[Published originally in Nov 2017, revised in Jul 2021]
Are you making full use of the ColdFusion documentation?
I see many people labor and suffer in their use of ColdFusion (or failing to take full advantage of it) because they tend to use search engines like Google to find information, only to be led often solely to the CFML Reference. That’s not all there is to the CF docs, folks! And you shouldn’t stop there. You wouldn’t try to learn a language from reading a dictionary, or put a tool together using only a parts list, would you?
Did you know there are literally thousands of pages of online ColdFusion documentation, spread over several very targeted manuals, often with far more depth on a given topic than you may ever have imagined? My experience (helping in the community and with my clients) is that most folks don’t know that more CF docs exist, let alone where to find them, how to use them, and so on.
Current docs offered online only (not PDF)
Before I detail the available manuals, note first that the current docs (since CF11) are available only as web pages, as listed at Adobe ColdFusion Help.
They used to be offered as PDFs in CF11 and before, and those are still available as listed at the ColdFusion Documentation Archive. (Fun fact: that list of PDF versions of the docs goes all the way back to CF6!)
I often find myself still using the CF11 PDF, if I want to search for something in a single (large) PDF that might be spread over many pages online. (Note that PDFs were offered in the CF2016 timeframe as well, but those were quite abbreviated, often showing only one page on a topic and then offering a link to the online version of the rest of the docs. That was not satisfying at all.)
The many available CF manuals
If you visited either of those links in the last section, you saw the large number of available CF manuals (though it’s easy to lose them in the current online web presentation of them). I’m listing them all here, both to reiterate their existence, and because I want to show you approximately how many pages there are, so that you appreciate the substantial nature of these manuals. (I am sometimes approximating this number based on the CF11 PDFs, which again were complete copies.)
I’ve also listed them here in an order that I think most people would want to know about them. Folks should take time to become familiar with all of them, I think. I include the link to the online version, which at this writing covers CF2021.
Of course, much of the docs applies as well to earlier releases and even to those using Lucee. These are deep resources for using CFML, whatever the engine. (And generally version-specific differences are indicated, though not always.)
And note that after this list I offer some of the newer available manuals, created in more recent releases, which may not be known even to folks who have long known that there was more than just the CFML Reference.
- CFML Reference, over 3,000 pages (over multiple sections, if printed; see left nav bar; applies to all the following)
- Developing ColdFusion Applications, over 2,000 pages
- Installing ColdFusion, nearly 100 pages
- Configuring and Administering ColdFusion, over 200 pages
- Using ColdFusion Builder, over 160 pages
- ColdFusion Mobile Application Development, 70 pages
- ColdFusion Lockdown guide (pdf-only, 2021 version, 2018 version, 2016 version)
- Note that the CF2016 Lockdown Guide has value even for those on later versions. It was written before the Auto Lockdown tool introduced in CF2018, and before the Lockdown Guide for that version and above were changed to presume one WAS using that tool.
- Getting Started with Adobe ColdFusion (html-only, single doc, 13 pages if printed)
- Getting Started with Adobe ColdFusion Builder 2018 (html-only, single doc, 20 pages if printed)
- ColdFusion Migration Guide (pdf-only, 2021 version, 2018 version, 2016 version)
- Note that this focuses on migration of CF Admin settings rather than CFML code or compatibility issues
- Performance Monitoring Toolset, introduced in CF2018 (html-only, multiple sections, over 100 pages if printed)
- ColdFusion API Manager, introduced in CF2016 Enterprise (hmtl-only, multiple sections, over 100 pages if printed)
So phew, that’s a lot of documentation! The next time someone complains because they don’t see any new CF books being written, ask if they’re aware of nearly 4000 pages of available CF “books” offered by Adobe! 🙂
Some challenges viewing the documentation online
All that said, and though I have provided above the links to the online versions of the manuals, I will admit that it can be an unsatisfying experience. This is due to a problem in that the CF docs were developed over its first 20 years to be large and deep (with sections, chapters, sub-sections, and more.)
Unfortunately, Adobe corporate forces all product docs to be presented in a web app which was never designed for such “deep” docs. At least with the CFML reference manual, each “page” is fairly independent of the other (or has links to related pages).
But all the other manuals are more like user guides, really meant to be read from page to page, as some topics are spread over many such “pages”. And sadly this Adobe online doc web app has some serious challenges with such docs.
Lack of navigational features, if deep in a doc
For instance, there are no features for moving from one page to another. Worse, unless you’re viewing the top first or second levels of a doc, it offers not only navigational toolbar on the left or right (showing this page’s location relative to other chapters above or sections below), but there’s not even a simple breadcrumb to take you “up” in the documentation.
This means that often when folks do a web search for something, and they’re taken to the CF docs page, if it’s anything but the CFML Reference they will feel rather lost, even seeing sometimes just a single or a few paragraphs…for what may be a topic that has DOZENS of pages of docs. You just can’t GET to those related pages, even if logically the very NEXT page in the docs.
There’s also no means to search only within the selected manual. And while there is a site-wide search, and it’s better than nothing, but it’s also often not a great search experience.
(And this Adobe doc app is also the reason we have no updated PDFs since CF11: while that doc app offers a way for the CF Team to create PDFs of the docs, again the app only supports a couple of levels of depth–which is what happened when this was attempted with the CF2016 docs and why they’re virtually useless.)
So while I point out the online page links above, for those who may want to explore the HTML version, I shared earlier that for wanting to really “read” the docs or even search within a given manual, you may often be better served with the PDF versions, even though for now only the CF11 version of the PDFs are the latest available. Grr. They’re better than nothing.
I do hope some day that both issues will be resolved: that the more recent docs will be made available as complete PDFs, and the online version UI might have better navigational aids. Sadly, it seems only CF suffers this (because of the richness of its docs), so it doesn’t seem the Adobe team responsible for the docs web app is inclined to fix this problem, now several years old.
Another means to view CFML help: CFDocs.org
While my focus here has been to point out the Adobe site CF documentation, many readers would benefit from knowing about the CFDocs.org site, which offers quick access to current CFML reference information (tags, functions, script, and more), and more.
There is often example code which may be more helpful than that in the CF documentation, though the site as often may have no examples for some tags or functions. That said, it’s an open source effort, created by Pete Freitag of Foundeo and contributed to by many, and they would certainly welcome more and better examples.
That said, it is especially focused on CFML Reference info for now, though it has also a section of “guides” which are more in a user guide format, contributed by various folks. To be clear, it does NOT currently have links to all the rich Adobe-provided CF docs like I shared above (some may feel that’s not its purpose).
But my main point in this post has been to make you aware that there are indeed (and always have been) more to the CF docs than just the CFML Reference.
Next time you have a question about how to use some CF feature, or need to deal with issues related to CF installation, administration, configuration, migration, or getting started with CF or ColdFusion Builder, see the respective manuals that cover these topics!