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A Short Guide To REST API Documentation


If you ever talked to a developer about APIs, the subject of API documentation definitely came up at some point. You’ve probably heard complaints about the quality of the documentation, about its lack of examples, so on and so forth.

That’s because creating documentation for APIs is not a task many people would consider fun or engaging. Nonetheless, having good documentation is really, really important for the future of your API.

So while it’s crucial to know all of the best practices for RESTful API design, in order to launch a successful product, you still need to know how to write and arrange your documentation properly. Without that, you’ll be left with a good product that no one knows how to use.

But enough of that, let’s dive right into the subject of the day…

Introduction to REST APIs

To keep things short, REST APIs are very similar to standard APIs. They are a type of web APIs and similarly to a webpage, they involve requests and responses that come and go all the time. Some people use the term RESTful API, but REST API is also correct.

The REST means “Representational State Transfer” and API stands for “Application Programming Interface.” In order to get a resource that’s placed on the server, you need to make a request and the server will send you the information you asked for. The protocol that handles the transfer is “HTTP.”

There’s more to be said about the REST API principles, however, we’re going to concentrate on documentation today. In it, you need to describe all of the endpoints that are available, its parameters, methods, and many, many more details.

How To Go From Practice To Documentation

Although you don’t need to be a writer to create good documentation, you still have to sharpen your writing skills a bit and be creative when needed. Your perspective will constantly shift between a developer and a writer during the course of the process.

You need to look at every obstacle from a technical perspective and then write about it with some creativity. As a writer, you will need to tackle each element of a topic in REST API documentation, including:

  • Methods and endpoints
  • Description of resources
  • Numerous parameters
  • Request examples
  • Response examples

Writing about these topics is essential to your documentation, because the developers need to have clear examples of the API in use and to know about methods and endpoints in order to successfully implement the API into the software they are working on.

The Tools Needed for Documentation

No matter what you read online, you need to be aware that there’s no specific set of tools you need to use for your documentation. Every documentation-creation process if different in some manner, so you might need a tool your colleague doesn’t and vice versa.

Nonetheless, you should familiarize yourself with tools like Jekyll and GitHub if you want to get the job done. Of course, there are other DAC tools out there, so feel free to go out and try a couple of them out. You just need to know how to leverage their templates the correct way.

Here are a couple of things you should look into:

  • Text editors like Sublime Text and Atom Editor, which are always good choices, since they work great both on Macs and PCs
  • Postman app, which allows the users to make requests and see what responses they get through a Graphical User Interface client
  • GitHub is often used as an authentication service for various tools, so make sure to make an account on the site if you already didn’t

Last Words: Keep Your Documentation Up-To-Date

Remember, creating an API is not a one-and-done deal; if you want your user base to stay satisfied, you need to make some changes even after the launch. The catch here is, in addition to statements, you have to document every change you made in your documentation.

So the next user that discovers your API will be able to know about every change you made and see the examples of new functions in practice. And if you get rid of anything, don’t forget to discard the information about it in your documentation.

By doing all of that, you’ll have clear and easy-to-follow documentation that will delight developers from all industries and ensure that you have a huge following for years…

We hope our article was informative and enjoyable for you. If you have something to add, or you have some questions feel free to leave a post in our comment section down below. We will respond on a short notice. Thank you for reading our article and have a nice day.

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