GitLab Docs rebuilt using Nanoc.

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build status

GitLab Documentation



To preview locally, you'll need:

  • Unix
  • Ruby 2.4.0
  • Bundler
  • Repositories
    • GitLab CE
    • GitLab EE
    • GitLab Multi Runner
    • GitLab Omnibus
    • GitLab Docs

Note: On Windows, the process described here would be different, but as most of contributors use Unix, we'll go over this process for MacOs and Linux users only.

Installing dependencies

Ruby 2.4.0

If you don't have Ruby installed in your computer, install Ruby 2.4.0 directly.

If you already have other Ruby versions installed, you can use a Ruby version manager to install Ruby 2.4.0 in your system.

Check your Ruby version with ruby --version.

To install multiple Ruby versions on MacOS or Linux, we recommend you use RMV:

  • Install RVM
  • Install Ruby 2.4.0 with rvm install 2.4.0


Bundler is an incredible dependency manager. Install it by running gem install bundler.


GitLab Team members: clone the required repos to your machine. Navigate to the directory you'd like to have them, then clone with SSH:

  • GitLab CE: git clone
  • GitLab EE: git clone
  • GitLab Runner: git clone
  • GitLab Omnibus: git clone
  • GitLab Docs: git clone

GitLab Contributors: fork each of these projects and clone them to your local computer:

Bring Everything Together

Now that we have everything required, we need to add symlinks, so GitLab Docs can talk to the remaining repos.


  • In a terminal window, navigate to your local path to where you just cloned GitLab Docs
  • Output the path by running pwd:

    $ pwd
  • In a terminal window, navigate to your local path to where you just cloned GitLab CE

  • Output the path by running pwd:

    $ pwd
  • Copy the output and create a symlink between GitLab Docs (content/) and GitLab CE (/doc/), by running ln -s /Users/username/dir/gitlab-ce/doc /Users/username/dir/gitlab-docs/content/ce. Of course, adjust the paths according to the output of pwd.

  • Repeat the process to the other three repos:

    • GitLab EE: ln -s /Users/username/dir/gitlab-ee/doc /Users/username/dir/gitlab-docs/content/ee
    • Runner: ln -s /Users/username/dir/gitlab-ci-multi-runner/docs /Users/username/dir/gitlab-docs/content/runner
    • Omnibus: ln -s /Users/username/dir/omnibus-gitlab/doc /Users/username/dir/gitlab-docs/content/omnibus
  • Open GitLab Docs in a terminal window and check if you have all the foour there (ee, ce, runner, omnibus): ls content

If they're there, we're good to go!

Install Docs dependencies

Now let's make Bundler deal with the dependencies defined in the Gemfile:

  • Open GitLab Docs in a terminal window
  • Switch to Ruby 2.4.0: rmv 2.4.0
  • Run bundle install

Preview the Docs Website

  • bundle exec nanoc live

This will host the site at localhost:3000. Changes will be reloaded automatically using Guard Nanoc.

Extra Step

To pull down the documentation content, run rake pull_repos. If you want to force-delete the tmp/ and content/ folders so the task will run without manual intervention, run RAKE_FORCE_DELETE=true rake pull_repos.

Projects we pull from

We pull from the following projects:

Examples and Resources

Open Source Nanoc Sites

NOTE: We use Nanoc 4.0 which has some significant differences from 3.0, be aware that not all example sites use 4.0.

Good Documentation


  • Feature parity with the existing
  • Use GitLab CI / GitLab Pages for compilation, deployment, and hosting of the Documentation site.
  • Sections for Community Edition, Enterprise Edition, GitLab CI, and Omnibus.
  • Pull documentation from the repositories mentioned above.
  • Versioned documentation (e.g. switch between documentation for 9.0, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, "latest", etc.)
  • Search the documentation (Can either re-use existing Documentation search functionality or implement search using Algolia or something else? Ideally simple and open source, but it doesn't really matter too much.)
  • Link to "Edit on" for every page to encourage contribution.
  • Responsive design.


  • Some way to embed/package the site inside the Rails app so the documentation can be included with the application itself. This would be nice for users behind firewalls, etc. This should not be handled by Rails itself, as that causes all kinds of problems. It should just be a set of static pages.
  • Some way to export the documentation as PDF/ePub for use offline.
  • Future-proofing for internationalization.
  • Tests for working internal links and such. (Nanoc includes this by default!)
  • A blog post explaining how we do all this using GitLab, GitLab CI, and GitLab Pages, as well as (almost all?) open source tools.
  • Breadcrumbs for navigating between pages.
  • Auto-generated Table of Contents for every page.
  • Anchor links for every page section.
  • Syntax highlighting with Rouge.
  • Auto-generated documentation structure based on YML frontmatter.
  • Version dropdown that links to the current page for that version (if it exists).
  • Automatically generated API documentation.

