by • June 1, 2023
Your API documentation is just as important as your API. It defines how easy it is for users to learn, understand, and use your open-source or paid-for product. In this post, DreamFactory highlights eight of the best API documentation examples from well-known tools. You can use these examples for inspiration when creating your API docs.
Here are the key takeaways to know about each of these API documentation examples:
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[Screenshot source: https://www.twilio.com/docs/usage/api]
Twilio’s API documentation starts with an introductory page that lists different documents for all of its product’s capabilities. Clicking on one of these documents will take you to a separate page with a menu on the leftmost side of the screen that lists topics and subtopics, making it easy to find the content you need. For example, clicking on ‘SMS’ on the introductory page will take you to the SMS page. Here you can find topics listed on the lefthand menu, such as “Getting Started” and “API Reference.” Under each topic is a series of subtopics, such as “How to work with your free Twilio account.”
In this API documentation example, Twilio’s docs is clear and well thought-out. It includes tips, tutorials, use cases, and best practices in plain English and screengrabs that help you navigate product functionality.
Each subtopic packs in an enormous amount of information. Note in the screenshot above that the sample code to POST a simple SMS using the Programmable SMS API includes code for Node.js, C#, PHP, Ruby, Python, Java, Curl, and other programming languages, as well as a sample JSON API response. Users can select their coding language and then copy the code with one click to start using the code in their applications.
[Screenshot source: https://api.slack.com/authentication]
Another one of our top 8 API documentation examples is Slack. When writing user documentation, it’s important to remember your audience. Slack—which calls its documentation “Developer docs and guides”—has identified some of its users are beginners and has written their more basic content with this readership in mind. Features include:
You’ll notice that this style does not continue for all pages of this API documentation example. For reference pages, such as this one for the method admin.apps.approve, Slack sticks to the facts and recognizes the reader is more likely to be an experienced developer looking up information.
Like Twilio, Slack’s documentation includes a menu on the leftmost side of the screen that lists topics and subtopics, making it easy to access the information you require. Many pages also contain screengrabs that illustrate key points and help you learn the different features of this product.
Read more: A Complete Guide to API Generation
Google Maps API’s documentation looks similar to other pages you’ll find in the Google network. With its white background and famous font, this documentation is easy to read and feels instantly familiar. Finding the information you require for Google Maps API is simple. The three-column layout on the main page provides users with options to find documents for maps, routes, and places. The most popular docs are also listed on the main page, as well as help and support links.
Each topic page has a leftmost column that shows an overview of all the other topics, making navigation easy. A rightmost column provides a contents list for the article the user is reading, which appears in the middle of the screen.
Google API documentation includes a few other nice touches, such as a flask symbol for features currently in beta mode. A previous feature that let you switch from a light theme to a dark code theme is no longer available.
[Screenshot source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-gb/]
As businesses create documentation at scale, navigation grows beyond finding the right article within a single document to finding the right piece amongst tens or hundreds of different pieces of information.
Microsoft, for example, has a huge range of technical documentation available for developers to access, but its directory makes it easy for users to quickly drill down to the information that they need. Microsoft calls its documentation Learn.
Some of the best features of Microsoft Learn include:
[Screenshot source: https://developer.vimeo.com/api/guides/start]
At first glance, Vimeo’s documentation looks a lot like our other API documentation examples, especially the Google Maps APIs. Each topic page has a three-column template: A menu that lists document topics on the left, the document itself in the middle, and a contents list for that article on the right.
One of the most useful parts of any documentation is the Getting Started guide. This section moves beyond documentation to offer new and inexperienced users a helping hand when using a product for the first time. Alongside Slack, Vimeo is another business that offers a great beginner experience, particularly through its Getting Started section.
This has several features such as:
Even if a business’s documentation is internal-only, and the current team is highly-experienced, it is a good idea to create a getting-started guide for onboarding future team members, as
Read more: 5 Best API Documentation Tools
[Screenshot source: https://stripe.com/docs/api/authentication]
Stripe’s API documentation follows the same format as Twilio’s and offers a similarly excellent experience. It has an easy-to-read quickstart guide, great navigation, and clearly explains everything a developer might need to know.
Stripe’s biggest strength is how it displays documentation. Its design is clear, well-formatted, and manages to feel uncluttered even when delivering a vast amount of information. This design helps create a great experience for developers who use it.
When it comes to navigation, developers can search for documentation topics at any time via the search bar at the top left-hand corner of the screen. There are also links to other topics throughout each document, allowing developers to move back and forth between pages when learning about Stripe.
[Screenshot source: https://sendgrid.com/docs/api-reference/]
The first thing you’ll notice about SendGrid’s main documentation page is its simplicity. You’ll find links to document topics, featured resources, and featured glossary terms. You can view each document page on SendGrid in one of six languages.
Interactive features enable developers to test out code without leaving a document, making it easy for users to try things out and learn how they work. SendGrid’s API documentation is a great example of this. Users can put in their API key and then test out the code and get a response. The code is editable, so users can make changes to see what effects these changes have.
[Screenshot source: https://developer.paypal.com/docs/release-notes/release-notes-2020/#]
The 8th best entry on our list of API Documentation examples is PayPal Developer, or what PayPal calls its documentation. Its main page includes links to document topics, featured resources, and links to support pages for users that have additional questions.
Maintaining your API documentation—including adding documentation on new features and removing or flagging documentation on depreciated features—ensures your resource continues to be useful to developers.
It’s a good idea to include a changelog or release notes, such as those published by PayPal for their REST API, to make it easy for users to check what has changed recently.
The rest of PayPal’s documentation is just as helpful. Although there are fewer topics than other APIs on this list, you’ll find all the information you need via the lefthand menu HTML column, which lists document topics. A second menu column lists subtopics.
Read more: 7 Tips for Designing Great API Documentation
These API documentation examples show how important it is to properly document your APIs. DreamFactory is an enterprise-grade API-as-a-Service platform enabling businesses to quickly create fully-documented REST APIs without coding experience.
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5 Best API Documentation Tools
Terence Bennett, General Manager at DreamFactory, has a strong operational, business, and extensive experience in government IT systems and Google Cloud. He started his career as a U.S. Navy Intelligence Officer, then honed his skills on Google’s Red Team and later became the COO of Integrate.io.
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