APIs are essential in making communication between applications possible. They are a collection of commands and libraries that form an application interface. The purpose of APIs is to help businesses scale higher through enhanced communications between end-user applications and servers.
If you are working on any programming project, you are bound to reach a point where you will encounter the phrase “use our API.” Well, this is becoming a common trend in modern day technology and almost every company worth its salt has an API of their own.
There is a huge trend going on API documentation.API infrastructure is booming and everyone wants to build an API for their company or project. You can get great benefits from developing it. Now, the only question is which approach to choose when you are trying to understand what API documentation platform is the best API documentation sites (or just API documentation)?
Individuals who have written an API from scratch will agree that it involves a lot of hard work. To say that it is technical and challenging for beginners is an understatement. There is a push for developers and software engineers to use tools that can ease the process.
What is an API Documentation Sites?
An API documentation Sites is a documentation solution that helps developers and technical writers design and unify the documentation structure.
Developers: This group of people use API documentation Sites to design, author and publish API reference manuals.
Technical Writers: The technical writers use these tools to explain how the API functions and how users can integrate it into their websites or applications.
Testers: API testers use these tools to check whether the API is accurately documented.
Engineers: Software engineers use these tools to ensure that they develop standardized APIs across business IT architecture.
How Does API Documentation Sites Work
Every documentation provider has a customized way of how the Sites hould work. However, here is a highlight on the general process of how these solutions work.
Whichever tool you settle on, below are the steps for you to follow.
• Create an account with the documentation tool provider.
• Specify the metadata of the API. (Metadata denotes the version of the API.)
• Provide a name and a short description of the API.
• Highlight the resources used by the API.
• State the type of actions one can use on each resource.
• Spell out the parameters required to perform a given request.
• Give examples and sample codes.
• Have a glossary of terms used
• Publish the document.
Moreover, the tools allow users to make relevant changes and updates to the documentation.
Many businesses are using digital platforms to reach customers and for conversions. Consequently, there is a significant growth of online shoppers through mobile devices. Due to these factors, there is a push for applications that can integrate other software for efficiency.
As such, there is a rapid increase in the use of APIs. IT teams need to create APIs that are easy to use and integrate. Therefore, the usage of documentation tools will help to reduce the complexity involved in the API documentation. These tools will also help teams save the time and resources required to build the reference guide.
Benefits of API Documentation Sites
• It helps users to use and integrate APIs easily.
• It saves time and resources for doing documentation from scratch.
• Provides quick solutions for documentation errors.
• Defines even the simplest concepts to ensure that beginners can understand.
• They help developers to update existing APIs.
The Best Free API Documentation Sites
a. Open API
Formerly called Swagger, this tool supports OpenAPI v2 and OpenAPI v3. Swagger allows users to create and visualize API documentation as it develops. The tool also helps users to maintain the API throughout its life cycle.
The tool has a feature called Swagger inspector that helps users generate definitions for an OpenAPI automatically. For existing APIs, the tool uses Swagger Inflector to perform the same task during runtime. The Swagger editor helps developers to create their own definitions and can visualize them in the Swagger UI.
Created by API Guru, ReDoc follows OpenAPI documentation and is completely free and open source. It supports both OpenAPI v2 and OpenAPI v3. This tool helps to make deployment simple and make nested objects as interactive as possible. The Markdown support allows developers to create and style descriptions quickly and easily.
ReDoc uses a three-panel design in writing documentation. The left panel provides a reference menu. The middle panel has the API endpoints and methods documentation. Finally, the right panel has sample requests, responses and codes.
By default, ReDoc generates documentation of OpenAPI within browsers. This feature is important as it eliminates the need for a server to create a doc. The three-panels are super responsive and allow users to collapse the panes into smaller screens when not working on them.
Hosted by Github, Slate, by default, hosts your documentation on Github public repositories. This act is important since other developers have a chance to review your documentation and pinpoint typos and errors. However, if you wish, you can save your docs elsewhere.
Slate also uses a three-panel system in creating projects. The panels work in a similar version to ReDoc. However, Slate is more SEO-friendly as compared to ReDoc because of its responsiveness in mobile and print gadgets.
Developers write everything on Slate in Markdown, including codes. As such, it is easy to author, edit and understand the documentation. Moreover, you can write codes in multiple languages without the need for configurations since it supports over 100 languages. It also provides an easy way to switch from one language to another.
