What’s Missing From Your API Documentation
How to build out high-quality API documentation
Feb 19, 2019
Yum Mee Chinese Food, Boston, MA
When I first started working at Stoplight I had a very vague sense of what we created or what we did. Having been born in the late 80’s I have worked with computers for most of my life and even dabbled in writing HTML, CSS, XML, and JS but when people asked me what I did for work my mind would go blank. “I work at Stoplight” I would say, “a software company.” Some people found this vague and brief description acceptable but most would follow up with a flood of inquiries: “What kind of software?” “What does it do?” Is it an app?” “Does it deliver me food?” “Connect me with people?” “Can I use it on my Apple Watch?”
Everyday conversation is fueled by the question “What do you do for a living?” For many, this answer is a simple one off that requires little to no explanation; I am a manager at such and such, maybe an Architect , perhaps even a Press Secretary. Little or no follow up is usually required and the conversation moves into another direction. For me, however, the question would inevitably blindside me. Not because of what my role is, even though it includes a bevy of different hats due to the nature of a startup, but because of what our company does. So I finally decided to create a sketch of what Stoplight is and what we do. But before we can plumb the depths of Stoplight’s many different services and tools we must discuss one of the lesser known, even lesser understood, but most vital of programming elements, the API.
Like many professional industries, software engineering has a plethora, actually more like a full on cornucopia of industry specific terms that would make anyone feel a bit overwhelmed. To simplify, mostly for my own sanity, I am going to describe APIs in:
“Welcome to Business, I will be your server tonight, my name is Request.” Yes, that’s right, you are in a restaurant, in the Land of Analogies, at a restaurant called Business, being served by a weird guy named Request. The waiter hands you a menu titled API Definitions/References/Docs with over 15,000 options. While scanning the menu you notice a few popular choices, for an appetizer, perhaps you want to consume Google Maps API, maybe sample the infamous Twitter API, gorge on the* IBM Watson *API, and for dessert, the Stripe API. You relay your order to Request who just stares at you sullenly. Another customer in the restaurant coughs and pulls you aside, “The only words Request knows are Get, Put, Post, and Patch.” So you carefully rephrase your order to Request and he turns and stalks back to the kitchen. He returns soon after and decries “400.” You swear under your breathe then more carefully arrange the words in your sentence and repeat your order. Request blinks, then strolls back towards the kitchen. He soon returns with a steaming Google Map loaded with features, followed by samples of Tweets, some visual recognition software compliments of IBM Watson, and a deconstructed Stripe payment system. “200,” he proclaims gleefully.
At this point you’re probably wondering what the hell is this guy talking about, get to the point, or you’re hungry for deconstructed Stripe payment. Whatever you’re thinking, let’s break the analogy down from front to back stage:
Restaurant: Your Business
Menu: API Definitions/References/Docs
Restaurant Owner: Companies that own the API
Chef: API Developer
Food and Drink: The API
Restaurant Equipment Providers: API Service Provider (Stoplight!)
To summarize our delicious analogy let’s imagine you, the client, is the proud owner of the restaurant Yum Mee Chinese Food. A feature you would like to incorporate into your restaurant’s website is a map that tracks your Deliveries. The easiest way to accomplish this is to simply add the Google Maps API into your site.
The restaurant: Yum Mee Chinese Food
The Server: Request
Menu: Google Maps API Definitions/References/Docs
Food Provider: Google
Chef: Fred the developer
Food: Google Maps API
Now that we have an admittedly elementary understanding of an extremely complex, diverse, routine, protocol, and tool we will go further behind the scenes and see how the sauce is made.
Before we leave the Land of Analogies let’s discuss how Stoplight contributes to our Michelin 3-Star experience. As a Restaurant Equipment Provider we supply the restaurant with the tools they need to deliver delicious food and reliable service while cutting food prep and delivery time. From recipe creation to menu design, we help you modernize the way you create a solid product.
Here at Stoplight we equip you with the tools that help you tackle the most critical tasks in API Production: Modeling, Testing, Mocking, and Documentation.
We thoroughly believe in a design first mentality in regards to API Production as espoused in REST. Instead of building an API from the ground up based on priority and need, we provision you with an editor that allows you to build schemas and models to provide a solid framework and architecture for your API.
Before your API can be deployed to the masses it must be battle tested and hardened to withstand the ever evolving IoT. To this end, we created Scenarios, a testing tool that allows you to test, debug, and orchestrate every aspect of your API from every angle.
With the advent and adoption of Agile Methodology we created Prism, an API Gateway that allows your developers to spin up mock APIs, validate HTTP traffic, and further orchestration. With Prism, developers can quickly produce a mock API so that Front-End and QA teams can work in tandem with the Back-End developers to cut into overall production time.
APIs need documentation to function and flourish. From a healthy Help Center to detailed Definition and References, we help you create beautiful documentation for your product in Hubs. Hubs is a documentation tool that provides aesthetically pleasing and functional templates with an automatic API documentation generator, all inside a simple, easy to use editor.
So what do we do? We help you build your business in the cloud, from conception to implementation, with a sophisticated set of developer tools packaged in a brilliantly minimalistic UI. We help your team strategize, orchestrate, and create without the hassle, without the drama, and without cutting corners. To find out more, visit us at stoplight.io