Recently, I started taking a real look into using swagger to document REST APIs. I feel like REST APIs can be very hard to convey from a producer to a consumer, and there is often a bit of confusion as to how the response will be returned, or what is required in a request to an endpoint. This article attempts to explain how swagger works from a schema standpoint, what one can do with swagger to improve a REST API.

What is Swagger

Swagger is an Open API description standard, which allows for clear communication about what is needed to interact with an API. The swagger specification allows for one to completely describe a REST API in a way that others can consume in an automated fashion, and which will allow for ultimately code generation of an API client.

Below is a contrived example of an API described with swagger:

swagger: '2.0'
  title: Music Store API
  description: >
    This is a Music Store API which is made up just to
    explain a little bit about how swagger works, and
    what you are able to do with it.
  version: 0.0.1

basePath: /v1
  - https
  - application/json
  - application/json

          name: purchaseOrder
          in: body
          required: true
            $ref: "#/definitions/PurchaseOrderRequest"
          description: >
            Successful Purchase Response, this is the OK
            $ref: "#/definitions/PurchaseSuccessResponse"

    type: object
      - success
      - message
        type: boolean
        type: string
        type: string
        format: uuid
        type: string
        format: email
        type: integer
        format: int64
        minimum: 0

    type: object
      - sku
      - payment_id
        type: string
          - "workout"
          - "home"
          - "car"
        type: string
        pattern: /\d{4}-\d{10}/
        minLength: 15
        maxLength: 15
        type: string
        format: uuid

What is all of this doing? Well, it is describing what this one endpoint API is requiring, and committing to. We can see this API has a base path of “/v1” so all routes enumerated will begin with “/v1”. This api clearly also produces and consumes json, and is only accessible via https.

Then we get to the paths. This API has one path /v1/purchase which is an HTTP POST operation, which takes in an object referenced by PurchaseOrderRequest. This API has one possible response, a 200 HTTP status code response, which returns an object referenced by PurchaseSuccessResponse.

Getting into the object structures, in the definitions section, you can see the PurchaseOrderRequest object is an object with two required fields, sku and payment_id. You can also see it has another field which is a string called playlist which can only be of value “workout” “home” or “car”.

Swagger is very flexible in how you describe an API.

Great, now what?

Well, swagger is more than just a documentation tool. There is a lot of tooling around the OpenAPI format which allows you to do some neat things.

Swagger Editor is a tool which will help you visualize an API which has been developed in swagger. This tool will also allow you to create api requests to an actual instance if you were so inclined to see what the API will do based on certain inputs.

Swagger Codegen is a tool which will actually dump out working code in a number of different languages which are able to integrate with the API you generated the code from. This is extremely handy if you want to offer your customers an SDK of your APIs, or if you want to perform some automated testing of your API based on the swagger definitions.

Armed with these tools and this specification, you will be able to more clearly communicate with your integrators, and have ready made clients for internal integrations.