Open Source Code Documentation Tools

Whether you are a student or seasoned developer, we all have to write documentation from time to time. With the use of open source software more prevalent than ever, there is an increasing demand for documentation. If you want to be able to do it well and quickly then learn about open source code documentation tools.

If you have to deal with a clunky and slow editor, unreliable search, and an unintuitive interface every time you have to write or update a document, it’s no surprise that documentation will be a source of endless frustration.

But a good documentation tool can go a long way towards changing your attitude towards writing the docs. To make your decision easier, we have evaluated dozens of documentation tools and put together a list of 5 best picks.

1. Nuclino

Documentation tool Nuclino

Nuclino is a unified workspace where teams can organize all their knowledge, docs, and projects — like a collective brain. It’s a great solution for lightweight internal documentation, but it’s not all it can do.

Nuclino offers a variety of ways to structure and visualize your documents, including a nested list, a Kanban board, and a mindmap-style graph, allowing you to collaborate on projectsplan your sprintscommunicate asynchronously, and more. You can essentially consolidate all your work in one tool, minimizing unnecessary context-switching.

Corporate wiki Nuclino board view

Nuclino is designed to eliminate as much friction from the writing process as possible. Its clean, intuitive interface makes it a great solution for both, technical and non-technical users. The editor supports a set of Markdown commands that allow you to quickly format your docs without taking your hands off the keyboard. Organizing your documentation is just as easy with wiki-style internal links, which allow you to link related documents together.

Internal links in Nuclino

Every Nuclino page can be collaboratively edited in real time without edit-save-conflict cycles, and every edit is preserved in the version history. The instant search function allows you to locate the docs you need in seconds.

If you want to create clean, consistent documentation and value ease-of-use and speed, look no further than Nuclino.

What users say about Nuclino:

“I had never used a product like Nuclino until joining my current startup, and I’ve been really impressed with it. It’s super easy to use and edit and it looks clean. It’s been an essential tool for me as I’ve built out all of the documentation for my department. Some of my favorite features are the ability to pin articles and the ability to include boxes of code (and you can specify the language – there are a bunch to choose from, although I’ve only used SQL).”

— Capterra review

2. Document360

Documentation tool Document360

Document360 is a hybrid solution that can bring together your internal and customer-facing documentation.

Notable features of Document360 include built-in localization mechanisms, content review reminders, SEO features, comments, and more. Granular analytics allow you to track how the readers interact with your docs.

Despite its extensive feature set, it’s a relatively easy-to-use tool. Documentation writers can choose between a Markdown editor and visual WYSIWYG tools, tailoring the editing experience according to their preference.

Note that Document360 is less affordable than other tools on this list. Its cheapest plan starts from $99 per month and only includes customer-facing documentation features. To be able to manage both your external and internal docs in Document360, you will need to pick one of the premium plans ranging from $299 to $599 per month. While this tool may be prohibitively expensive for smaller teams, large enterprises may find that its substantial feature set is more than worth the hefty price tag.

What users say about Document360:

“Document360 was exactly what we needed to publish documentation to various reader groups. It’s quite straight forward and quickly to grasp on one hand, while feature rich on the other.”

— Capterra review

3. Confluence

Documentation tool BookStack

Atlassian Confluence is one of the oldest software documentation tools on the market. Its powerful enterprise capabilities and extensive configuration options helped it amass over 60,000 customers.

Its strength lies in its seamless integration with other products in the Atlassian suite. If you are already using other Atlassian tools, such as Jira or Bitbucket, Confluence is likely to easily fit into your workflow.

It comes with a certain learning curve, but if you are looking for a documentation tool with advanced customization options and enterprise-level features, Confluence is definitely an option worth considering.

4. BookStack

Documentation tool BookStack

BookStack is another wiki-style documentation tool. It’s open-source, self-hosted, and highly flexible.

While the interface and navigation are fairly user-friendly, note that the initial installation may require some patience and technical skills. Once your documentation platform is up and running, however, it should be easy to bring your team on board.

If you would prefer a self-hosted documentation tool rather than a cloud-based one, BookStack is definitely worth evaluating.

What users say about BookStack:

“The stock interface design has a modern feel and is simple for new users to use. Granular permissions can be set up for specific roles on a per-content basis and permissions will waterfall down to child content. However, the current installation process involves many steps and may be a lot to take in for people not familiar with setting up Laravel applications.”

— (Slant review)

5. GitBook

Documentation tool GitBook

GitBook is an all-in-one platform that can work as your internal documentation tool, a knowledge base for your customers, and your personal note-taking app. It’s a great option if you are looking to consolidate all your documentation — both internal and external — in one place.

It lacks certain collaboration features that other options on this list offer, such as real-time collaborative editing, but it makes up for it in other areas. GitBook stands out thanks to its seamless integration with GitHub, visual customization options, advanced version management, and more.

What users say about GitBook:

“Before GitBook our documentation was limited and very hard to find. It is really easy to get started with and the best part is that it supports Markdown. Writing documentation in Markdown is way easier and GitBook makes it easy to organize the content. There are no cons as such, but there were a few issues while getting started, while importing the existing documentation for the first time.”

— (Capterra review)

Summary

Building a website is only the first step in what could be a long process. If you are going to release your code to the public, then you need some way to document its functionality. If you have ever tried to find documentation on a piece of open source software, then you know that it can be extremely difficult to do so. This article will cover documentation tools for common languages.

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