One longstanding weakness with the Ruby community is subpar documentation. I think many Rubyists tend to look down on actual API documentation, preferring instead to just read source code directly. I’ve been guilty of this too and I think some of this is due simply to unfamiliarity with RDoc. Let’s change that now.

Creating RDoc

I’ve never found an easily accessible RDoc markup reference. The only one I know of is unlinkable, buried at the bottom of the RDoc readme instead of front and center as it should be. So I extracted the RDoc markup reference for your reading pleasure. Jan Varwig created a great RDoc cheatsheet PDF for local or offline access.

Next time you’re working on a gem, take 10 minutes to read the reference and document the main class for the gem. It’ll make you a better Rubyist, I guarantee it.

Generating RDoc

Ok, so you’ve learned RDoc markup and your code is documented like a champ. What do you do now? You’ve got several choices:

  • Generate rdoc by hand – the rdoc command ships with Ruby and by default generates all .rb files in or below the current directory. You probably want something like rdoc lib to just include your project’s main Ruby code.
  • Integrate RDoc into Rake – Rake has an RDocTask which can be configured for your project, so you can just run rake rdoc.

Once generated, you can view the generated output at doc/index.html.

Viewing RDoc

Rubygems has built-in support for generating and viewing the RDoc for installed gems. rdoc is generated when the gem is installed (using gem install --no-rdoc [name] skips the local rdoc generation). You can then use gem server to view your local gem rdoc at http://localhost:8808.

Check out YARD

YARD is an interesting project by Loren Segal to create a next generation Ruby documentation system. Getting started with YARD is well documented; try it out if you want an alternative to RDoc. YARD’s syntax is a superset of RDoc’s so backwards compatibility should not be an issue. The generated documentation looks pretty awesome (note the support for Markdown-formatted README files, which RDoc does not have).

The YARD team also created, which hosts documentation for popular gems and is a great resource for finding linkable documentation.

I hope this helps de-mystify rdoc for people. Any other rdoc tips, please leave a comment. Happy documenting!