BASH Documentation

Jan 13, 2014   #bash 

One of the things that always bothers me is lack of proper documentation. Now, I’m lazy just like everyone else, but if I’m going to document something, I prefer to do it properly and keep it up to date. I’ve inhierited a nice suite of bash scripts, which aren’t really complicated, but they all have the same copy & pasted header that’s dated from 2003. Not exactly helpful.

So while I have a wiki that explains how some of the processes work on a higher level, it would be nice to have clean documentation in my bash scripts. Ideally, it would be embeddable, exportable and human readable. Basically, I shouldn’t have to maintain two files, I should be able to paste it somewhere else if need be, and I should be able to maintain it without any external tools whatsoever, if I wanted to.

Here are a list of options I found while browsing around:

  • The old-fashioned embedded comments
  • bashdoc (awk + ReST structure via python’s docutils)
  • embedded Perl POD (via a heredoc hack)
  • ROBODoc

Of these choices, POD seems a bit bloated to be inside a script, and ROBODoc looks way overblown for my simple needs, so I’ve decided to go with bashdoc. I’m already working with ReST, via this blog, and it fits pretty much all the criteria. Plus, it has few dependencies (awk, bash and python’s docutils) and doesn’t require a package for itself, so I wouldn’t feel bad about setting this up on production servers (although I should really set it up as a git hook in the script repo or something). However, documentation for bashdoc is quite limited (irony at it’s finest). The best way to figure out what is going on is to read lib/basic.awk, and the docutils source code, which isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. That said, it shouldn’t be too difficult to build a small template I can copy and paste everywhere, which will hoepfully be more useful than the current header.