by Tony Harris
• July 7, 2020
Writing API documentation from scratch is time-consuming and complicated, so most businesses rely on API documentation tools to make the job easier. These tools help automate the process of creating and managing the documentation, as well as help format and display the information in a way that makes it easy to read and understand – even for users without a technical background.
But which tool is right for your business? In this article, we explore why API documentation is necessary and consider five of the best options currently available and how they might suit your business.
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API documentation is human and machine-readable technical content that explains how a specific API works and what it is able to do. Its purpose is twofold. Firstly, it is an accurate reference source that describes the API in detail. Secondly, it can act as a guide and teaching tool that helps users get started and use it.
Done correctly, API documentation acts as the one true source of information for how an API works. It should contain details on functions, arguments, classes, and more in a structured format that is easy for both developers and non-technical users to understand. Often, it will include tutorials and examples, which will help the user better understand how the different parts work together.
Investing time and resources into creating high quality API documentation leads to many benefits:
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Creating great API documentation is a delicate balancing act between providing detailed technical information and displaying it in a way that is easy to consume. The best way to see how it should be done is to look at examples of businesses that are doing well – thankfully, they’re not hard to find.
Many popular tools publish their API documentation online so that 3rd-party developers can get easy access to them. Stripe and Twilio are two great examples of documentation done right. Although their solutions are developed in-house, the best practice they display is still useful for businesses looking to create their own API documentation. Here are a few of the reasons why these sets of documentation are so effective:
There is more than one way to write API documentation, and different software uses different specifications. These specifications each provide a different standard and style in which an API is described. Three of the most popular are:
While all of these options work well, it is the OpenAPI format that has achieved the most momentum in the last few years. With big brands behind it, it has quickly grown a large community and subsequently has the largest range of tools available. This makes it a good choice for businesses who aren’t sure which specification to go with because there’s a broader choice and a better chance of getting community support if you get stuck.
There’s no shortage of API documentation tools on the market. The following five are our pick of the best options:
Swagger UI is part of the Swagger ecosystem, which includes a wide range of tools, many of which are open-source (including Swagger UI), as well as a premium version (SwaggerHub – see later).
It’s benefits include:
Swagger also offers other open-source tools that complement Swagger UI by helping create the OpenAPI Specification (OAS) document that it uses. Swagger Editor enables users to create their own OAS definition which they can then visualize with Swagger UI, while Swagger Inspector enables users to auto-generate OAS definitions from an API endpoint.
Swagger UI Website
Swagger Petstore Demo
SwaggerHub is a premium platform that combines features from Swagger UI, Swagger Editor, and many other parts of the Swagger ecosystem. It is aimed at business and enterprise users and contains many additional features that are designed to optimize the documentation workflow.
Unlike Swagger UI and many of the other options on this list, SwaggerHub is a paid solution. However, for larger businesses with a heavy reliance on APIs, this may be a worthwhile investment.
DreamFactory is a REST API management platform. In addition to providing all the tools businesses need to create and manage multiple REST APIs, DreamFactory will also automatically create Swagger documentation for every API it generates. Start your trial today or contact the team for more information.
ReDoc is a free and open-source documentation tool that supports OAS 2.0 and OAS 3.0. Using ReDoc, businesses can quickly publish great-looking interactive API documentation online.
ReDoc on GitHub
ReDoc Live PetStore Demo
DapperDox is an open-source OpenAPI renderer that works with both OAS 2.0 and OAS 3.0.
DapperDox on GitHub
OpenAPI Generator is an easy-to-use tool for generating documentation for OAS 2.0 and OAS 3.0 documents, as well as server stubs and libraries. It is known for being relatively simple and easy to use (without sacrificing power) and for being highly extensible (for example, it supports more than 50 client generators)
OpenAPI Generator Website
OpenAPI Generator on GitHub
Need another option? You might want to consider DreamFactory:
DreamFactory uses Swagger to generate live API documentation for every single API you create. Using DreamFactory for your API docs has several benefits:
Documentation is just one of many enterprise-grade features that makes DreamFactory the ultimate API-as-a-Service platform. With DreamFactory, it is easy to create, manage, and document tens or even hundreds of REST APIs.
DreamFactory enables businesses to create professional fully-featured REST APIs in seconds, is highly secure, and enables central management of every API from one platform.
Ready to get started? Start your FREE 14-day hosted DreamFactory trial today! Not sure? Schedule a call with our team and we’ll be happy to explore how DreamFactory can benefit your projects with you.
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