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Docent: Contextual support for Rails applications

Docent is a friendly guide who points your application's users to the proper support documentation, as hosted in some external knowledge base like, Zendesk, Confluence, and so on. It does so based on a table of URLs with controller-action combos, then supplies the link based on that view in your application.

Docent is a proof-of-concept, based on something I baked into a Rails 2-point-something app back in 2008 and recently realized I could use again. It operates as a mountable Rails engine and is still pretty raw right now.


  1. Add Docent to your Gemfile and install with Bundler:

     gem 'docent'
  2. Run the Docent generator to mount the app in your routes file, generate an initializer, and copy Docent's migrations to your application:

     rails generate docent:install
  3. Run database migrations to add Docent-related data to your database:

     rake db:migrate
  4. Edit config/initializers/docent.rb to establish a default link (top level of your knowledge base, support form, whatever) for views without support documents in Docent; and to provide a username and password for authentication via HTTP Basic.


  1. Load Docent's admin panel at and sign in with the credentials you assigned in the initializer.

  2. Enter links to support documents. You can enter links specific to a controller#action combination, as well as catch-all links to controllers. Docent looks for links in the following order:

  3. The controller#action combination (e.g., posts#new)

  4. The controller only

  5. The default, set above in the initializer

  6. Provide links to your application's users by adding the following in your application's layout file:

     <%= link_to_docent %>

By default, Docent labels the link Help; you can add your own and any options you could otherwise pass to Rails' link_to helper:

    <%= link_to_docent 'Support', {target: 'new' } %>

To Do

  • replace HTTP basic authentication with something integrated with the host application
  • add support for self-hosted documents (I'd link to be able to post documents directly from ScreenSteps into Docent via XMLRPC, for example).


I'd love to see your ideas and improvements. Fork the project on GitHub, make your changes (with specs!), and submit a pull request. A note on specs: I used Capybara feature specs to build Docent; the specs related to end-user access to links currently relies on a non-Rack::Test driver due to the need to check for redirection to an external site. I stuck with Selenium to minimize dependencies, at the expense of speed.

Docent is released under the MIT License. See MIT-LICENSE for further details.


Having not messed with mountable engines in Rails much in the past, I took inspiration from StatBoard by Viget Labs (in particular the initializer setup and testing setup).


Contextually-aware links to an external knowledge base.




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