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External API documentation refers to customer-facing API docs, which in turn are an essential way to communicate with your customers how to use your public APIs effectively.
All external API documentation should relate to public APIs, as there is unlikely to be a good case for publicly documenting your internal APIs.
Conversely, there are good reasons to keep private documentation of public APIs for internal development purposes, in addition to the public API documentation you provide to customers and other external users.
There are two main types of external/public API documentation, as mentioned above:
● Public docs for external APIs, giving end-users instructions of how to use the API independently.
● Private docs for external APIs, allowing internal development teams to collaborate on new features and REST APIs that interact with one another.
Stoplight’s external API documentation tools can help by auto-generating the documents needed to describe your public APIs, for example, by listing the objects and arguments that need to be inputted to generate an output from the API.
There are significant differences between internal and external API docs in the content of public APIs.
External API docs are primarily used to tell end-users how to use the API. This can be a simple step-by-step guide for those with no specialist knowledge as they do not need to know how the API works — only what to do in order to use it.
In contrast, internal API docs for public APIs are typically more detailed, and may cover more of the inner workings of the API rather than its simple inputs and outputs. They give development teams across your organization a way to comment and collaborate on new features and improvements.
External APIs streamline the way you and your customers interact. They can substantially improve the efficiency of communication for data-driven organizations while helping to reduce input errors by simplifying the input process.
In turn, you receive data that cover the specifics you need, in the format you prefer, without having to ask your customers and external stakeholders to understand this. REST APIs enable this via the internet and access is often provided in the form of an HTML5 or mobile app.
You can also produce semi-public APIs for access only by specific authorized external stakeholders. These partner APIs are a middle ground between fully private APIs and fully public APIs, collating external data without revealing private information to the public domain.
As they are often your only point of contact with external users of your public APIs, it’s essential to make sure your enterprise external/public API docs cover all of the expected use cases in plain language.
Common types of public API docs include:
● Basics facts, reference guides, API endpoints and structure.
● How-to guides and tutorials on public API usage.
● Worked examples and more detailed case studies of best practice.
Different types of public API documents give you the ability to provide distinct levels of detail and complexity for different external users.
For example, some more experienced users may prefer a straightforward reference guide to the objects and arguments of a public REST API, while others might want worked examples and more detailed, plain-worded instructions to follow.
There are some general rules that you can follow to achieve best practice for enterprise external/public API documentation to make sure external users can access your REST APIs effectively.
Our comprehensive API Documentation Guide covers the basic principles, along with more advanced public API documentation tips and a guide to best practice.