You may have just now
that the GNOME developers documentation website has changed after 15
years. You may also have noticed that it
contains drastically less content than it used to. Before you pick up
torches and pitchforks, let me give you a short tl;dr of the changes:
- Yes, this is entirely intentional
- Yes, I know that stuff has been moved
- Yes, I know that old URLs don’t work
- Yes, some redirections will be put in place
- No, we can’t go back
So let’s recap a bit the state of the developers documentation website in
2021, for those who weren’t in attendance at my GUADEC 2021
- library-web is a
Python application, which started as a Summer of Code project in 2006,
whose job was to take Autotools release tarballs, explode them, fiddle
with their contents, and then publish files on the gnome.org infrastructure.
- library-web relies heavily on Autotools and gtk-doc.
- library-web does a lot of pre-processing of the documentation to rewrite
links and CSS from the HTML files it receives.
- library-web is very much a locally sourced, organic, artisanal pile of
hacks that revolve very much around the GNOME infrastructure from around 2007-2009.
- library-web is incredibly hard to test locally, even when running inside
a container, and the logging is virtually non-existent.
- library-web is still running on Python 2.
- library-web is entirely unmaintained.
That should cover the infrastructure side of things. Now let’s look at the content.
The developers documentation is divided in four sections:
- a platform overview
- the Human Interface guidelines
- guides and tutorials
- API references
The platform overview is slightly out of date; the design team has been
reviewing the HIG and using a new documentation
format; the guides and
tutorials still like GTK1 and GTK2 content; or how to port GNOME 2
applications to GNOME 3; or how to write a Metacity theme.
This leaves us with the API references, which are a grab bag of
miscellaneous things, listed by version numbers. Outside of the C API
documentation, the only other references hosted on developer.gnome.org are
the C++ bindings—which, incidentally, use Doxygen and when they aren’t
broken by library-web messing about with the HTML, they have their own
franken-style mash up of gtkmm.org and developer.gnome.org.
Why didn’t I know about this?
If you’re asking this question, allow me to be blunt for a second: the
reason you never noticed that the developers documentation website was
broken is that you never actually experienced it for its intended use case.
Most likely, you either just looked in a couple of well known places and
never ventured outside of those; and/or you are a maintainer, and you never
literally cared how things worked (or didn’t work) after you uploaded a
release tarball somewhere. Like all infrastructure, it was somebody else’s problem.
I completely understand that we’re all volunteers, and that things that work
can be ignored because everyone has more important things to think about.
Sadly, things change: we don’t use Autotools (that much), which means
release archives do not contain the generated documentation any more; this
means library-web cannot be updated, unless somebody modifies the
configuration to look for a separate documentation tarball that the
maintainer has to generate manually and upload in a magic location on the
gnome.org file server—this has happened for GTK4 and GLib for the past two years.
Projects change the way they lay out the documentation, or gtk-doc changes
something, and that causes library-web to stop extracting the right files;
you can look at the ATK
reference for the past year and
a half for an example.
Projects bump up their API, and now the cross-referencing gets broken, like
the GTK3 pages linking GDK2 types.
Finally, projects decide to change how their documentation is generated,
which means that library-web has no idea how to extract the HTML files, or
how to fiddle with them.
If you’re still using Autotools and gtk-doc, and haven’t done an API bump in
15 years, and all you care about is copying a release archive to the
gnome.org infrastructure I’m sure all of this will come as a surprise, and
I’m sorry you’re just now being confronted with a completely broken
infrastructure. Sadly, the infrastructure was broken for everybody else long
before this point.
What did you do?
I tried to make library-web deal with the changes in our infrastructure. I
personally built and uploaded multiple versions of the documentation for
GLib (three different archives for each release) for a year and a half; I
configured library-web to add more “extra tarball” locations for various
projects; I tried making library-web understand the new layout of various
projects; I even tried making library-web publish the gi-docgen references
used by GTK, Pango, and other projects.
Sadly, every change broke something else—and I’m not just talking about the
horrors of the code base. As library-web is responsible for determining the
structure of the documentation, any change to how the documentation is
handled leads to broken URLs, broken links, or broken redirections.
The entire castle of cards needed to go.
Which brings us to the
What are you going to do?
Well, the first step has been made: the new developer.gnome.org website does
not use library-web. The content has been refreshed, and more content is on
Again, this leaves the API references. For those, there are two things that
need to happen—and are planned for GNOME 41:
- all the libraries that are part of the GNOME SDK run time, built by
also build their documentation, which will be published as part of the
org.gnome.Sdk.Docs extension; the contents of the extension will also
be published online.
- every library that is hosted on gnome.org infrastructure should publish
their documentation through their CI pipeline; for that, I’m working on
a CI template file and image that should take care of the easy projects,
and will act as model for projects that are more complicated.
I’m happy to guide maintainers to deal with that, and I’m also happy to open
merge requests on various projects.
In the meantime, the old documentation is still
available as a static snapshot, and the
sysadmins are going to set up some redirections to bridge us from the old
platform to the new—and hopefully we’ll soon be able to redirect to each
project’s GitLab pages.
Can we go back, please?
Sadly, since nobody has ever bothered picking up the developers
documentation when it was still possible to incrementally fix it, going back
to a broken infrastructure isn’t going to help anybody.
We also cannot keep the old developer.gnome.org and add a new one, of
course; now we’d have two websites, one of which broken and unmaintained and
linked all over the place, and a new one that nobody knows exists.
The only way is forward, for better or worse.
What about Devhelp
Some of you may have noticed that I picked up the maintenance of
Devhelp, and landed a few fixes to
ensure that it can read the GTK4 documentation. Outside of some visual
refresh for the UI, I also am working on making it load the contents of the
org.gnome.Sdk.Docs run time extension, which means it’ll be able to load
all the core API references. Ideally, we’re also going to see a port to GTK4
and libadwaita, as soon as WebKitGTK for GTK4 is more wideley available.