Best API Documentation Software

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The question, “What is the best software to make documentation?” is quite popular and understandable. As a rule, people tend to use the same software for documentation when they start to work on the project. And if it doesn’t have all the needed features, you search and test different softwares.

An API documentation tool helps you reduce the time it takes for your developers to write and maintain documentation for your APIs, provide a common set of documentation that is used across all of your APIs and provide a consistent user experience for users from one API to another.

The purpose of this article is to help you find the best software for making documents, if this is what you are looking for. This article comes down to two main parts: the first part deals with all kinds of software designed to make documents; the second part deals with software that can be used within a document, with no relation to other applications.

What is API documentation software?

It’s a software system that lets developers create documents based on the inner workings of an API, how it functions, and what it’s able to do. It develops and stores a reference manual for both technical and non-technical staff to read and understand, as well as make adjustments as the development process progresses. Additionally, the software makes it easy to explain to new users and customers how to use the API to its full potential. 

Of what does API documentation consist?

API documents contain detailed API descriptions, including its functions, workflows, return types, arguments, and classes. A typical API documentation set consists of several elements such as a quick start guide, explanations for every API request, authentication info, request, return, code samples (with response descriptions and error messages), and SDK examples. 

What are some API documentation best practices?

Whether you’re creating documentation for web or RESTful APIs, make sure to plan for the documentation process. This includes knowing the capabilities, purpose, and scope of the API, as well as wh the documentation is for (the target audience). Furthermore, avoid jargon as much as possible and make the documentation easy to understand even for non-technical users. Lastly, include as many interactive examples and visual aides as possible.  

How much does an API documentation software cost?

Different software companies have different prices for their API documentation and deployment tools, ranging from free to $399 per month. Some firms offer an enterprise pricing and service package based on the client enterprise’s needs. These packages usually have the highest functionality (for more significant enterprises) and cost more than a standard monthly package. 

What is the best API documentation software?

The software tools mentioned in the list above can quickly produce high-level API documentation. For now, SwaggerHub ranks at the top of the list due to its ideal combination of enterprise-grade features, an extensive range of tools for personnel with all levels of technical knowledge, and support for several programming languages. That said, the overall quality of an API documentation software depends on your specifications and your documentation needs.

An API documentation Software is a documentation solution that helps developers and technical writers design and unify the documentation structure.

Users

Developers: This group of people use API documentation Software to design, author and publish API reference manuals.
Technical Writers: The technical writers use these Software 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 Software Work

Every documentation provider has a customized way of how the Software should work. However, here is a highlight on the general process of how these solutions work.

Whichever Software 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.

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Expectations

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 Software 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 Software

• 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 Software

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.

Swagger has an interactive documentation tool called Swagger UI. It allows developers to create OpenAPI Specification (OAS) in HTML, JavaScript and CSS. Users can fully customize their documentation to suit their use. Additionally, you can use tweaks by other developers from their community.

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.

b. ReDoc

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.

ReDoc allows for easy installation and integration. It supports HTML, JavaScript and CSS, which are contained in a single CDB file. Additionally, the tool allows developers to add, delete and tweak functions to their own specifications.

c. Slate

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.

d. DapperDox

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.

The tool has a selection of themes that allow you to style and present your documentation as you wish. You can also choose to create your own from scratch for enhanced customization. The tool uses HTML, JavaScript and CSS as assets in styling themes.

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.

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The tool automatically generates docs for each request, endpoint or methods and the responses

However, most developers and IT consultants will agree that integrating API documentation into your API ecosystem is anything but easy, especially when it concerns complex systems. In this case, an API documentation tool comes in very handy.  We evaluated twenty-plus API documentation tools on the following factors.

  • Document auto-generation from API definition
  • Maintain multiple documentation versions
  • Automatic documentation update
  • Collaboration
  • Customization available

We have found the following API documentation tools to be the most effective based on the above factors.

ReDoc.ly

Redocly sits comfortably at the top of this list because it supports OpenAPI v2 and Open API v3. It is also very flexible and highly customizable. Regardless of the activated mode, each end-user has full control over its responsiveness on mobile, color themes, fonts, and branding images.

The interface is clean and non-cluttered. The platform has been designed to focus on simplicity and functionality, which should be attractive to its users to use it regularly without feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by too many features.

Redocly API Documentation Tool

Users can also use a wide range of extensions with this API documentation tool. This includes project logo URL, links to code samples, and integration with a Github repository.

The API documentation tool, which is based on React JS, has both free and paid versions. It also has incorporated in it a CLI that gives you access to all Open API definitions.

Although originally designed for large enterprises, it can also be used by individuals and small teams. In general, the pros of ReDoc.ly are;

Pros

  • Highly customizable
  • Packed with a lot of power
  • Easy to deploy and use
  • Has a gallery of rich and detailed document templates

Cons

Like every other platform, it has its own fair share of cons. Here they are:

  • It can be a little pricey for individuals and small brands
  • The low-end plans lack features

SwaggerHUB

SwaggerHub is a favorite among techies and software developers. This is no doubt in connection to its ease of use, interactivity, fully hosted, and an array of other convenient features. It is more than just a documentation tool. Putting things in perspective, it has SmartBear support, an open-source API editor, and an interactive documentation tool.

SwaggerHub is a powerful visual tool that lets API providers create interactive documentation for their APIs, letting API providers see exactly how the contract will work before integrating it into any code.

Swagger Hub API Documentation Tool Website Screnshot

The pros and cons of Swagger are as under.