Implementation details


URLs should be in the form of



Relative paths between documentation pages would need to automatically correct to the right product, language, and version.

Pulling docs directories from the CE, EE, and Omnibus repositories


  • Needs to be able to use Git tags to pull in versions.
  • Needs to be performant, can't take a huge amount of time to generate the documentation site. Goal is 15 minutes maximum.
  • Fully runnable locally so we can easily test changes locally.

Possible options


Include the docs directories for each repo in the gitlab-docs repo using submodules.

  • Not well-supported by GitLab
  • Not sure if submodules can be used to pull down just a directory?


Have the build process for the Docs site pull artifacts down from each repository.

  • Artifacts would need to be hosted long-term by CI.
  • Can't generate artifacts exclusively for tags, would be generated for every commit.

Pull in repositories dynamically (this is what we went with):

Pull down the repositories during the build process and splice the docs directories together in the right places for use with the nanoc site.

Include the built site in the repository itself:

This is almost definitely out of the question due to how bloated the repository would become and how much of a pain it'd be to maintain this, but it is an option and would make the build process quite a bit faster.


  • Use artifacts to store previous versions of the site so they don't have to be regenerated constantly.
  • Nanoc is supposedly quite fast.

Differentiating between CE and EE features

One potential problem with having separate docs for CE vs. EE is the inability to easily track differences between the two. Their documentation won't necessarily be kept in-sync and pages that differ between CE and EE may cause conflicts when merging the CE repository into EE.

One potential solution to this problem is to include the EE docs inside the CE repository and then label pages as either Universal or EE-only (using frontmatter). The same could be done for specific sections on the page. This has the potential downside of complicating the documentation-writing process for contributors, but arguably the complexity of the CE/EE repositories already exists, so we're not really adding complexity so much as switching its form.

The Atom Flight Manual has the ability to switch between platforms for given pages, this code could be repurposed for including/excluding features based on whether the documentation is CE or EE (Source).

Review Apps for documentation merge requests

If you are working on one of the projects we pull from and updating the documentation, there is a way to preview it using Review Apps in the gitlab-docs project:

  1. Make sure you have Developer (push) access to this project.
  2. Clone the docs site:

    git clone
  3. Create a branch.

  4. Edit .gitlab-ci.yml and change the branch variable of the project you wish to preview. For example, if you work on documentation changes for GitLab CE and the branch is named 1234-docs-for-foo, change the respective CI variable:

       BRANCH_CE: '1234-docs-for-foo'
  5. Commit your changes and push the branch.

  6. Optionally create an MR marked as WIP in order to avoid accidental merge, we'll use this only as a Review App.

  7. Wait a few minutes and if the build finishes successfully, you'll be able to see the link to the preview docs in the environments page using the environment URL button.

If new changes are pushed to the upstream docs, just create a new pipeline in the new pipeline page. Choose the branch you created for the Review App and hit Create pipeline for the new doc changes to be pulled and deployed.

Once the docs are eventually merged upstream, don't forget to close the Review Apps MR (if you created one), delete the branch.

Deployment process

We use GitLab Pages to build and host this website. You can see .gitlab-ci.yml for more information.

A job is used to trigger a new build whenever tests run and pass on master branch of CE, EE, Omnibus.

To add a new trigger for another project:

  1. Go to (you need Master access) and copy the trigger value.
  2. Go to the project you will be triggering from and add a secret variable named DOCS_TRIGGER_TOKEN with the value of the trigger you copied from the previous step.
  3. Add the following job to the project's .gitlab-ci.yml, where you should replace the PROJECT variable's value with the name of the project the trigger is running from, for example ce, ee, omnibus, runner, etc.:

    # Trigger docs build
        GIT_STRATEGY: none
      before_script: []
      cache: {}
      artifacts: {}
        - "curl -X POST -F token=${DOCS_TRIGGER_TOKEN} -F ref=master -F variables[PROJECT]=ce"
        - master@gitlab-org/gitlab-ce

    Note: Every project might have different stages, make sure to add it to one that makes sense, for example after all builds successfully pass.