Best Tools for API Documentation

API documentation is a focal point for many development efforts. It’s the first thing you see when looking at your competitors / potential products as a potential client. To be honest, it gets frustrating! There are so many similar-looking options out there that I figured it was time to share what really works for me.

There are so many tools and software packages out there, that there is a need to develop one. There is also the need to make sure you’re aware of them. This is because most software package developers know only how to code. Of course, they’re not bad programmers or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes they don’t have time to think about how the end user will use their software.

API documentation tools are designed to help create, update, and maintain a project’s API documentation. These tools are often free of charge and include a variety of tutorials, various code examples, dynamic variables, and integration capabilities. Many API documentation tools allow you to import existing resources and documentation into your project as well as standardize the content across many projects.

Often when working as a developer, we’re tasked with taking ownership of a new project. Sometimes, this means having to dive right in without the luxury of a formal spec being created first. Other times, it means reviewing source files to determine how a certain feature is implemented so that you can find a bug and fix it. Either way (or if you work alone), it’s important to have an arsenal of tools at your disposal that will help you be successful in accomplishing your real task — creating an awesome application. Being able to determine what your users want and need is a key part of this entire process, but more on that later.

Best API Documentation Tools

There’s no shortage of API documentation tools on the market. The following are our pick of the best options:

Swagger UI

Swagger UI is a popular tool for creating interactive API documentation. Users input an OpenAPI Specification (OAS) document, and Swagger UI formats it using HTML, JavaScript, and CSS to create great looking documentation.

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:

  • Fully customizable – Users have access to the full source code and can tweak Swagger UI to suit their use, or take advantage of the tweaks made by other users.
  • Supports OAS 3.0 – Works with OpenAPI Specification Version 3.0, as well as the older Swagger 2.0
  • Very popular – It’s easy to get support from other users if you run into problems.

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.

Resources:

Swagger UI Website

Swagger Petstore Demo

SwaggerHub

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.

It’s benefits include:

  • One package – Unlike Swagger UI, SwaggerHub offers a complete API documentation toolset without the need to find additional software.
  • Automatically generate documentation – SwaggerHub enables users to automatically generate interactive API documentation during design.
  • Improved collaboration tools – Permissions & user roles, real-time commenting, issue tracking, and team management tools.
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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.

Resources:

SwaggerHub Website

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

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.

Benefits include:

  • Flexible – ReDoc can run in your browser, but it’s also available as a Docker image, as a React component, or as a command-line tool.
  • Stylish & responsive – The good-looking theme is fully-responsive, and it will work well on any screen size or browser. Additionally, you can customize fonts, change colors, and easily add a logo.
  • Easy navigation – The customizable navigation bar and search box enable users to quickly find the information they need.

Resources:

ReDoc Website

ReDoc on GitHub

ReDoc Live PetStore Demo 

DapperDox

DapperDox is an open-source OpenAPI renderer that works with both OAS 2.0 and OAS 3.0.

Benefits include:

  • Integrate Markdown content –  DapperDox enables users to combine their OpenAPI Specification with diagrams created using GFM (GitHub Flavored Markdown).
  • Good documentation – The DapperDox documentation is clearly-written and helpful for new users.
  • API explorer – DapperDox’s API explorer enables users to experiment from within the API documentation.

Resources:

DapperDox Website

DapperDox on GitHub

OpenAPI Generator

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)

Benefits include:

  • Community support – OpenAPI Generator has a large community of experienced users that discuss and use it and that can be a valuable resource when creating documentation.
  • Server stubs – OpenAPI Generator enables users to create server stubs for more than 40 different languages, including PHP, Java, and GO.
  • Documentation formats – Convert OAS documents into HTML or Cwiki formats

Resources:

OpenAPI Generator Website

OpenAPI Generator on GitHub

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
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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

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.

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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 API Documentation Matters

For public APIs, where success equals widespread adoption, getting buy-in requires good documentation. This helps partner organizations evaluate whether they will select this API or a competitor’s.

For internal APIs, good documentation means a quicker ability and efficiency in meeting business goals. The faster a team can consume microservice APIs developed by other teams, the faster the company can reach its Minimum Viable Product

And while software documentation is usually static, (think of a book printed on paper) modern API documentation goes well above and beyond. They can offer interactive documentation with richer user experience.  
In short: good, interactive documentation lets us read about the API, but also learn the API more quickly by viewing example data objects, and by directly interacting with itI.

Conclusion

A little bit about API. No, this is not a talk on API services or API marketing. This article is written to help you choose the right API Documentation Tool suitable for your needs. In general, API documentation is required if you want to enhance the value of your API by offering publishable documentation that allows more flexibility and generates more benefits (including SEO benefits) for the people who use your API.

API documentation is one of the most important elements of a company that wants to be successful in the world of IT and software. This is why this matter has gained so much attention and popularity in recent years. A business that wants to develop, market and sell software and web applications must have a proper API (Application Programming Interface) documentation, as well as overall good quality documentation for its products and services.

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