What’s the best tool for writing documentation? And is there a free alternative? That’s what we’ll look at in this article. Our goal will be to provide you with some resources you can use to seamlessly create or improve your API documentation. We won’t limit ourselves with how you currently write your API documentation and how it looks, but instead will focus on what tools are available for writing API documentation effectively.
In a digital age where the value of data exchanged over the internet cannot be overstated, a comprehensive understanding of how different applications interact with each other is important. For example, if you own a smartphone and wanted to learn “how to make an app” in order to build your next “big thing,” one of the first steps would be to familiarize yourself with the tools and platforms needed to build an application. And if you are interested in learning which ones are used by software engineers out there, then this article will help get you started.
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.
If you want to know what tools for api documentation are, then you want to continue reading. There are plenty of best tools for api documentation available to create great software and writing the well-known api documentation. We have searched the internet and found a nice collection of the top free tools for api documentation.
Why API Documentation Matters
API documentation is human and machine-readable technical content that explains how a specific API works and what it is able to do. Its purpose is twofold. Firstly, it is an accurate reference source that describes the API in detail. Secondly, it can act as a guide and teaching tool that helps users get started and use it.
Done correctly, API documentation acts as the one true source of information for how an API works. It should contain details on functions, arguments, classes, and more in a structured format that is easy for both developers and non-technical users to understand. Often, it will include tutorials and examples, which will help the user better understand how the different parts work together.
Investing time and resources into creating high quality API documentation leads to many benefits:
- Reduced Onboarding Time – Customers and internal users can access the information they need to start using and benefiting from your API immediately.
- Reduced Reliance on Support – Good documentation reduces the strain on your API experts and helps other users find their own answers. This applies regardless of whether your API is internal-only or used by thousands of customers,
- Encourage Non-Engineering Users – By increasing the understanding of non-coding colleagues, your API documentation enables better discussions around how your APIs and data can be used to achieve your business goals.
- Increased Adoption Rate – Easy-to-use API documentation will increase the rate with which new users can start using your API. By providing a better user experience, businesses will benefit from increased word-of-mouth marketing, which leads to faster adoption.
- Improved User Satisfaction – Happy customers and colleagues improve your business’s reputation.
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What Makes a Great API Documentation?
Creating great API documentation is a delicate balancing act between providing detailed technical information and displaying it in a way that is easy to consume. The best way to see how it should be done is to look at examples of businesses that are doing well – thankfully, they’re not hard to find.
Many popular tools publish their API documentation online so that 3rd-party developers can get easy access to them. Stripe and Twilio are two great examples of documentation done right. Although their solutions are developed in-house, the best practice they display is still useful for businesses looking to create their own API documentation. Here are a few of the reasons why these sets of documentation are so effective:
- They provide example code in the documentation so that users can see how it works in practice.
- They make it easy to find solutions to common problems so that busy developers can get what they need quickly.
- They don’t provide unnecessary information that isn’t required to understand the API and how it works. When users are busy working and hit a problem, they want usable documentation, not extraneous information.
- They don’t assume a certain level of knowledge – the simplest concepts are as fully-explained as the most difficult ones.
- They are well-formatted. The content is organized and consistent and easy to read. This reduces friction for users who are looking to learn or solve a problem.
Which Specification is Best?
There is more than one way to write API documentation, and different software uses different specifications. These specifications each provide a different standard and style in which an API is described. Three of the most popular are:
- OpenAPI (formerly Swagger) – The most popular specification. Open-source, and backed by companies such as Microsoft and Google. Uses JSON objects with a specific schema to describe API elements.
- RAML – YAML-based, RAML (or RESTful API Modeling Language) takes a top-down approach to create documentation that is clear, consistent, and precise.
- API Blueprint – Another open-source specification, API Blueprint is designed to be highly accessible. It uses a description language that is similar to Markdown and excels in situations where a design-first philosophy is followed during API creation.
While all of these options work well, it is the OpenAPI format that has achieved the most momentum in the last few years. With big brands behind it, it has quickly grown a large community and subsequently has the largest range of tools available. This makes it a good choice for businesses who aren’t sure which specification to go with because there’s a broader choice and a better chance of getting community support if you get stuck.
5 Best API Documentation Tools
There’s no shortage of API documentation tools on the market. The following five are our pick of the best options:
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.
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.
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.
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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.
- 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.
DapperDox is an open-source OpenAPI renderer that works with both OAS 2.0 and OAS 3.0.
- 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.
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)
- 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
The four kinds of documentation
Have you ever felt that some documentation needed extra documentation just to make sense out of it?
Daniele Procida’s talk about the types of documentation is helpful for developers and technical writers alike. The breakdown of the four types of documentation offers a good path in structuring software documentation.
This comes from a person’s work on Django documentation, which is some of the best open-source documentation you’ll find. The four kinds of documentation are:
- Tutorials are learning-oriented with practical steps and are most useful when studying.
- How-to guides are problem-oriented with practical steps and most useful when working.
- Explanations are understanding-oriented as theoretical knowledge is most useful when studying.
- References are information-oriented since they are most useful when working and combine theoretical knowledge.
API Documentation is one of the first things to consider while developing a web application or website. It’s commonplace to hear developers utter the words, “Just need to get the API right,” and it is important to do so. Writing good documentation ensures that developers around the world can creatively build websites and apps on top of your API. There are many tools out there to help you get started, but this post highlights the best ones.
Are you familiar with API documentation? It is the technical, reference documentation for your application. If people are developing or integrating any external app against your software then they will need to access the entire details regarding APIs like how to work with various services offered by the app, JSON data structure and all those other languages which are used so that your app can be integrated with other apps. Specifications, diagrams, and images can go a long way in making technical descriptions more complete and easier to understand. But it’s still entirely possible for the abstractions to remain too abstract for readers. One good way to solve this problem is by providing code examples illustrating implementation details. This approach is great because it gives readers a chance to experiment with concrete code to see how it behaves.