Apipie - amazing tool for documenting your Rails API

This article is about for Apipie gem (https://github.com/Apipie/apipie-rails) which provides a DSL for documenting your API. I will try to cover features that I personally use on my project.

Comparing to other tools for generating API documentation (yardoc, sdoc) I would say that the main thing that you gain with Apipie is that your documentation is a real ruby code, so you can write computations, concerns etc.

Here is a simple example of how it looks in code:

class UsersController < ApplicationController

  resource_description do
    formats [:json]
    api_versions 'public'

  api :POST, '/users' 'Create user'
  description 'Create user with specifed user params'
  param :user, Hash, desc: 'User information' do
    param :full_name, String, desc: 'Full name of the user'
    param :age, Fixnum, desc: 'Age of the user'
  def create
    # Some application code

And here how it looks generated:

So, you invoke a DSL from Apipie before your action method and it automatically comes to generated docs.


 Gathering information from your routes

In the example above we’ve passed an http verb and a path of this action. We don’t have to do it! Instead, we can simply write:

api! 'Some description'
# other docs here...
def create

It automatically takes information from your routes that look like

resources :users, only: [:create]

 API versioning

You can pass versions of your API that include this endpoint on

  1. resource level (as in example)
  2. action level (in pretty much the same way, api_versions ...

 Parameters typing

As you can see, in the first example we had 3 types:

  1. Hash
  2. Array
  3. Fixnum

Apipie has also:

  1. Enum
  2. Regexp

 Parameters validation

We have already typed parameters, so why do we ignore it and write custom before_action-s for validating parameters manually? This feature is enabled by default, but if you don’t think that it’s a good idea to validate your parameters through documenting tool, just pass

config.validate = false

The creator of the gem told me that ‘People either love it or don’t understand why it’s even there’, so it’s up to you to decide if you need it.


I would say that it doesn’t work as people usually expect.

Apipie::DSL::Concern allows you to document actions that are defined in concerns.

A quick example: https://github.com/Apipie/apipie-rails#concerns

Usually people think that it allows you to extract documentation from your controller in order to not mix code with documentation and application logic. And, to be honest, I think so too. The workaround for doing this goes below in the sections ‘Extracting docs to mixins’

 Specs recording

Are you tired of writing examples manually? Me too :) With Apipie you can record request/response pairs to separated yaml file and display them in generated html. Pass :show_in_doc to metadata of your RSpec example and enjoy. Apipie embeds a module for recording requests to ActionController::TestCase::Behavior which is the core of all requests specs for RSpec and Minitest (yes, both of them delegate performing requests internally to ActionController::TestCase::Behavior - https://github.com/rspec/rspec-rails/blob/master/lib/rspec/rails/example/controller_example_group.rb#L12).

 Other features

There is a plenty of other things in Apipie that are very cool, by I didn’t have a chance to use it yet.

  1. Localization. Currently it supports English, Russian, Chinese and Brazilian. If you want to add support for your language, use this as an example - https://github.com/Apipie/apipie-rails/blob/master/config/locales/en.yml
  2. Disqus integration. This is extremely useful when you have a decentralized team. If you have any questions - just leave a comment and wait for response! No need to define any models for storing users/comments/relations, everything is in the cloud.
  3. Custom markup processors. Not sure that anyone can need it, default markup processor looks very stable.


Some of these items can be difficult to explain, if you have any questions after reading it, just google it, answers for all of them should be in ruby docs (or ping me if you still don’t get it).

