As defined in Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word confluence means “a coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering at one point”.
True to the definition Confluence software, developed by Atlassian, is an effective team collaboration software which provides a common platform for teams to work together and share information efficiently.
This is also a great tool to centralize knowledge repository. Confluence can be thought of almost as a wiki with advanced content creation tools.
The Confluence content collaboration tool is available both as a SaaS i.e. subscription-based hosted centrally on the cloud as well as Self Hosted application with an option of installing in-house dedicated server or utilizing Confluence Data centers.
In this Confluence tutorial, we will be discussing the features of the subscription based option.
You can download this tool from this page.
What You Will Learn:
Why do we need Confluence?
How often does it happen that we testers raise bugs, only to find out that the requirements were changed sometime after development started and due to lack of communication about the change testers were not made aware of this change before testing started?
As a result, the reported bug is then closed as Invalid. This can be frustrating for testers as their creditability is affected along with confusion and uncertainty about what other uncommunicated changes may be present in the application being tested.
Another common nuisance is when important information is buried under chains of emails over several mail threads and is difficult to retrieve.
Collaboration tools are a good solution for these scenarios because:
- All information is stored in one central location, which makes it easily accessible to all users, so no more scanning of email chains or meeting notes to look for the required information
- Any updates made to the information triggers a notification to other users, which makes it easy for users to remain up to date about latest discussions
- This tool has an easy learning curve so does not require any special training or certification to start using this tool
- There are numerous real-life applications that confluence can be used for, we will be discussing some of these applications in this article
Following are some of the common advantages of Confluence:
#1. Content management
Content management includes creation, maintenance, organization, and deletion of content. The content creation tools are easy to use and include a variety of functions- from basic text formatting, creating tables all the way to linking documents and embedding macros.
The content can be organized into separate spaces, sorted and arranged in hierarchical order as required.
This tool supports a full-text search for all the content. The search results will include any matching results for the text in the pages main content and comments. This results in a very detailed search.
#3. Confluence Templates
This tool comes with some best practices templates that can be used to create pre-formatted pages.
#4. Integration with JIRA
JIRA and Confluence are both developed by Atlassian and have seamless integration with each other. The development work can be tracked in JIRA and the corresponding reports can be generated by automatic linking.
#5. Page and File versioning
As this is a collaboration tool, needless to say, it would be used by various cross-functional teams at all levels multiple times. To keep track of the changes made since the last edit, Confluence saves the older version of pages and files automatically.
This older version can be used to compare the difference or even revert the last edit if required.
Team feedback in form of comments can be put on the pages and always referred to or even searched for when required.
#7. User Management
User and group based permissions can be set up. It is even possible to set up separate viewing, editing and admin permissions for each space. We will discuss the concept of spaces in next section.
#8. Add-ons and plugins
This tool has a wide range of available add-on plugins that can be used to perform function above and beyond what standard the tool has to offer. Some popular add-ons are Draw.io Diagrams, Balsamiq Mockups, Scroll PDF exporter, etc.
Getting Familiar with Terminology
The dashboard is the landing page that a logged in user sees after successful login. The dashboard gives a quick snapshot of the recent updates by the team along with the recent updates done by the user himself.
Along with the updates, the dashboard also shows the Spaces that the user is a member of. We will discuss more spaces in next section. The sidebar containing updates and space details is collapsible to optimize viewing experience.
Below is an example of Confluence Dashboard.
(NOTE: Click on any image for an enlarged view)
[Image Source: https://confluence.atlassian.com/doc]
The dashboard is customizable and the admin can set up a universal dashboard that all users will see.
Concept of Spaces
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the meanings of the word space means “a limited extent in one, two, or three dimensions”. Spaces in this tool are a way to organize the content. Spaces can be thought of as individual file containers where the content can be categorized and organized in a meaningful way.
There is no standard rule of how many spaces need to be or should be created. The user can create any number of spaces with their own specific purposes to facilitate collaboration within teams.
Below is an example of the spaces being created based on the different organizational units.
Space directory contains a list of all spaces that are created by confluence. You can browse the spaces based on the space type – site, personal or my spaces. My spaces refer to the sites created by the logged in user himself and can be either site or personal space.
Below is an example of the space directory.
Confluence permits the creation of two spaces- site spaces and personal spaces. Below is a comparison of these space kinds:
|Characteristic||Site Spaces||Personal space|
|Purpose||Collaboration||Personal work space|
|Accessible by||- All Confluence users|
- Access can be restricted based on Groups of users (similar to JIRA)
|- Creator of space if site marked as private|
- All Confluence users, if space is made public
|Listed in Space directory||yes||No, accessible under personal profile of the creator|
The space sidebar is a collapsible menu on the space and pages and is used to navigate different pages. The pages are shown in the form of a hierarchical tree structure.
The header menu is visible at all pages and contains the Confluence Logo and a default menu with default options- Spaces, People, Create, help menu, notifications, and personal profile management. This header menu is customizable and more menu options can be displayed as required by the user
This dashboard page is accessible from any page- user can click on the logo on the main menu and user will be redirected to the dashboard.
Create functionality is used to create new pages within any chosen spaces in the desired hierarchical order. We will discuss this functionality in more detail in next section.
This image below pretty much summarizes the main functionalities that you would be using as a confluence user:
Beginners guide to confluence
In this section, we will discuss how to create and manage your own space and pages from scratch.
#Step 1: Creating your space
Now choose the kind of space you want to create
Now fill in the required information in the next step. You will be required to enter space name, a space key, and other mandatory or optional field depending on the kind of space you chose.
The space key is a unique key used in the space URL and is auto-generated when user types in Space name, but you can change it if required.