Pros

  • It has a free tier for indie developers and solopreneurs.
  • It is quite easy to use, even for beginners.
  • SwaggerHub has the capabilities to execute API calls from the documentation
  • Can deploy API to AWS Lambda and AWS API Gateway

Cons

  • The team plan is $90 a month when paid annually.
  • Compatibility issues with cloud microservices

Stoplight

Spotlight is the way to go for a design-centric developer. Spotlight makes documenting your API easy with its built-in features. With automatic updates, accurate API documentation can be generated in a timely manner without having to manually update any of it yourself! Spotlight also helps you save time on the tedious task of updating and maintaining documentation for each change made to an API.

Spotlight API Socumentation Tool Website Snapshot

It also allows its end users the option to choose between JSON schema and openAPI-based API designs. A big plus of Stoplight is the ability to test designs out in real-time.

Pros 

  • Feature-loaded API design studio
  • Optimized guide design features

Cons

  • The free plan has limited design options

ReadMe

ReadMe is another favorite among many developers, thanks to its simplicity and ease of use. The tool also has several features that make it easy to generate streamlined documents.

Readme allows you to create beautiful, interactive API documentation with the power and convenience of a drag-and-drop editor. It allows API providers to add API keys directly in the docs and auto-generate code samples. This feature allows developers to make real API calls effortlessly.

Readme API Documentation Tool Website Snapshot

ReadMe also has a rich gallery of documentation design templates.

Pros

  • Interactive and responsible API development tool
  • Pretty fast way of launching APIs
  • Well loaded documentation design templates

Cons

  • Limited third-party service integrations

Postman

Postman’s machine-readable API documentation tool makes it quite easy for developers to publish their documents quickly and on the go.

Postman’s API documentation builder is an easy way to create interactive and machine-readable API documentation. Postman allows developers to automatically pull in sample requests, headers, and code snippets for new or existing APIs to build docs quickly. Postman makes it easy to publish documentation with dynamic examples and machine-readable instructions.

Postman API Documentation Website Snapshot

Pros

  • Proper communication with machine-readable comments
  • Automatic updates on all API documents
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Cons

  • Complicated UI
  • Steep learning curve

LucyBot DocGen

This is your best bet for non-commercial usage. It is highly customizable for amateurs and pros because it allows them to customize the documentation pages with  HTML and Markdown.

In general, the documentation pages come in the form of CSS, Javascript, and HTML assets. The documentation tool also produces a doc for each method, request, endpoint, and response.

Lucy Bot Doc Gen API Doc Tool Website Snapshot

Pros

  • Highly customizable
  • Simple to use

Cons

  • Not ideal for individuals and small enterprises

DapperDox

DapperDox is an OpenAPI renderer with an open-source server. You can integrate OAS 2.0 and OAS 3.0 with their OpenAPI specifications via GitHub Flavored Markdown (GFM). Using the API explorer in the tool’s interface, users can tinker with the different document features available.

It is one of the easiest API documentation tools for bringing together guides, documentation, specifications, and diagrams.

DaperDox API Documentation Tool Website Screenshot

Pros

  • Very easy to use
  • A rich gallery of themes

Cons

  • Irregular updates

WidderShins

This API documentation tool creates API documentation from AsyncAPI 1.x, OpenAPI 2.0, and Swagger 2.0. A new feature on the documentation tool allows you to output HTML directly.

The interface shows a three-column page. The first, second, and third columns contain the explorer, description, and console, respectively. The console is a new feature on the platform for making API calls.

It has a rich lineup of templates that can be customized according to individual needs.

Pros

  • Non-clustered UI
  • Users can create HTML as well as markdowns

Cons

  • Not so affordable

OpenAPI Viewer

Just like the name suggests, OpenAPI Viewer is a powerful OpenAPI 3.0 and 2.0 spec, viewer. It also works with or without a framework. One of its biggest perks is its customization, branding, and personalization capacities. Putting things in perspective, one can add external contents like links, forms, images, and different forms of media to the top and bottom of their documents.

Pros

  • Easily customizable
  • Very easy to use
  • Supports a lot of authentication like HTTP Bearer and HTTP Basic

Cons

  • The free version doesn’t contain as many helpful features

RapidDoc

RapidDoc has one of the best API documentation tools and UI interfaces. This interface is structured like that of SwaggerUI, such that you have a single column with collapsible bars. Each bar contains a console and its corresponding JSON payloads.

The flexibility of this tool allows you to customize the theme, colors, and font of your documents and UI interface. There is also a provision for embedding external HTML code in the document.

Pros

  • Great looking UI
  • Comes with a lot of themes
  • Web component standard
  • Integrated console
  • Supports Markdown

Cons

  • Does not support a wide range of extensions

Why need API Documentation?

Good documentation is critical for the developer experience, which has an impact on API adoption and long-term success. A well-structured and well-written documentation that explains how to utilize and integrate an API successfully is beneficial to developers.

The reason for this is that no matter how effective an API is for establishing and extending your software services, it is useless if the developer does not understand it.

API documentation explains how to utilize an API and what services it provides. Thus, technical users, wanting to move forward in their software development, should be able to easily understand the value and usage of your API by referring to your documentation.

The overall experience of the developer when discovering, learning to use, and finally integrating with an API is termed as developer experience. The developer experience is critical to the adoption and long-term success of an API, hence good documentation is critical.

Conclusion

API documentation is an important part of any software development cycle. Thousands of developers rely on API websites for performing tasks like reporting bugs and offering suggested improvements. Which is why, if you plan to use an API in the future, it’s a good idea to read more about best api documentation software first.

The benefits of using the best API documentation software or tools can include greater transparency and variety in your APIs, cloud automation, improved user experience, and faster development. A well-thought out documentation tool for your APIs can help improve communication with customers, partners, developers and other key stakeholders.

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