A big part of the job of a technical writer is getting feedback on the content you produce. Writing and maintaining product documentation is a deeply collaborative and cyclical effort — through constant conversation with product managers and engineers, technical writers ensure the content is clear and serves the user in the most effective way. Collaboration with other technical writers is also important to keep the documentation consistent with Cloudflare’s content strategy.

So whether we’re documenting a new feature or overhauling a big portion of existing documentation, sharing our writing with stakeholders before it’s published is quite literally half the work.

In my experience as a technical writer, the feedback I’ve received has been exponentially more impactful when stakeholders could see my changes in context. This is especially true for bigger and more strategic changes. Imagine I’m changing the structure of an entire section of a product’s documentation, or shuffling the order of pages in the navigation bar. It’s hard to guess the impact of those changes just by looking at the markdown files.

We writers check those changes in context by building a development server on our local machines. But sharing what we see locally with our stakeholders has always been a pain point for us. We’ve sent screenshots (hardly a good idea). We’ve recorded our screens. We’ve asked stakeholders to check out our branches locally and build a development server on their own. Lately, we’ve added a GitHub action to our open-source cloudflare-docs repo that allows us to generate a preview link for all pull requests with a certain label. However, that requires us to open a pull request with our changes, and that is not ideal if we’re documenting a feature that’s yet to be announced, or if our work is still in its early stages.

So the question has always been: could there be a way for someone else to see what we see, as easily as we see it?

Enter Cloudflare Tunnel

I was working on a complete refresh of Cloudflare Tunnel’s documentation when I realized the product could very well answer that question for us as a technical writing team.

If you’re not familiar with the product, Cloudflare Tunnel provides a secure way to connect your local resources to the Cloudflare network without poking holes in your firewall. By running cloudflared in your environment, you can create outbound-only connections to Cloudflare’s edge, and ensure all traffic to your origins goes through Cloudflare and is protected from outside interference.

For our team, Cloudflare Tunnel could offer a way for our stakeholders to interact with what’s on our local environments in real-time, just like a customer would if the changes were published. To do that, we could expose our local environment to the edge through a tunnel, assign a DNS record to that tunnel, and then share that URL with our stakeholders.

So if each member in the technical writing team had their own tunnel that they could spin up every time they needed to get feedback, that would pretty much solve our long-standing problem.

Chart showing the new workflow of the technical writing team using Cloudflare Tunnel and Access.

Setting up the tunnel

To test out that this would work, I went ahead and tried it for myself.

First, I made sure to create a local branch of the cloudflare-docs repo, make local changes, and run a development server locally on port 8000.

Since I already had cloudflared installed on my machine, the next thing I needed to do was log into my team’s Cloudflare account, pick the zone I wanted to create tunnels for (I picked developers.cloudflare.com), and authorize Cloudflare Tunnel for that zone.

$ cloudflared login

Next, it was time to create the Named Tunnel.

$ cloudflared tunnel create alice
Tunnel credentials written to /Users/alicebracchi/.cloudflared/0e025819-6f12-4f49-8183-c678273feef4.json. cloudflared chose this file based on where your origin certificate was found. Keep this file secret. To revoke these credentials, delete the tunnel.

Created tunnel alice with id 0e025819-6f12-4f49-8183-c678273feef4

Alright, tunnel created. Next, I needed to assign a DNS record to it. I wanted it to be something readable and easily shareable with stakeholders (like abracchi.developers.cloudflare.com), so I ran the following command and specified the tunnel name first and then the desired subdomain:

$ cloudflared tunnel route dns alice abracchi

Next, I needed a way to tell the tunnel to serve traffic to my localhost:8000 port. For that, I created a configuration file in my default cloudflared directory and specified the following fields:

url: https://localhost:8000
tunnel: 0e025819-6f12-4f49-8183-c678273feef4
credentials-file: /Users/alicebracchi/.cloudflared/0e025819-6f12-4f49-8183-c678273feef4
.json  

Time to run the tunnel. The following command established connections between my origin and the Cloudflare edge, telling the tunnel to serve traffic to my origin according to the parameters I’d specified in the config file:

$ cloudflared tunnel --config /Users/alicebracchi/.cloudflared/config.yml run alice
2021-10-18T09:39:54Z INF Starting tunnel tunnelID=0e025819-6f12-4f49-8183-c678273feef4
2021-10-18T09:39:54Z INF Version 2021.9.2
2021-10-18T09:39:54Z INF GOOS: darwin, GOVersion: go1.16.5, GoArch: amd64
2021-10-18T09:39:54Z INF Settings: map[cred-file:/Users/alicebracchi/.cloudflared/0e025819-6f12-4f49-8183-c678273feef4.json credentials-file:/Users/alicebracchi/.cloudflared/0e025819-6f12-4f49-8183-c678273feef4.json url:http://localhost:8000]
2021-10-18T09:39:54Z INF Generated Connector ID: 90a7e3a9-9d59-4d26-9b87-4b94ebf4d2a0
2021-10-18T09:39:54Z INF cloudflared will not automatically update when run from the shell. To enable auto-updates, run cloudflared as a service: https://developers.cloudflare.com/argo-tunnel/reference/service/
2021-10-18T09:39:54Z INF Initial protocol http2
2021-10-18T09:39:54Z INF Starting metrics server on 127.0.0.1:64193/metrics
2021-10-18T09:39:55Z INF Connection 13bf4c0c-b35b-4f9a-b6fa-f0a3dd001951 registered connIndex=0 location=MAD
2021-10-18T09:39:56Z INF Connection 38510c22-5256-45f2-abf8-72f1207ca242 registered connIndex=1 location=LIS
2021-10-18T09:39:57Z INF Connection 9ab0ea06-b1cf-483c-bd48-64a067a87c39 registered connIndex=2 location=MAD
2021-10-18T09:39:58Z INF Connection df079efe-8246-4e93-85f5-10caf8b7c354 registered connIndex=3 location=LIS

And sure enough, at abracchi.developers.cloudflare.com, my teammates could see what I was seeing on localhost:8000.

Securing the tunnel

After creating the tunnel, I needed to make sure only people within Cloudflare could access that tunnel. As it was, anyone with access to abracchi.developers.cloudflare.com could see what was in my local environment. To fix this, I set up an Access self-hosted application by navigating to Access > Applications on the Teams Dashboard. For this application, I then created a policy that restricts access to the tunnel to a user group that includes only Cloudflare employees and requires authentication via Google or One-time PIN (OTP).

This makes applications like my tunnel easily shareable between colleagues, but also safe from potential vulnerabilities.

The policy as shown in the Access rule builder on the Teams Dashboard.

Et voilà!

Back to the Tunnels page, this is what the content team’s Cloudflare Tunnel setup looks like after each writer completed the process I’ve outlined above. Every writer has their personal tunnel set up and their local environment exposed to the Cloudflare Edge:

The content team’s Cloudflare Tunnel setup as shown in the Tunnel section of the Teams Dashboard

What’s next

The team is now seamlessly sharing visual content with their stakeholders, but there’s still room for improvement. Cloudflare Tunnel is just the first step towards making the feedback loop easier for everyone involved. We’re currently exploring ways we can capture integrated feedback directly at the URL that’s shared with the stakeholders, to avoid back-and-forth on separate channels.

We’re also looking into bringing in Cloudflare Pages to make the entire deployment process faster. Stay tuned for future updates, and in the meantime, check out our developer docs.