Jake Worth

Level Up Your Dash

Published: August 21, 2022 2 min read

One of my favorite programming tools is Dash. In this post, I’ll share some tips for leveraging this fantastic program.

What’s Dash?

Dash is a MacOS application that offers offline access to hundreds of API documentation sets.

Why is that useful? For many reasons, the internet isn’t an ideal place for docs. It’s decentralized: different docs are stored in different places. Some tools like JavaScript don’t have a standard docs home; you have to choose between unofficial sites. It relies on the internet: lose internet, lose docs. It can change at any time: your favorite library upgrades, and now its website only shows the new docs while inadvertently obscuring the older ones.

With Dash, I can find the correct docs for any standard API in seconds. It’s an irreplaceable tool.

Here are my tips to use Dash better.

Focus the Search Bar

Clicking the search bar with a mouse and my arm? Pass. command + L focuses the Dash search bar.

Keyword Searches

Dash has several solutions for managing different docs of the same library. For example, I use Rails 7 for my side projects, and an older version at work. Unique search profiles are available, but I haven’t yet required that level of control. Instead, I use keywords.

Since I need results from my daytime version of Rails to come up first most of the time, that library gets the “rails” keyword. Rails 7 get “rails_current”.*

I can search either library by keyword: rails: update_all opens the update_all docs page in the older version, while rails_current: update_all does the same in Rails 7.

Open Online Page

Sharing your Dash docs with non-users doesn’t have to be painful. Click the upload icon on any docs page and you’ll get the documentation’s official URL in your paste buffer. It even includes a URL fragment (’#’) pointing to the function you need.

Customize Browsers

What if you don’t have the docsets downloaded, or you have them, but the API you want isn’t there? Search more broadly by integrating search engines into the search bar.

Choose between Google, DuckDuckGo, or Stack Overflow. Below all the search results, or first aren’t any, you’ll see the engines you’ve chosen.

A search for “elixir: noop” will search “elixir noop” in Google and DuckDuckGo, or “noop” on the Stack Overflow Elixir tag page.


Dash integrates with ~30 Mac programs! Here’s how I’ve integrated it with Vim.

With the dash.vim plugin, I can search Dash from Vim. Here’s how I’d execute a query from command mode:

:Dash update_all rails_current

This takes me to— you guessed it— the update_all page of my Rails 7 docset in Dash.

Wrapping Up

What are your favorite Dash tips? Let me know in the comments section.

Thanks to Dorian Karter for showing me Dash years ago.

* You can order libraries, too, so that if you don’t apply a keyword, one version will always show up before the other in the results list.

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