Review: DocSets for iOS

While standing in line for a session at WWDC [1], I overheard another developer talking about an easy way to view Apple’e developer documentation on his iOS devices. I was immediately intrigued.

Apple has not made it easy to view their docs from an iPhone or an iPad. When viewing on the phone, you just get the standard page. This does not look too bad, but it does make it hard to search for things.

On the iPad, things are much worse. The standard docs page would have been fine on the iPad, but instead Apple built a fake UIKit wrapper over the docs. I am never a fan of websites that try to look like apps, and Apple’s documentation web app is a perfect example of why. It is slow and unresponsive.

Neither of of these solutions offer any kind of offline access, so you have to download the pages each time you visit. You could save out PDFs of pages you frequent and put them in iBooks, but it is slow and takes a lot of time to save out each one individually. Also, you cannot follow links in the docs to other pages if they are in iBooks.

So when I heard another developer talking about an easy way to view the docs on iOS, I had to know more. The solution he was referring to is DocSets.

DocSets is an open source documentation viewer. It displays the docs in the same HTML view that you would get if you were to look at the docs on Apple’s dev site or in Xcode. It has a powerful and fast search, and all the docs are saved locally on the device so you always have access.

You can save bookmarks for pages that you frequent, and these bookmarks will even sync between devices using iCloud. There is also a shortcut menu on the right to quickly jump down to particular sections of methods.

You can download any of the public docs directly from the app [2], but you can also install other doc sets by dragging them into iTunes. I was able to use this feature to get the docs for iOS 6 in the app along with 5.1.

As useful as it is for looking up quick references on the go, my favorite use case for it as a document viewer while coding. Since I use an 11″ MacBook Air as my primary coding device, I am limited on screen space. Before, I would have the Apple docs opened up in other Space on my computer and would constantly switch back and forth between my text editor and my docs. With DocSets I can always have them both open side by side; one on my Air and the other on my iPad. It has become my primary document viewer.

If you are a developer, I encourage you to check it out. You can download the source and install it from Github or just grab it from the App Store for $5. I recommend getting the App Store version because it you get automatic updates and you get to support an independent developer.

  1. This represents about half the time I spent there.  ↩
  2. It will probably take awhile. Most of the docs sets are around 500 mb each.  ↩