Congratulations, you just successfully created your first Confluence space!!
Now let’s move on to creating some pages and content to share on this newly created space.
#Step 2: Creating new pages
You have the option to create a blank new page or chose from available templates. The very first page will be created as the Parent page. Subsequent pages can be created under this parent page or as separate page depending on how you want to structure your space.
- Creating blank page
- Creating page from available templates
Depending on the template chosen, you would be required to perform some additional steps like entering the page name, etc. I chose Retrospective meeting template and was asked to enter the Title and Participants.
The new page will be created and you can edit and fill in the required information.
#Step 3: Formatting options
This tool has a huge variety of text formatting and display options. Let us discuss some commonly used options from the text formatting menu bar briefly.
- Formatting styles – there are several in build styles available for the text e.g. Paragraph, headings, quote etc.
- Font related options – basic functionality to update font color, make text bold, italics etc. is provided
- Lists – By default, there is 3 type of list options provided – bullet point list, numbered list, and task list. Task list is shown by a checkbox in front of it. A checkbox can be checked after the task is done to indicate completion
- Align options – The text can be aligned left, right or center as required
- Page layout – Using this option user can define sections within the document and manage the layout of the page
- Inserting files and images – User can upload files and images to the Page as desired
- Inserting Links – user can add links to other web pages or other Confluence pages in the Confluence documents for easy reference
- Working with Tables – Table options and toolbar provided in Confluence software are similar to table options in MS Word. The symbols are self-explanatory and the functionality is easy to understand and use
- Insert more content option – There are already default options available in Confluence for inserting files and images, inserting links and creating tables. For any additional content like adding Google sheets, or inserting plugins, etc. we use Insert more content option
Following is a sample page that I created to demonstrate some of the functionalities we discussed thus far.
#1) This tool seems to be a great way to share and store information. Can you provide some practical applications?
This tool can be used in various technical and non-technical environment.
Some applications are as follows:
- As Knowledgebase – A knowledge base is basically an information repository. It usually contains documentation about how to do certain things and maybe even information about how to troubleshoot products. An example for this can be for QA team to manage and share information about processes, how to test documents, informative articles, troubleshooting tips etc.
- As your own Intranet – Intranet refers to an internal network of any organization and is a hub of displaying and sharing information. An example for this can be a space created by Human Resources department to share company policies, vacation policies, upcoming events, user guides for common tools like Time off request too etc. Information can be easily shared and the access is restricted to Confluence users within your company so it is a secure platform
- For Software teams – For software teams, this tool can be used to write and manage product requirements, build and share release notes, collaborate on and record team decisions, create technical documentation, create blogs to share teams progress, etc.
#2) I want to rearrange the pages in my space. How do I do that?
This tool provides the functionality to move and reorder your pages within the space as desired by the user. The operation is quite simple drag and drops operation which allows you to reorder pages under the same parent or move pages from one parent to another parent page.
To move or reorder a page, go to Space Tools-> click on Content Tools -> Click on Reorder pages.
Click on Space name to expand the branches of the space. Now drag the required pages and drop them to a required location. Alternatively, you can also sort the pages alphabetically.
#3) I need to find details about a project/document, how do I search for it?
There are 2 ways to search content in this Confluence wiki, you can use quick navigation id or you can do a full search. When a user starts typing text in the search bar in a header, the quick navigation aid starts showing matching results by default.
After you put a search keyword and press Enter, then Full search mode gets activated. The tool will search all spaces, profiles, etc. to look for matching results. Once results are displayed you can refine the search results by author, by spaces, by last modified date or based on the content type.
#4) I am in process of finalizing content in my page and that would require lots of edits. How do I prevent spamming everyone’s mailbox by sending a notification to people about every single update that I make?
This is quite easy! When the page is first created, the notification is sent to all Confluence users of that space. This is setup by default, however, we can control when we want to send (or do not want to send) notification about subsequent edits and updates made to the page.
Remember to select this checkbox once you are ready to share the updates with other users.
#5) If I have feedback about the content of the confluence document, what is the best way to provide it?
Use the comments section. Leave your comments in the document, the notification will be sent to all users. Users will be able to see your comment and can choose to reply to your comment, like your comment and can even post their own comment.
#6) I got a notification that someone mentioned me on their page, what does that mean?
This means that the person who mentioned you in a particular Confluence page needs your attention on something or has assigned a task to you.
#7) Someone updated the original document, how do I know who changed what in my document?
One of the important features Versioning and retaining a history of document updates. You can go to the page history and check who updated the document.
From this page, you can select the page versions you want to compare and figure out exact changes that were done. Following screenshot shows a comparison between two selected versions of the page.
Confluence is a very effective team collaboration tool and can be used for Knowledge management, documentation purpose, as an intranet for internal information sharing and potentially eliminate communication of changes via emails. The information entered in Confluence can be managed with ease and the entire content is searchable.
Using confluence, companies can eliminate the need for physical storage space or shared drive. Various teams can use this tool to provide most updated company policies, incentive, announcements etc., technical project teams can use it to manage requirements, plan a project, share process knowledge, share best practices, etc.
It seems to be a great tool for sharing knowledge, but how does that help our tester community? Well to start with, knowledge of this tool adds to our skill-sets. It can act as a quick reference guide whenever we have any question or need most updated information.
For QA Managers, Confluence provides a great platform to share information with the team about testing best practices, how to test documents, troubleshooting guides, automation project planning, updates, and announcements, etc.
About the author: This useful Atlassian Confluence tutorial is written by Neha B. She is currently working as a Quality Assurance Manager and specialize in leading and managing In-house and Offshore QA teams.
Do you use Confluence at work? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in comments below.