What are some examples of great documentation?

ben profile image Ben Halpern Jun 14, 2017

I'd love to see some projects that do documentation very well for inspiration!

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Positive Examples:

Negative Examples:

  • MongoDB - ...where do I even start? Literally. Where?
  • Mongoose - they eventually make sense, but only once you're already are familiar with how mongoose works...
  • Bootstrap v3 - This is contentious, but even after years of using Bootstrap, I always have difficulty finding stuff in the docs. I can never remember what's in the "CSS" vs "Components" vs "JavaScript" tabs and the navigation sidebar is painful to use

Edit: Bootstrap v4's documentation fixes most of the problems in v3's.

Always been a big fan of the Algolia documentation : algolia.com/doc/

Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) has helped me immensely; they document JavaScript (in particular) at a level where it's a good reference. It's complete, yet it doesn't assume an overly high level of knowledge.

Always been a big fan of the Stripe Docs:
stripe.com/docs

Also the Laravel docs are pretty awesome, the search is really good too:
laravel.com/docs

I'd second stripe in that their docs pretty pleasurable to look at, although I would say they can be a bit lacking when it comes to documenting references (lots of "see account update docs for full object", which at times isn't totally accurate).

Golang probably has the best documentation I've ever seen - it's not much to look at, but you can go from never writing a line of go to understanding it at a pretty deep level without ever leaving the site. There are both interactive docs and a a book on best practices directly on the site.

I was recently really impressed by the AirTable API docs, which take stripe's "docs on the left, code on the right" paradigm to a new level by contextualizing the docs to an existing project (step one is to select your project, step two is browse the docs with all your table names and stuff filled in). As such, "writing" code that interfaces with the API is primarily copy pasta, which is pretty productive. Not sure if it would scale to a more abstract API but this approach is fantastic for tables.

OpenBSD man pages. PostgreSQL documentation. Illumos source code.

+1 for PostgreSQL docs.

I'm a big fan of Parse's documentation. There is a good balance between narrative and working code examples. Additionally, the navigation is superb; you are never more than two clicks from any other section of the documentation for the entire platform.

Oracle: docs.oracle.com/database/122/nav/p...

A huge range, available online or as PDF, Mobi or ePub downloads, with a range of detail (Concept / Guide / Reference), consistently formatted.

The SQL Reference for 12.2 is over 2,000 pages.

With Oracle, it's pretty rare that you can't legitimately tell someone to go RTFM.

I am - not without some bias, I suppose - a huge fan of PHP's Documentation. It has all the good points:

  • Function/Method signature
  • Parameter, Return and Exceptions described
  • Syntax highlighted code examples
  • Warnings against common mistakes
  • Related functions/methods
  • Ranked (by vote) Dev comments

And it's even downloadable in HTML and CHM formats. Honestly, I don't know what else you could ask for in language docs.

Not an example for a good codebase but given most people who read this work on their own doc pages:

The #1 rule for documentation is that it has to be autogenerated and/or automatically tested.

As soon as it has to be manually updated and/or it's external from your codebase people won't do it.

Eg. your api docs should be generated with your automatic tests. At @producthunt we use eg github.com/zipmark/rspec_api_docum... for this.

So many comments and nobody mentioned Qt?

Qt docs are rather detailed and very helpful.

Negative examples: MSDN (with the "DWORD dwFlags -- a dword containing flags" style of descriptions) and Boost - where each library has it's own unique style of documentation and usually lacks badly on EXPLAINING the usage of the library in the right way.

Maybe the best examples I've seen are Go and Elixir.

In Elixir, you cam write the main documentation for a module, for each public function and... write examples that can be run as real tests! They are, indeed, called "doctest" elixir-lang.org/getting-started/mi...

Golang has an excellent documentation system: it lets you edit/run the code in examples.

I've mentioned documentation systems rather than specific projects docs. Well, sometimes is the doc system that incentivizes writing docs. That's why Elixir, Golang and many other technologies usually have good documentation.

My 2cents

Django's docs are's great to work with, concise and available in many different languages.

Django's docs are the absolute best.

I am really impressed with re-frame and KafkaStreams

Also, I would love to see more documentation using Klipse or similar, so you can tweak and play around with the examples within the documentation pages themselves.

I raise the Twitch.tv API. Been working on a project with using a Google API and the Twitch API. They are polar opposites. Twitch's API is clear, concise, and a pleasure to work with. Implementing Twitch features doesn't take a lot of time. It truly feels like intelligent developers made it.

Saying that Google's Calendar API is stressful, confusing, and messy is a serious understatement. It's a mountainous trash fire, right next to a fire engine manned by human-sized rainbow shrimp spraying gasoline onto the flames. At least, that's what it feels like.

Also, the MDN is my first stop for anything JavaScript, HTML, or CSS related.

At least from what I know from 5 or so years ago, Qt's documentation is one of the best I've worked with so far: doc.qt.io/qt-5/reference-overview....

Negative examples:

Bootstrap v3: You can't navigate between pages without scrolling all the way back up, elements are spread randomly between CSS and Conponents. A long and useless icon reference takes all the space at the very beginning of the Components page.

PHP: there's no per-version docs, you have to solve a logic puzzle spread between multiple aside boxes to know what you can do with a function on a given PHP version. Navigation is aweful.

Doctrine: everything is there, but it's impossible to find without a trip through Google. For a long time the API reference wasn't reachable from the documentation pages.

Terrific JS: everything is spread randomly: when you need to know how to do something, you cannot find it because it's not in its logical place. If you don't know something is possible, you will never find out. The only ways to use these docs are a) to read them all in sequence, in one sitting, and learn everything by heart'or b) to read everything every time you need to look up something.

React Router Docs

No BS. Code examples right there next to the content, without breaking the flow of the page. Live inline examples, again with the relevant code presented. I was definitely impressed the first time I arrived.

I like Microsoft's technical documentation that's hosted on GitHub (e.g. the Azure documentation).

docs.djangoproject.com/en/1.11/ is the most complete documentation i've seen.

The JDK's JavaDocs. I wish JavaScript libraries were so consistently formatted.

Rust documentation -- doc.rust-lang.org and docs.rs -- both as a resource and a tool. All documentation examples are compiled and run as tests to make sure they can't go out of date!

  • Laravel Documentation
  • Material Design

Redis: The example blocks are actually a console where you can play with the sample commands, modify them and type new ones.