket, so you can fit this software into your existing workflows. Confluence is a remote-friendly workspace for knowledge and collaboration. You can build, collaborate and organize work using Confluence’s wiki-like system for sharing documentation. Confluence is best-suited for internal wikis but can be adapted to offer a public site. Confluence comes equipped with best-practice templates so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You can also integrate Confluence with other popular apps such as Trello, Slack and Microsoft Office. You can control user permissions so only certain people have access to particular content, making it easy to keep certain documents confidential.
- Integrations with Atlassian’s other products.
- Has a web and mobile version so you can access Confluence on the move.
- Confluence is more of a collaboration tool so you might find it difficult to use for extensive software documentation.
- Lacks customization options to fit your business’s brand.
Ready to Adopt the Best Documentation Software?
- That was a quick list of the best documentation software out there and it for sure makes it easy for you to pick a tool that aligns well with your requirements.
- Since all these tools belong to the documentation family, they ought to have some similar features. What you need to do is – chalk out your requirements, compare the tools you like and then shortlist a few.
The ultimate documentation generator is at your hand. Using a well developed documentation generator will ease you and your team’s task manifolds and help you achieve better output. Even though there are numerous open source options available, it is not so easy to choose the one that best suits you.
Documentation is something that, for many people, comes as an afterthought. Too often, the documentation for a project eats up valuable time and results in a lackluster product from which many people would argue that one of the primary goals of creating documentation is to prevent someone else from having to do the work again in the future. If you’re looking for documentation generators you’ve come to the right place.