Documentation in Laravel 8 with Enlighten

The importance of software documentation, even in an agile world, is undisputed. Keeping documentation, especially for APIs, up-to-date however can be an additional burden on a development team, and thus automatically generated documentation can help supplement this by producing reference materials. This is where Enlighten comes in.

In this guide, we’ll get Laravel Enlighten up-and-running, which utilises your existing PHPUnit tests (because you should be writing tests) to produce and publish beautiful, customisable documentation, without needing to run any additional commands.

System Requirements

Enlighten does require both PHP 7.4 and Laravel 8. I don’t know whether it works with standalone Lumen. If you’re running anything earlier, such as Laravel 6 LTS, I would instead recommend Scribe. For other frameworks or vanilla PHP applications, try phpDocumentor.

You will also need a secondary database. It does not need to be a different kind of database, but it does need to be persistent.

You also need an up-to-date version of Git. This is unlikely to be a problem on macOS, Linux or Windows Subsystem for Linux, but it gave me some teething problems directly running on Windows 10 under Laragon.

Please also note that these are as simple installation instructions as possible. For troubleshooting and optional install steps, please check the project’s repository.


Composer installation

Do not use sudo for any of these commands. That will open a whole Pandora’s box you don’t want to deal with.

Using Composer, require Enlighten into your Laravel project using the following command. If you somehow don’t have it, grab it here.

composer require styde/enlighten --dev

Registering the service provider

Next, add the following to your config/app.php file in order to register Enlighten’s service provider. If you’re not sure where this needs to go, put it underneath the package service providers comment, like thus:

  'providers' => [
    // ...
     * Package Service Providers...
    // ...

Important: Be sure to end the line in a comma, not a semicolon.

Publish assets to the public directory

Run the following command to publish Enlighten’s assets to your public directory. Without this, any documents you generate will lack any CSS formatting or JavaScript.

php artisan vendor:publish --tag=enlighten-build

Integrating Enlighten into your tests

In order for Enlighten to activate during testing and to have access to test data, it will need to be imported and initialised during the setup phase of your tests. You can do this in your TestCase.php abstract class, or in individual test files.

For example:


namespace Tests;

use Illuminate\Foundation\Testing\TestCase as BaseTestCase;
use Styde\Enlighten\Tests\EnlightenSetup; // import this trait

abstract class TestCase extends BaseTestCase
  use CreatesApplication;
  use EnlightenSetup; // and use said trait here

  protected function setUp(): void

    $this->setUpEnlighten(); // the final piece of the puzzle

Important: I believe you need to still call parent::setUp() in your setUp() methods within your tests.

Setting up the secondary database

As aforementioned, Enlighten needs another database to record information. The easiest way to do this is to create another database with the same name of your existing one, except with an _enlighten suffix.

For example, if you have used a MySQL database named laravel, you can create another one called laravel_enlighten which will be used automatically. This assumes you’re using the same database connection, credentials, and driver.

Once you’ve made it, run your migrations to get it set up:

php artisan migrate

The next optional section is for you should you need a different configuration.

Optional: Custom database setup

If you need to use something else, add a new entry to your config/database.php file with the name enlighten. This can support a different driver, credentials, database name, etc. You can add this information as custom entries in your .env file - possibly with an _ENLIGHTEN suffix for clarity.

For example:

'enlighten' => [
  'driver' => 'mysql',
  'host' => env('DB_HOST_ENLIGHTEN', '')
  'port' => env('DB_PORT_ENLIGHTEN', '3306')
  'database' => env('DB_DATABASE_ENLIGHTEN', 'laravel_enlighten')
  'username' => env('DB_USERNAME_ENLIGHTEN', 'root')
  'password' => env('DB_PASSWORD_ENLIGHTEN', '')
// …

I think that you could use an SQLite database in theory, but I haven’t tested this and generally stick to the defaults.

Don’t forget to run your migrations if you chose this route.

php artisan migrate

Running Enlighten

Once you’ve set everything up, Enlighten will run when you run your test suite:

php artisan test

You can then find your new documentation at the yourwebsite.test/enlighten/ URL.

Enlighten Dashboard

Here you can quickly see at a glance what feature and unit tests have passed or failed. Navigating to individual tests can show you more information, including headers, responses, and a screenshot of what was returned if it were HTML.

Test Details in Enlighten

(This is just an example API project with very basic tests.)

What’s next?

This guide was designed to get Enlighten up-and-running as easily as possible. More customisation and configuration options are available to make your documentation as detailed and organised as possible. You can read more on the project’s repository.

I hope that you’ve found this guide useful and I encourage you to check it out with your Laravel API projects! It goes without saying, but Enlighten wasn’t written by me - it’s an open source project headed by Duilio Palacios and Jeff Ochoa.

If you liked this, please consider following my blog for more technical writing, and giving this a comment. Thank you so much for reading and I look forward to your comments below!

Oliver Earl
Oliver Earl
Software Engineer, CS Educator

Oliver Earl is a full-stack software engineer, game developer, and qualified teacher of computer science from the UK.