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The A List Apart Blog Presents:

Read the Docs, Faster

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As a developer, a large amount of my time is spent reading documentation. An even larger amount of time is spent finding said documentation. Or it was, until Dash entered my life.

Dash is an application that manages self-contained documentation packages, called docsets. You’ll find docsets for almost every language, library, framework, and content management system, and you can even import others to expand its library. By enabling and disabling docsets, you can tailor Dash precisely to your needs.

Better yet, it stores all of this locally so you always have access—perfect when working on planes, or when on a slow or flaky internet connection.

Its powerful search engine allows you to find exactly what you’re looking for within seconds—start typing and you’ll see results from all enabled docsets. You can even constrain searches to a specific area of interest by prefixing your query with things such as html:, css:, or sass:.

A CSS-focused Dash search for “background”.

At the bottom of the sidebar listing, there are helpful links to Google and Stack Overflow results for your query—helpful for those rare times when your search returns nothing in the documentation.

Dash with friends

Dash on its own has proven to be an extremely helpful addition to my workflow, but when integrated with Alfred, the speed is unbelievable. Alfred is a productivity app that speeds up tasks such as launching applications, finding files, and running scripts. Dash comes bundled with an Alfred integration that will hopefully blow your mind like it did mine.

Rather than launching Dash, clicking into the search bar and typing your query, simply pop open Alfred (with your preferred key command—I use Option + Space), then begin typing your search, prefixed with dash. You’ll see a list of results right in Alfred; select one and you’ll be placed right at that point in the documentation inside Dash. You can constrain your query in just the same way as above—for instance dash css:background.

A CSS-focused Dash search for “background” using Alfred.

Unfortunately, Dash and Alfred are only available on Mac OS X. If you’re on Windows or Linux, it looks like Zeal is your choice. I haven’t tried it myself, but it was inspired by Dash, so it’s true to the spirit of speed and offline access.

It may sound silly and lazy, but the integration of Dash and Alfred saves me tons of time every day. Being able to jump from code, to documentation, and back into code without my hands ever leaving the keyboard is a small, but meaningful improvement.

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