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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 the servers.
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.
The developers of these APIs do not have to write all the documentation from scratch again. There are available tools that help to make the process easier, efficient and save on time. These tools not only make the creation of documentation simple but also make it easy for users to read and understand.
Browse the Best Free APIs List
What is API Documentation?
API documentation is a guidebook comprising technical information about an API. The manual consists of content that helps users know the purpose of an API and its integration process.
It also displays the functions, classes, arguments and return types of the API. This information is important for a good developer experience.
A good API documentation should have:
• Quickstart instructions.
• Authentication details.
• Thorough explanation of what each request does.
• Examples of each request with expected responses and error messages.
• Describe supported programming languages with code samples.
• Illustrations of how to access SDKs if available.
What is an API Documentation Tool?
An API documentation tool is a documentation solution that helps developers and technical writers design and unify the documentation structure.
Developers: This group of people use API documentation tools 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 Tools Work
Every documentation provider has a customized way of how the tool should 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 Tools
• 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 Tools
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.
Proper documentation of an API allows all stakeholders to understand the purpose of the API. Moreover, it allows consumers to enjoy services rendered by the API while giving new developers the opportunity to have a clear guide on the source codes.
In the wake of mobile usage and the need for scalable applications, APIs are the best tools. Therefore, it is critical to ensure that you get your business an effective documentation tool. A good tool will ensure the documentation is updated and achieves the goals of all stakeholders.
DapperDox doesn’t seem to be maintained anymore and as such poses a security risk. No?
Devon Ray says
I’ve been developing APIs for a while and decided to build my own REST API documentation tool, would be great if you could add it to your list as a possible option, just recently launched and hoping to gain some traction.
Please send an email if its something you would consider.