3 min read

Get the most out of the AWS documentation

There's a lot of AWS documentation (and more every day!), so use these tips to help get the most out of the official AWS documentation as quickly as possible.

The AWS documentation gets a bit of a bad rap, and I don't think it's deserved. Periodically, people will come to places like r/aws and vent their frustrations about the official documentation, and the AWS team even comes there to ask for feedback about the docs. Their frustrations are valid, and the official documentation is definitely not perfect, but they're also not the whole story.

Even though I've had my own challenges with the AWS docs, I've almost never had situations where the documentation is actually wrong; The most common issue I've had is that they don't emphasise the most important things enough. I think they're a really good resource that you should embrace, and you'll be hard pressed to be come an expert in any AWS services without doing so.

Over the years I've optimsed how I use them, and I think I've reached a good balance - even though I think they're a great resource, it doesn't mean I want to spend all my time in them!

Here's my tips for getting the most out of the AWS documentation.

Google search operators

Add the Google site: operator to limit your google search results to the official AWS documentation domain, like this: "site:docs.aws.amazon.com"

I find this technique most useful for re-finding documentation pages that I know exist (because I've seen them before), but I can't recall the exact location of.

You can also use the inverse when you want to hear about the community's unofficial opinion about a service or feature, by excluding the official documentation and blog sites from your results with "-site:amazon.com".

Troubleshooting section

Almost all of the AWS service user guides include a troubleshooting section towards the end. If I'm starting with a new service, or revisting one I haven't used in a while, I'll often go right to this section to get an idea of the common issues that people run in to. This means that if (when!) I hit one of these common errors, I'll be more likely to remember it and resolve it quickly.

An example of this is the AWS Organizations general troubleshooting general issues page. It's full of helpful tips that you will run in to at some point if you're administering an AWS organization.

Guess the API method with the AWS CLI

This one isn't exactly in the documentation, but it does use official sources to quickly find information about services.

It's hard to even keep track of all the API methods for all the various service, which then makes it difficult to even know what to search the docs for! At the time of writing there were 13,867 AWS API methods, and it's almost certaintly gone up since then (go check it out on aws.permissions.cloud).

Hopefully you've already go the AWS CLI installed, and once you do you should take the time to set up command completion. With this configured you can <tab> complete words in the context of different services, and quickly navigate the available methods. The really nice thing about this is it also works for the API method parameters, which in the CLI take the form of -- arguments to the command; just start with the dashes, and <tab> to discover the rest:

In a few keystrokes and a couple of <tab>s I can see how many methods there are for the IAM service (161 at time of writing), and how what parameters the CreateRole method takes, both without leaving the terminal. You don't even need an active AWS session for this.

Hopefully this helps you navigate the extensive - and sometimes exhaustive! - official AWS documentation.