The 8 Best API Documentation Examples for 2024 | Dreamfactory

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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:

  • Twilio:
    • Clear and well-structured documentation with tips, tutorials, and best practices.
    • Easy navigation with a left-side menu and comprehensive code examples for multiple programming languages.
  • Slack:
    • Beginner-friendly content with clear next steps and less technical language.
    • Menu-based navigation, extensive explanations, and screenshots for illustrating key points.
  • Google Maps API:
    • Familiar and easy-to-read documentation with a three-column layout.
    • Simple navigation, popular docs listing, and a flask symbol for beta features.
  • Microsoft:
    • Extensive technical documentation with a searchable directory and alphabetical listing.
    • Additional information through the Microsoft Learn blog.
  • Vimeo:
    • Similar layout to Google Maps API with a three-column template.
    • Excellent beginner experience with a detailed Getting Started section.
  • Stripe:
    • Clear and well-formatted documentation with an uncluttered design.
    • Easy navigation, quickstart guide, and links between topics.
  • SendGrid:
    • Simple and straightforward documentation with links to topics and glossary terms.
    • Interactive features for testing code within the document.
  • PayPal:
    • Documentation with links to topics, featured resources, and support pages.
    • Inclusion of changelog or release notes for easy tracking of changes.

What is API Documentation?

API documentation is a comprehensive guide that explains how to effectively use and integrate with an API, providing essential information such as endpoints, request/response formats, authentication methods, and example code. It serves as a crucial resource for developers, ensuring they can easily understand and utilize the API's capabilities.

Evaluating API Documentation

When evaluating API documentation tools, there are several key considerations to keep in mind. First, ease of use is essential; the tool should have an intuitive interface with features like drag-and-drop functionality, WYSIWYG editors, and pre-built templates. Integration capabilities are also crucial, ensuring the tool works seamlessly with your existing development environment and version control systems like GitHub, GitLab, or Bitbucket, facilitating smooth collaboration and continuous updates.

Customization options are important, allowing you to match the documentation’s appearance to your brand with custom themes, CSS, and logos. Collaboration features such as commenting, version tracking, and user roles/permissions are vital for team-based projects. Effective search functionality is another critical aspect, letting users quickly find the information they need through robust indexing and search performance.

1. Twilio

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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.jsC#, 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.

2. Slack

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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:

  • The difficulty level label under each subtopic's title helps users understand which parts of the documentation are aimed at them.
  • Clearly labeling the next steps in a process to guide new users through the setup process.
  • Less technical language and more extensive explanations in the beginner-focused content. You will find complicated information broken down into smaller chunks with bullet points. 

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 

3. Google Maps API

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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.

4. Microsoft 

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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:

  • The ability to search for documents in a search bar that appears on every page.
  • A product directory that lists document topics in alphabetical order.
  • A Microsoft Learn blog that provides additional information about topics in documents.

5. Vimeo

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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:

  • Simple step-by-step instructions for basic actions such as setting up a Vimeo SDK, generating an access token, and making your first API call.
  • Clear explanations of terms that beginners may not understand, such as REST.
  • Best practices for using developer tools.
  • Clear next steps for beginners, speeding up workflows.

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

6. Stripe

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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. 

7. SendGrid

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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.

8. PayPal

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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

How to Manage API Documentation with DreamFactory

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.

Features include:

  • Interactive Documentation – DreamFactory creates fully-interactive documentation for you using Swagger. That's because Swagger is quick to test, easy to stand, and available to use out of the box. 
  • APIs in Minutes – Non-coders can create APIs with just a few clicks, leaving your developers free to work on other projects.
  • One Central Source for APIs – Create, manage, and document all your APIs on one easy-to-use platform.
  • Simple API Generation – Instantly create a REST API for SQL Server, MySQL, or other data sources.

Automatically create fully-interactive documentation as soon as you create a new API. Click here to start your FREE 14-day hosted DreamFactory trial today.

Frequently Asked Questions: Best API Documentation Examples

What common features are present in these API documentations?

Most of these API documentations, like Twilio, Slack, Google Maps API, and others, feature a clear menu on the left side of the screen listing topics and subtopics, making navigation straightforward. They also include code samples in various languages, easy-to-understand guides, and screen grabs to aid in understanding.

How do these documentations cater to different levels of developers?

Platforms like Slack and Vimeo distinguish content by difficulty level and use less technical language for beginners. For experienced developers, the documentation is more factual and technical, focusing on specific details and advanced features.

Are there any interactive features in these documentations?

Yes, some documentations, like SendGrid, offer interactive features that allow developers to test code directly within the documentation, providing an effective learning tool.

How do these API documentations assist in quick navigation and search?

Many of these documentations, such as those from Microsoft and Stripe, feature a search bar and a well-organized product directory, enabling users to quickly find the information they need.

What special features do these documentations include for beginners?

For beginners, there are features like simple step-by-step instructions, clear explanations of technical terms, and best practices. Vimeo and Slack are notable examples of platforms offering such beginner-friendly content.

How do these documentations keep users informed about updates and changes?

Maintaining a changelog or release notes, as seen in PayPal’s documentation, is a common practice. This approach keeps users updated on new features, deprecated features, and other changes.

Is multi-language support available in these documentations?

Yes, some documentations like SendGrid offer their content in multiple languages, broadening accessibility for a global audience.

What is the importance of a 'Getting Started' guide in these documentations?

'Getting Started' guides are crucial, especially for new users. They provide a basic introduction to the product, including initial setup and simple API calls, thus speeding up the learning process.

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