Zeal: offline documentation browser

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 1, 2016

Zeal is a free cross-platform program for Windows, Linux and BSD that can best be described as a documentation browser for developers.

What makes Zeal interesting, apart from its cross-platform nature, is that it ships with a wide array of docsets out of the box.

The docsets are not included in the download, but you may download one, some or even all of them easily using the program.

Click on File > Options > Docsets to get started. There you find listed the installed and downloadable docsets.

Simply select the ones you are interested in, and click on download afterwards. Available docsets include WordPress, Apache Server, Rust, CSS, jquery, Emacs, Sublime Text, Scala, C++ or Bash to name just a few.

The program ships with nearly 200 docsets, and support for creating your own.

Zeal: offline documentation browser

Once you have added at least one docset to the program you may run searches from the main screen. Type what you are interested in, e.g. htaccess, img or find, and watch as Zeal populates the left sidebar with matching results.

These results indicate the docset they were found in, and highlight the search text in bold on top of that.

The first result is selected automatically by Zeal, and you may use the mouse or keyboard to select another result.

The information depends on the docset, but is identical to the documentation provided by the project, organization or company responsible for it.

Zeal supports tabs, and you may use Ctrl-T to open a new tab to display additional information in, or use the Tab menu at the top for that instead. There is no option however to use middle-click on results or links on the docset to load them in a new tab instead.

All links displayed by Zeal are internal; they point to other doc pages most of the time.

As far as options are concerned, there are not a whole lot. You may find the shortcut Meta-Z useful but it and changing it did not work properly on the Windows system I tried it on.

The shortcut can be useful, as it enables you to quickly pull up the program to run a search for something you need to research or are interested in.

Closing Words

Zeal is an interesting documentation browser. It provides offline access to docsets once you have downloaded them to the system. Another strength that it has is that it searches across all docsets by default that you have added to the program.

This cannot be replicated online where you search a single repository only usually.

Now You: What's your take on Zeal?

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  1. Nebulus said on September 2, 2016 at 1:11 am

    This looks very interesting, but as far as I can see the last version is almost one year old. Is it abandoned by the developers?

  2. Elben said on September 1, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    This will be useful. Thanks

  3. communist r-loveution said on September 1, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Hyped substitute for .chm format, now dead (thanks to M$)?

    1. webfork said on September 5, 2016 at 10:57 pm

      CHM is just compiled HTML, which is still widely used (I’ve seen it in at least 20 different freeware programs in the last year). I much prefer EPUB, which is mostly the same thing but in an open format with wide support.

      For Zeal, I’m always excited to see any effort to improve or add access to developer documentation. I’m personally awaiting the portable version’s release (listed on the site as “coming soon”) to test.

  4. Maelish said on September 1, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Say, this looks pretty promising. I can have Mysql, Php & JQuery docs while I am stuck offline.

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