Documentation, Git and MediaWiki

I have a dream. I want to write structured documentation and source code together in my text editor and version control both together with git, just like the source code. But have it be searchable, viewable and ideally editable within MediaWiki. Is this possible?

Requirements

Several contributors each write or edit documentation and check it in to git. So git holds the original documentation, along side code for the project or other project files.

The project also has a central MediaWiki installation, where need to at least be able to search for and view the documentation that is stored in git. It is ok, that it is only the newest version that is searched and viewable from MediaWiki.

Structured: The formats of large parts of the documentation is already given, such as POD for perl, javadoc, and raw source code too. Additionally some of the documentation will be in some other markup. But which? MediaWiki markup? AsciiDoc? DocBook? Regardless of whether one decides to go with MediaWiki markup for some documentation, we need to be able to search all of it. We need to be able to search many different formats, some in sources external to MediaWiki.

In addition, each individual contributor needs to be able to view the rendered documentation he or she is writing right now, and thereby check it e.g. for syntax errors. On the local installation, before it is shared with others.

Getting MediaWiki to Search and Show External Content

This is the missing part of the puzzle, that I haven’t been able to figure out yet…

We have both MediaWiki and non-MediaWiki documentation such as perl-pod and javadoc stored in our version control system and a bugzilla installation. What we’d like is to be able to enter “foo” in the MediaWiki search field, and find MediaWiki pages with “foo” (like now), ut *also* find “foo” in e.g the javadoc, perldoc, source code and present a potentially external link such as: http://server/javadoc.cgi?src=SomeClass.java .

I’ve been searching for a solution looking all over for this, and I can’t believe we’re the first people interested in this.Another question shows no replies but is basically the same question.

I see three different approaches:

  1. Pre-parse the perldoc, javadoc etc. and keep some internal MediaWiki pages up-to-date with the parsed external sources. Then MediaWiki’s existing search will be able to index and find data in them. But the syncing is messy and we don’t need to edit java code from inside MediaWiki anyway. Also, original formatting may get lost.
  2. Modify MediaWiki’s internal search e.g. like Extension:Lucene-search and somehow squeeze in a link to http://server/javadoc.cgi?src=SomeClass.java
  3. Create a meta search thingy, so when searched for “foo”, it calls the unmodified MediaWiki search and presents *these* results, then presents results for searching of javadoc etc.

I don’t like 1, but don’t know which of 2 or 3 would be easiest.

I posted this question on the MediaWiki mailing list.

Here are some pages, that seem to be closest I’ve found:

So, which markup?

For the parts of the documentation, where the format is not dictated by it’s context ( e.g. POD in perl code ) we want structured text, so we have to decide on a markup language / syntax to use.

MediaWiki markup

If MediaWiki markup is chosen, that would require each developer machine to have a separate MediaWiki installation too (I think), which would complicate that solution a whole lot.

Are there alternatives to this? There seems to be a number of ways to show MediaWiki markup rendered as HTML without a complete MediaWiki installation.

Now since it is MediaWiki markup, it would be possible to make the documentation first class MediaWiki pages too (but we still need to be able to synchronize with git). Perhaps mvs can help here, as it can “check out” and “check in” MediaWiki pages from a wiki. That would allow us to edit these pages from within MediaWiki. We’re still left with having to provide some way to do conflict resolution though as there is no locking in git. For some reason, Talk:Alternative_parsers is the best page describing these solutions. But it might be possible.

HTML / DocBook

Of course we could just choose to write the documentation in HTML, but that is too cumbersome and too XML-ish to write in a text editor in my opinion. The actual contents of the document are lost on the writer as he is immersed in <tags/>.

DocBook has the same disadvantages as HTML, but the advantage that it can be exported to so many formats, but it is also cumbersome to write without the aid of an application for at least completion of the valid tags and attributes. (Disclaimer: I don’t have any actual experience with DocBook.)

AsciiDoc markup

If AsciiDoc markup is chosen, each developer’s installation is rather easy, since there is a trivial AsciiDoc -> HTML translation, and we can use the contributor’s browser to check the HTML (I’m assuming it will be valid HTML automatically). Also, AsciiDoc has adgen, a neat complete website solution, it looks like.

However, if we use non-MediaWiki markup, such as AsciiDoc, then it won’t be possible to render it natively under MediaWiki. And then we have to solve….:

See Also

EDIT: I’ve since replaced WordPress with Drupal. My heart still lies in this approach, but lets face it. Ikiwiki is not Drupal. I don’t get all the bells and whistles. So I’ve decided to go with Drupal (again), learning curve and all. It does rock. Since I wrote this article, I’ve discovered the XML-RCP based BlogAPI and other APIs that Drupal (and WordPress and…) support, allowing for editing from external editors. I’ll experiment with that for now.

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