Free Programming Books and the Importance of Documentation

It is sometimes easy to forget that documentation plays a large part in learning how to program. For beginners and for advanced programmers looking to learn new things, it is highly important to have correct documentation, easy to follow tutorials, and guides on how to do a particular task.

On StackOverflow there is a list of freely available programming books. Looking at the list, around 90% of the books cover free/open source software or can be taught using free/open source software (such as data structures, algorithms, etc.). This is amazing! All the proprietary software packages have far fewer materials available. Visual Basic books for example are outnumbered by Python books.

There is a website called FLOSS Manuals that publishes manuals for free/open source software.  One of their most popular books is Introduction to the Command-Line. They have a section on writing and remixing (re-using material from existing manuals).

The writing tools are similar to WordPress and Drupal and other blogging software. You create book sections, add sub-sections/posts to each section and then you’re set to publish.

The remixing tool lets you re-arrange sections of existing manuals to create a new manual. I created a short reference guide for myself that included sections of Introduction to the Command Line, giving me information on how to use common tools that I use every day at work.

There’s more than software that needs to be written and more than conferences and hackathons to sponsor. There’s also documentation that needs to be written to ensure that the software is properly, and widely, used.

For both organizations and developers, a well-written manual will increase your reputation a lot. If it’s a popularly referenced manual or article, your blog or site will gain more traffic, and other organizations and developers will see how skilled you are.

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