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What is Orientation?

Documentation is hard. People forget to write it, and they are asked the same question over and over again. When they finally do write it down, people can't find it or it gets out of date before it can be useful.

The goal of Orientation is to make a single point of entry for any internal question someone may have about the organization:

How can I help with bugs, maintenance and other issues?

Do we give student discounts?

How can I help with support?

Orientation's Homepage

Check out the Purpose of Orientation, and Current and Future Features.

Try the Demo You'll need a Google Apps account to sign in.*


I originally tried to make Orientation as easy to onboard to as possible for people in our team. While a huge majority of us had GitHub accounts, not everyone did. Nor was it realistic to expect non-developers to setup a GitHub account just to use a documentation tool. We did — however have — company Google Apps accounts, so this is what I used. I want to enable custom OAuth providers soon.



Some of these system dependencies can be installed on a macOS development machine with the bin/system command using Homebrew.

  • Ruby 2.4 to 2.6
  • PostgreSQL 9.3+ (with JSON support, and fuzzystrmatch & pg_trgm extensions)
  • Node.js 8.12.0 (for yarn)
  • yarn

Node is available on Heroku if you decide to deploy there, which means there should not be any issues when deploying or running Orientation there.


  • Mandrill account for transactional emails
  • Google API project with access to the "Contacts API" and "Google+ API" for OAuth authentication of users.



If you want to quickly test out your own Orientation installation, you can use the Heroku button:

Heroku Button


See Docker installation instructions.

Local Setup

  1. Run git clone in Terminal.
  2. cd into the cloned directory.
  3. Run bin/setup in Terminal. This will install project dependencies.
  • Run USE_OSX_SERVICES=true bin/setup if you don't plan on using Docker to run system dependencies
  1. Check the output in Terminal. You should see a line that says Use the following value for the SECRET_KEY_BASE key: with a long random string afterward. Copy the string and find the paste it in the .env file as the SECRET_KEY_BASE, around line 20.
  2. In the .env file, set the DATABASE_USERNAME and DATABASE_PASSWORD.
  3. Run rake db:create db:setup in Terminal.
  4. Run rails s to start the server.
  5. Visit at localhost:3000.

Make sure to check the installation task if anything strange happens during installation.

Once you're done, pay close attention to the .env file that will appear at the root. It's copied from .env.example and contains all the environment variables needed to configure Orientation.

OAuth is disabled in development and you will be signed in as whichever user is returned from User.first.


Required Environment Variables

See .env.example file. Note that if you host your Orientation on Heroku you'll need to set those environment variables manually. I recommend dotenv-heroku to do this easily using you local (git-ignored) .env file as a canonical source.

Multiple Buildpacks

Multiple buildpack support used to be unofficial and relied on a custom buildpack created by David Dollar. This is no longer the case since Heroku has rolled out official support for multiple buildpacks.

Therefore, if you decide to deploy Orientation on Heroku manually (without using the Heroku button, which would take care of this for you) you will need to add two buildpacks since the app relies on NodeJS for yarn package installation.

Note that for some reason you need to be the owner of the app on Heroku in order to be able to do this:

heroku buildpacks:add --index 1 -a yourappname
heroku buildpacks:add --index 2 -a yourappname

When you run the following command, your output should be similar:

$ heroku buildpacks -a yourappname
=== yourappname Buildpack URLs

Google OAuth 2 setup

  • Go to the Google Developers Console and create a new project
  • Once you've created the project, go to APIs and add the Contacts API and the Google+ API (you won't need a Google+ account to sign in, this is just an annoying Google quirk).
  • Then go to Credentials and Create a new Client ID. You'll need the app's production URL to complete this step so if you're using the Heroku button, do that first. You can use your production URL for the JavaScript Origins setting, but make sure to use for in the Redirect URIs setting. It's a good idea to also add the same URL but with the HTTPS protocol to ensure that if you ever force SSL, Google will still accept the redirect.
  • Don't forget to go update the GOOGLE_KEY and GOOGLE_SECRET environment variables with the credentials Google gave you when you created your Client ID, otherwise the redirection process will fail.

Transactional Emails with Mandrill

If you enable transactional email notifications with Mandrill, you'll need to create Mandrill templates with names that match the ones listed in our Mandrill documentation.



Orientation uses a Sass-based CSS architecture called MVCSS. It was extracted from Envy and Code School work by both front-end teams.

It's not nearly as complex as a framework. The basic gist is that we try to keep things as modular and dynamic as possible. Magic values are not welcome. If you contribute styling changes to Orientation, please take the time to get the lay of the land.

OAuth in development

In development we cheat around OAuth by simply using User.first as the current user because it's easy and we're lazy. Testing OAuth in dev is hard.

If you're curious what the OmniAuth hash from Google OAuth 2 looks like check this out.


We welcome those with open arms but we kindly ask that you read our contribution guidelines before submitting pull requests. ❤️


Orientation is MIT licensed. See LICENSE for details.


Your best weapon in the fight against outdated documentation.





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