What is API documentation? What is its purpose? Is it really necessary for releasing APIs? These are some of the most important questions you need to answer as you learn more about the documentation of APIs.
API documentation overview
Also referred to as programmers’ documentation, API documentation is technical literature about an API. It is similar to software documentation, the purpose of which is to present instructions on the effective use of a software API, SCPI (for hardware), or web API. It is prepared by a technical writer who must have a thorough understanding of what the API is for. The technical writer assigned to do API documentation must have a programming background just like the specialists and staff at Spotlight, an API design, documentation, mocking and testing company.
Producing API documentation requires knowledge of an API’s arguments, return type, as well as the supported languages and interfaces. Know-how in these areas is important because API documentation often involves the writing of instructions, procedures, and examples to explain the API better.
Importance of API documentation
API documentation serves as the manual for an API. It guides developers in building applications that use certain services or access the features and functions of an operating system. APIs without their corresponding documentation are mostly useless to developers. The documentation contains essential details that serve as the key to making the most of an API. Building apps or software for certain services or operating systems would become guesswork in the absence of accurate API documentation.
Imagine using something technically complicated without a manual. You might be able to ask for guidance or pointers from the developers, but it’s certainly more convenient using API documentation as a reference instead of having to repeatedly make inquiries. The documentation is unlike the EULA for software or apps. It cannot be simply ignored or disregarded.
Beyond ordinary API documentation
API documentation does not have to be plain and boring. It can be made more effective with the infusion of interactive elements or features that go beyond static documentation.
One good example of this enhanced approach is the addition of interactive documents, which enable API calls on-the-fly. These interactive documents allow readers of the API documentation to view the results or effects of inputs after entering them into the interactive document. It’s like giving out a demonstration of the possibilities discussed in the documentation right within the documentation. The reader no longer has to open a different application to test the details presented. Another way of enhancing API documentation is the infusion of copy-paste code samples.
Moreover, API documentation has to be updated with CI/CD tools. It is a big no-no releasing documentation for software that is obsolete let alone inaccurate. That’s why it’s very important to keep it up to date. Erroneous and outdated APIs may lead developers to believe that they are committing a mistake when in fact they are not. Software documentation loses its relevance when it is erroneous and out-of-date.