Writing software documentation can be a pretty dull task and is neglected too often (at least by me). But what purpose does the best program serve if nobody knows how to use it? None.
Looking at Github, the Markdown formatted README.md is the front page of every repository and the first (and mostly only) source of documentation. Until recently, I have treated my README.md files rather shabbily; I would have thought that this lack of motivation originates from a general dislike of writing documentation, however, I might have changed my opinion. This blog post has opened my eyes to an alternative explanation: writing Github Markdown documentation is not trivial when you don’t have a chance to preview the resulting markdown before committing! In that case the output will look not as expected more often than not – which makes the committer angry as s/he needs to push another commit just for improving the Markdown. Anyway, I remember feeling annoyed quite frequently by that procedure in retrospective. It does not need a stretch of imagination to foresee the negative influence that annoyance has on my willingness to provide README.md documentation… ;)
The solution is obvious but not that trivial. Obviously, there surely are plugins for various IDEs which can parse Markdown and output HTML markup. I remember having once installed such an Eclipse plugin. But things get trickier as Github does not use vanilla Markdown but its own brand of Markdown – it is not that easy to find a way to display Github Markdown with good confidence in its conformity; in addition it shouldn’t force me to use any special IDE as I do most stuff in Emacs.
The script that I use now was mentioned in the referenced blog post above: flavor.rb. It is a ruby script which actually asks the Github API (!) to do the hard work, namely providing the HTML output! That looks stupid at first glance but it is actually the only way to be really sure of the preview’s congruence with the actual display on the Github page…