[openstack-dev] [Neutron][LBaaS][Octavia][Docs] Need experienced contributor documentation best-practices and how-tos

Stephen Balukoff sbalukoff at bluebox.net
Fri Mar 4 00:56:18 UTC 2016


I have a problem I'm hoping someone can help with: I have gone through the
task of completing a shiny new feature for an openstack project, and now
I'm trying to figure out how to get that last all-important documentation
step done so that people will know about this new feature and use it. But
I'm having no luck figuring out how I actually go about doing this...

This started when I was told that in order to consider the feature
"complete," I needed to make sure that it was documented in the openstack
official documentation. I wholeheartedly agree with this: If it's not
documented, very few people will know about it, let alone use it. And few
things make an open-source contributor more sad than the idea that the work
they've spent months or years completing isn't getting used.

So... No problem! I'm an experienced OpenStack developer, and I just spent
months getting this major new feature through my project's gauntlet of an
approval process. How hard could documenting it be, right?

So in the intervening days I've been going through the openstack-manuals,
openstack-doc-tools, and other repositories, trying to figure out where I
make my edits. I found both the CLI and API reference in the
openstack-manuals repository... but when I went to edit these files, I
noticed that there's a comment at the top stating they are auto-generated
and shouldn't be edited? It seemed odd to me that the results of something
auto-generated should be checked into a git repository instead of the
configuration which creates the auto-generated output... but it's not my
project, right?

Anyway, so then I went to try to figure out how I get this auto-generated
output updated, and haven't found much (ha!) documented on the process...
when I sought help from Sam-I-Am, I was told that these essentially get
generated once per release by "somebody." So...  I'm done, right?

Well... I'm not so sure. Yes, if the CLI and API documentation gets
auto-generated from the right sources, we should be good to go on that
front, but how can I be sure the automated process is pulling this
information from the right place? Shouldn't there be some kind of
continuous integration or jenkins check which tests this that I can look
at? (And if such a thing exists, how am I supposed to find out about it?)

Also, the new feature I've added is somewhat involved, and it could
probably use another document describing its intended use beyond the CLI /
API ref. Heck, we already created on in the OpenStack wiki... but I'm also
being told that we're trying to not rely on the wiki as much, per se, and
that anything in the wiki really ought to be moved into the "official"
documentation canon.

So.... I'm at a loss. I'm a big fan of documentation as a communication
tool, and I'm an experienced OpenStack developer, but when I look in the
manual for how to contribute to the OpenStack documentation, I find a guide
that wants to walk me through setting up gerrit... and very little targeted
toward someone who already knows that, but just needs to know the actual
process for updating the manual (and which part of the manual should be

When I went back to Sam-I-Am about this, this spawned a much larger
discussion and he suggested I bring this up on the mailing list because
there might be some "big picture" issues at play that should get a larger
discussion. So... here I am.

Here's what I think the problem is:

* We want developers to document the features they add or modify
* We want developers to provide good user, operator, etc. documentation
that actual users, operators, etc. can use to understand and use the
software we're writing.
* We even go so far as to say that a feature is not complete unless it has
this documentation (which I agree with)
* With a rather small openstack-docs contributor team, we want to automate
as much as possible, and rely on the docs team to *edit* documentation
written by developers instead of writing the docs themselves (which is more
time consuming for the docs team to do, and may miss important things only
the developers know about.)


* We don't actually provide much help to the developers to know how to do
this. We have plenty for people who are new to OpenStack to get started
with gerrit--  but there doesn't seem to be much practical help on where to
get started, as an experienced contributor to other projects, on the actual
task of updating the manual.

And I would wager:

* We don't seem to have many automated tools that tie into the jenkins gate
checks to make sure that new features are properly documented.
* We need something better than the 'APIImpact' and 'DocImpact' flags you
can add to a commit message which generate docs project bug reports These
are post-hoc back-filling at best, and as I understand it, often mean that
some poor schmuck on the docs team will probably be the one who ends up
writing the docs for the feature the developer added, probably without the
developer's help.

Please understand: I know that big strides have been made in the right
direction here recently, and I know that the docs team is both small and
under-appreciated. For example, the move from XML-based documentation to
.rst based documentation is a huge step in a direction that will prevent
most developers from wanting to gouge their own eyes out anymore when it
comes to writing documentation (though in my searching over the last few
days I did find one api reference repository where it looked like people
are actually editing raw XML and submitting this through the gerrit review
process... please tell me this is not actually still the state of affairs!)

Also, I certainly don't blame the docs team for the history of how we got
to where we are today. I'm pretty sure everyone on that (and most) projects
is truly here to make the OpenStack world a better place and is working
hard to make that happen. Nobody is trying to burn the house down.

But I think there are some flames that need extinguishing. I'm writing this
e-mail because I think we've got some additional steps that need to be
taken to actually help experienced openstack contributors know *how* they
go about updating the openstack docs. It's not that we aren't willing to
write documentation (well, I don't think most are unwilling), it's that the
process for doing this seems extremely obfuscated.

Ideally, I would like to see a practical and relatively short how-to guide
along the lines of: "The shiny new feature you added to your OpenStack
project has merged. Congratulations! Here's how you update the manual..."
This should be written by someone already very familiar with the OpenStack
documentation system. This practical guide would provide answers for:

* How to actually ensure that API / CLI documentation is updated (if it's
actually automated, and what the process for that is so that others can
* Criteria to know when more documentation is required than just API / CLI
reference updates
* Where to put this more extensive documentation.
* Other non-intuitive information you should know (eg. what image format
diagrams should be in, and best practices for uploading them, plus style
guides for the images)

Even more ideally, I would like to see a practical how-to guide along the
lines of: "So you've started a new OpenStack project. Here's how to make
sure it plays nice with the documentation system..." This would provide
answers for:

* How to set up automated tests to ensure documentation meets
machine-discernable standards for the openstack manual (eg. pep8 for docs
with specific style-enforcement included)
* How to set up automated tests to ensure that documentation is either
imported from your project to the OpenStack manual (less ideal, I know--
coders are coders and not writers for a reason), or that there are hooks
from the openstack manual into your project which flag and potentially
block merges of insufficiently-documented changes (ie. something better
than adding 'APIImpact' and 'DocImpact' to your commit message and hoping
somebody comes along and documents it at some point).
* Best practices for things like where to put the documentation, how and
when to require release notes, documentation templates with the proper
style, where to put sample config files so they get automatically slurped
into the openstack manual, etc.
* How to know if certain types of documentation are inappropriate for the
openstack manual, and best practices on where to put this, if not in the

I fully admit that it's possible the above may already exist scattered in
various places in the current documentation structure. However, I can tell
you from my experience in the several OpenStack projects I've contributed
to, that it is apparently not easily located or consumed because very few
of the experienced contributors I work with have any clue about much of the

Please also note that I am *NOT* volunteering to write the above documents
per se: The above docs need to be written by someone actually familiar with
the documentation system. But it will be effort well spent, because when
developers actually do start contributing documentation along with their
new code, you'll get to spend more time editing those documentation
contributions than writing them from scratch yourself. And everyone wins
then because the OpenStack documentation becomes more complete and sucks

In any case, I am certainly willing to provide feedback on the above
suggested how-to guides, should someone decide to write them.


P.S. I still have no idea how I go about updating the manual for the major
features that we added to neutron-lbaas and Octavia in this cycle.

Stephen Balukoff
Principal Technologist
Blue Box, An IBM Company
sbalukoff at blueboxcloud.com
206-607-0660 x807
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