GLEP 13: Providing the users with a Gentoo Handbook
|Sven Vermeulen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Handbook no longer uses GuideXML but moved to the wiki in 2014, and the Gentoo Documentation Project was decommissioned shortly after. Marked as Moribund by decision of the Gentoo Council on 2022-08-14.
This GLEP provides a vision on the evolution of the Gentoo Documentation, namely a handbook-like document that provides its readers documentation about every aspect of the Gentoo distribution: installation, administration, application usage, development etc.
Gentoo's current Installation Guide  is rapidly growing, being extended with more and more features that the Gentoo users can help with their quest for the perfect installation. This increase is needed and a Good Thing, but it makes the guide less easy to read or use as reference.
There is no reason whatsoever that this evolution will stagnate, on the contrary: people start asking why the Alternative Installation Guide  isn't merged into the Gentoo Installation Guide, or why the platform-specific installation guides can't be merged as they all use the same steps (with a few differences). I myself even hope to merge our LVM Guide  into the Installation Guide as I believe several of our users would love to use LVM on their machines, but currently don't because they don't know how handy and easy it is -- you all know this feeling :)
To address the beforementioned problem, there are two ideas:
- Split the Installation Guide into several independent guides. For instance, we can move the information regarding the kernelconfiguration into the Kernel Guide, create a partitioning-howto that decribes the fdisk (and possibly others) steps users need to go through, etc.
- Merge all information into one Big Handbook. This is of course an idea that we borrow from our FreeBSD friends  who already have an extensive handbook related to their BSD-distribution.
It is this second idea that this GLEP describes.
This handbook-idea doesn't decrease the installation instructions, on the contrary, it extends them. However, by choosing a multiple-page handbook-like document, our users receive a fully integrated document that embraces everything he or she wants to know. It will also make it more easy to provide printable documentation (in PDF or other form) without loosing the comfort of having the installation documents online and on the LiveCDs.
To implement such a handbook, the Gentoo Documentation Project  needs a rewritten stylesheet for its GuideXML  format. Since there are no problems with GuideXML itself, and since it is very flexible in its use, the recommendation to stick with GuideXML is clear. We do need some extra features in GuideXML, without breaking the current GuideXML implementation.
This last thing is important, since implementing this handbook-like document should be done parallel to the development of our current documentation: developing the Gentoo Handbook takes a long time and we don't want to force our users to use a non-usable document.
After improving the GuideXML format, the first things that need to be addressed are the installation instructions. They should be merged with other, existing guides that inform the user with installation-specific items (such as the Alternative Installation Guide, LVM Guide, Platform-specific Installation Guides, etc.)
Other chapters that need to be put in place are:
- A chapter on Gentoo Development, which embraces all current development-specific guides, such as the Gentoo Developer HOWTO, the Gentoo Policy, the Ebuild HOWTO, the Eclass HOWTO, etc. This has already been frequently asked by the Gentoo ebuild maintainers and several other Gentoo Developers.
- A chapter specific to System Administration, such as Mailserver Administration, User Administration, Printing Administration etc. We already have several guides that describe parts of these items.
- A chapter specific to Gentoo Usage, including our popular Desktop Configuration Guide  and several Application-specific guides.
The following sections describe these steps more in detail...
The GuideXML format should be extended with the following items:
- More depth regarding information-divisions.
- "Including" external sourcecode
- Easier in-document references
Our current GuideXML format provides us the following depth regarding information-division:
<guide> <chapter> <section>
The <guide> tag is currently a one-time tag: it defines the start of the guide, and of course the guide ends with </guide>. The <chapter> tag divides the document into separate chapters. However, most of our documents have small chapters, whereas normal books and documents have chapters that encompasses several pages. The <section> tag further divides the chapter in which it resides.
This means that our current installation guides have a division-depth of 2: you can define a chapter, and in that chapter make subdivisions with <section>. This is however insufficient for a handbook-like document. To improve the GuideXML, we can add <subsection> and, if needed, <subsubsection>, based on LaTeX's divisions.
Another requisite is to be able to include external documents. Without this possibility, maintaining the handbook would be cumbersome to say the least. XSLT (which is used to process the GuideXML files) can easily provide this, so there are no specific needs to include this feature.
A possible tag would be <include file="foobar.xml" />.
With such a division, we could have each chapter inside its own document, making maintenance far more easy.
The final implementation is in-document references. Currently, the Gentoo Documentation Developers have so guess in what chapter a certain section resides, and what section we are actually discussing: #doc_chap4_sect3 provides us with a link to chapter 4, section 3. This is a workable implementation for small documents, but impossible for handbooks.
Implementing a more HTML-alike reference inside the division-tags would be preferable: <chapter name="installation">, <section name="partitioning"> etc. Referring would then be #installation and #partitioning respectively.
The first real chapter (after some introduction) would be one about the Gentoo Installation. This chapter could then include all information regarding alternative installation instructions, architecture specific instructions, partitioning schemes, RAID installations and more without continuously referring to other sections throughout the handbook.
In other words, a user that wants to install Gentoo Linux on his SPARC with ATA RAID should be able to do so following the instructions in the chapter without having to go forth and back between several pages. Creating such a chapter is not that easy just because we don't want our users to be sent from left to right and over again.
Developing this chapter should be done in parallel with the development of the current guides (who still have a higher priority since these are still the official installation instructions as long as the chapter in the handbook isn't finished and reviewed for accuracy).
This chapter, which bases its content on an existing base installation of Gentoo, described in the previous chapter, contains sections for several important administration items. This is a chapter that currently doesn't have many affected guides, but is very important to make Gentoo work (and be documented) in server-environments.
The sections contain information on, but not limited to:
- Software Administration - User Administration - Mail Administration - Print Services - Network Administration - Storage Management - Security - Clustering
As previously explained, this chapter would contain all the information needed to help the Gentoo development. It would embrace all the current existing guides regarding Ebuild and Eclass development, Stage Creation, Gentoo Policy etc.
Whereas the System Administration chapter contains the information on how to install software and services (such as XFree), this chapter would contain information for the users (not the administrators) on how they can use software installed by the system administrator.
Gentoo currently has several guides that describe such user applications  and it seems that these are guides that our users really appreciate, so neglecting them would be signing our own death wish :)
Due to the nature of these documents, the User Applications chapter will exist of independent sections.
By making only small changes (actually extending) the GuideXML format, it is possible (and even advisable) to develop each chapter on its own parallel with the guides that are involved.
By developing the handbook in a subdirectory of the current documentation directory (for instance http://www.gentoo.org/doc/en/handbook) we maintain the current documentation. When a chapter on the handbook is finished, the involved documents can contain a big note on top, declaring that they are now obsoleted by the handbook's chapter.
However, note that this handbook does not and will not embrace all documents that the Gentoo Documentation Project produces. It is very likely that there are guides that don't have a clear position inside this handbook. Instead of forcing the guide somewhere, we should leave the guide as a stand-alone document.
This is a possible roadmap for the Gentoo Handbook:
- Improve the GuideXML format, possibly creating a handbook.xsl stylesheet (and leave the guide.xsl as it is now). - Implement the Installation Instructions - Develop a consistent layout, keeping the guides that are to be implemented in mind. - Include all referenced guides. Do *not* extend it yet. - Review the installation instructions and make them official - Extend at will :) - Implement the Gentoo Development Instructions - Implement the User Application Instructions - Implement the System Administration Instructions