DapperDox allows documentation of OpenAPI v2 and OpenAPI v3. The tool provides diagrams and guides to help developers create Markdown-powered documentations. Moreover, you can document multiple APIs as a suite with appropriate cross-referencing using DapperDox.
It also allows developers to overlay content automatically to the created documentation. The reverse proxy feature allows users to fully integrate the API documentation into their developer platforms.
e. LucyBot DocGen
LucyBot’s documentation generator helps users to create customized API docs for non-commercial usage. The tool allows developers to customize documentation pages through Markdown or HTML.
The tool automatically generates docs for each request, endpoint or methods and the responses
Here are the top 6 API Management and Documentation Software Systems that you can use to create structured and detailed API documents. These lifecycle management tools help many streamline their production of API documentation with many of the following:
- Included developer portal
- Usage reporting and API traffic
- Creating human-readable documentation
- Creating machine-readable documentation
- API testing and documentation generator
- Ability to generate HTML documentation
- Ability to create developer portals
- Clean user interface with internal and external users
- Self-service developer portal
- Web APIs and GitHub Repository
- Sample code to create APIs
- Handling of API gateways, API calls, and API endpoints
1. SwaggerHub (API Management Tool)
SwaggerHub tops the list of API documentation tools for its combination of API management, interactivity, ease-of-use, and compendium of helpful features.
SwaggerHub is a complete platform that combines Swagger UI (interactive documentation tool) and Swagger Editor (open-source API editor). SmartBear support provides both enterprises and individuals a unique set of Rest API documentation functionality in a single ecosystem, improving the overall usability of this API management and documentation suit for effective API lifecycle management.
Here are the positives and negatives of SwaggerHub:
- Complete open-source toolkit for API documentation
- Automated document generation
- Fully customizable with open source code
- Range of collaboration and real-time team management tools
- Support for Python, Ruby, HTML, and more
- It can be expensive for individuals
- Not as much usability with cloud microservices
- Free: $0 (single user, limited functionality)
- Team: $96 per month (three users, extended functionality)
- Enterprise: As per client requirements (a minimum of 15 users)
For more information and to subscribe, visit SwaggerHub.
2. DapperDox (Open API Renderer)
DapperDox is an OpenAPI renderer with support for OAS 2.0 and OAS 3.0 and an open-source server for OpenAPI server specs.
The tool allows users to integrate diagrams into their OpenAPI specifications via GitHub Flavored Markdown (GFM). Additionally, users can experiment with document features from inside the documentation using an API explorer.
DapperDox is known for its ability to seamlessly bring together diagrams, guides, documentation, and your API specifications.
Here are the positives and negatives of DapperDox.
- Well-written and user-friendly documents
- Optimized for new users and smaller enterprises
- More streamlined and more uncomplicated documents
- It lets you create rich, interactive websites for the APIs
- Limited compatibility with other APIs
- Not all third-party extensions work with the tool
Free download available on the website.
For more information and to download, visit DapperDox.
3. Redocly (Integration-based API Lifecycle Management Tool)
Redocly is the full-suite version of Redoc, an OpenAPI-based reference document software that allows integration with various open-source tools.
Designed for larger enterprises and more diverse API needs, Redocly provides an OpenAPI specification-compliant method of building interactive and visually pleasing documentation. You can deploy it seamlessly into any continuous integration that’s currently existing.
This ability extends from the start and continues to the end of the API lifecycle.
Here are the positives and negatives of Redocly.
- Creates attractive and engaging API documents
- Allows easy deployment throughout the API lifecycle
- Contains highly usable document templates
- Provides automated updates in the cloud
- Can be expensive for smaller enterprises
- Not enough features on the less expensive packages
- Starter: $0 per month (reference documentation access only)
- Basic: $69 per month (added integration and deployment features)
- Professional: $300 per month (full software functionality)
- Enterprise: Customized packages based on enterprise needs
For more information and to subscribe, visit Redocly.
4. Stoplight (API Management for Modern APIs)
Stoplight is a design-centric API documentation software optimized for the modern API workflow.
With an intuitive interface primed for the needs of the more design-heavy API, Stoplight offers a quick and easy solution to designing attractive APIs suitable for both technical and non-technical audiences.
Stakeholders collaborate on JSON schema and OpenAPI-based API designs while featuring mock servers that you can use to test the designs out in real-time.
Here are the positives and negatives of Stoplight.
- A beautiful developer experience
- Fully equipped API design studio
- Ability to scale with consistent updates
- Optimized style guide design features
- High-end functionality can be expensive for smaller companies
- The free package has minimal design options
- Free: $0 per month (limited functions)
- Starter: $99 per month (up to 5 users)
- Professional: $399 per month (up to 10 users)
- Enterprise: Customized pricing (based on enterprise needs)
For more information and to subscribe, visit Stoplight.
5. Postman (API Management for Creation)
Postman is an API documentation tool that provides a machine-readable API document creation platform for singular developers and developer teams.
The software lets you publish documents easily and quickly. It can automatically populate documentation pages with machine-readable instructions and dynamic examples by pulling code snippets, headers, and sample requests.
Furthermore, Postman lets developers share their APIs with their audience with fewer steps. Additionally, the internal collaboration features let bigger developer teams work together and improve documents through code reviews and real-time comments.
Here are the positives and negatives of Postman.
- Automate updates to all API documents
- High level of share-ability with the ‘Run In Postman’ button
- Accessible communication with machine-readable documents
- Some instances of software malfunction when sharing multiple API documents
- Has a bit of a learning curve
- Free: $0 per user
- Team: $12 per user/month (billed annually)
- Business: $24 per user/month (billed annually)
- Enterprise: Customized packages based on enterprise needs
For more information and to subscribe, visit Postman.
6. ReadMe (API Documentation with Design)
ReadMe is another design-focused documentation platform that features a simple and easy-to-use interface and a variety of options that help develop beautiful and streamlined documents.
The software lets developers add API keys directly in the relevant documents, easily create API calls, and generate code samples automatically.
Additionally, ReadMe has some of the best documentation design templates that you can find.
Here are the positives and negatives of ReadMe.
- Helps create documentation and launch APIs quickly
- Ability to develop interactive reference guides
- A fully interactive API development platform
- Costly enterprise packages
- Some limitations with third-party service integrations
- Free: $0 per project/month
- Startup: $99 per project/month
- Business: $399 per project/month
- Enterprise: $2,000 per project/month
For more information and to subscribe, visit ReadMe.
Benefits of API Documentation Software
Having a set of descriptor documents for your API allows people to
- Reduced Need for Support: A well-written and simple set of API documents helps users find their way around the API and not rely on API development support for external customers and internal use.
- Higher Adoption Rate: Documenting helps improve the user experience throughout the API lifecycle and allows users to start working with your API much sooner.
- Non-Engineering Usability: Most documentation software produces reference documentation and other material that people with no software engineering experience can easily understand.
- Better Product Maintenance: Documentation provides developers a bird’s eye view of the entire API structure. This allows for better maintenance and updates and quicker improvement cycles.
- API Specs Agreement: Creating complete documents for API allows developers and stakeholders to agree on specifications such as the data, attributes, endpoints, and more.
API documents act as API blueprints and usage tutorials laid out in simple language. Readers don’t need to have developer experience to understand the full capabilities of the API.
Choosing the Right API Documentation Software
The existence of so many high-quality documentation tools has made it easier for technical writers to learn how to write API documentation.
However, there’s still the matter of finding the right API documentation software for your needs.
Here are some things you can do to ensure you have the right API documentation software for optimally describing what your API is all about.
- Focus on simplicity and ease of use. Developers shouldn’t have to create code snippets for every added feature. The tool should integrate automatically with multiple third-party services.
- Choose a platform that accommodates API documentation with several programming languages and syntax.
- Check if the platform can display your API documentation and allow you to review it with key stakeholders.
- Ensure the software can integrate an external search service such as Google Custom Search, Algolia, or Swiftype.
- Confirm if the software leaves some budget open for third-party hosting and documentation services or if it offers an in-built deployment option.
- Ensure that you get a platform that gives you technical leeway while still allowing you to make good API content.
- Emphasize the design as the primary quality of documentation software when looking to subscribe. Good API design will allow developers to create more visually-appealing documents that better explain API capabilities.
- Good documentation improves user satisfaction to a very high degree. The pleasure is not limited to a narrow audience either, as people of all technical expertise can read and use it.
In addition to these pointers, make sure that the software pricing is suited to your short and long-term budget. It doesn’t have any bloat or extra functionality that you won’t need
Apps are becoming more and more popular than a website due to this reason that people want to save the time they spend looking for something online. As a business person, you need to be in touch with your clients.
The concept of an API or Application Programming Interface is not new. It has been in use for decades and has continued to gain popularity as more websites are developed. APIs provide the ability for different computer systems to exchange data with one another regardless of the programming language being used on either side of the tech stack. This allows developers to concentrate on their core code while still having access to important data which they may otherwise not have had access to.