 Extracting docs to mixins

This is the main question I’ve got after reading official readme. I don’t want to mix documentation and application logic. First of all we need to understand how exactly Apipie builds mapping between action names and compiled DSL. Even without reading source code the only guess that we may have is method_added hook. Every time when you define a method (on instance or on class, it doesn’t matter), Ruby automatically fires method_added method on your class.

class TestClass
  def self.method_added(method_name)
    puts "Added method #{method_name}"

  def method1; end
  def method2; end
# => Added method method1
# => Added method method2

So, the algorithm is like this:

  1. You invoke method api (or api!)
  2. Apipie internally saves action name (let’s say, as Apipie.current_action_name) and arguments (in Apipie.current_action_data, for example)
  3. You invoke other DSL methods
  4. Apipie appends this data to Apipie.current_action_data
  5. You define a method (action in our case)
  6. Apipie adds mapping Apipie.current_action_name => Apipie.current_action_data to a global Hash like Apipie.all_docs
  7. When you visit /docs, Apipie displays all data from Apipie.all_docs

And if it’s true we can write something like:

# app/docs/users_doc.rb
module UsersDoc
  # we need the DSL, right?
  extend Apipie::DSL::Concern

  api :GET, '/users', 'List users'
  def show
    # Nothing here, it's just a stub

# app/controller/users_controller.rb
class UsersController < ApplicationController
  include UsersDoc

  def show
    # Application code goes here
    # and it overrides blank method
    # from the module

And yes, it works! Let’s add resource description

module UsersDoc
  extend Apipie::DSL::Concern

  resource_description do
    formats [:json]
    api_versions 'public'

Which breaks it…

Apipie: Can not resolve resource UsersDoc name.

Yes, because our resource is UsersController. The error happens in the following lines in Apipie source code:

    def get_resource_name(klass)
      if klass.class == String
      elsif @controller_to_resource_id.has_key?(klass)
      elsif Apipie.configuration.namespaced_resources? && klass.respond_to?(:controller_path)
        return nil if klass == ActionController::Base
        path = klass.controller_path
        path.gsub(version_prefix(klass), "").gsub("/", "-")
      elsif klass.respond_to?(:controller_name)
        return nil if klass == ActionController::Base
        raise "Apipie: Can not resolve resource #{klass} name."

Most of this code doesn’t really matter, the thing is that Apipie doesn’t know what to do with module UsersDoc. It has no resource_id, let’s define it.

resource_description do
  resource_id 'Users'
  # other dsl

Now we get an error

undefined method `superclass' for UsersDoc:Module

But… Module (I mean, an instance of Module class) can’t have a superclass. It’s a module!

Forget that you are a ruby developer and define a method called superclass on your module :)

# before calling DSL
def self.superclass

So, from this moment

UsersDoc.superclass == UsersController
# => true

Refresh the page with documentation and see that it finally works!
Here is a gist with a full code that wraps ugly code and blank methods:

 The power of ruby-based doc

Imagine the following scenario:

I have two versions of API. When I was young and stupid, I implemented the first one (v1). And it has an authentication by plain username and password (in headers). Few years later something changed in my mind and I created another one (v2) which has token-based authentication.

First API contains 100 actions in 10 controllers, so does the second one, too. To make a documentation I have to copy-paste 2 lines of code 200 times (to put it for every action) or 20 times (to put it to every resource).

Instead of repeated copying the real description of authentication mechanism it would be really nice to have something like

# for Api::V1
auth_with :password
# for Api::V2
auth_with :token

And describe authentication in a more declarative way. In order to make it we need to add our own method to DSL. Here is what it may look like:

module BaseDoc
  # ... code from the gist

    password: Api::Auth::PasswordDoc,
    token: Api::Auth::TokenDoc

  def auth_with(auth_method)
    mod = AUTH_METHODS[auth_method] or
      raise "Unknown auth strategy #{auth_method}"
    send(:include, mod)

# app/docs/api/auth/password_doc.rb
module Api::Auth::PasswordDoc
  def self.included(base)
    base.instance_eval do
      # documentation of password-
      #  based authentication
      header :username, required: true
      header :password, required: true
      error code: 401, desc: 'Unauthorized'

# app/docs/api/auth/token_doc.rb
module Api::Auth::TokenDoc
  def self.included(base)
    base.instance_eval do
      # documentation of token-
      #  based authentication
      header 'Token', 'Your API token'
      error code: 401, desc: 'Token is requried'

And from now we can write

module Api::V1::UsersDoc
  extend BaseDoc

  doc_for :show do
    auth_with :password
    # or
    # auth_with :token

 Ability to define default documentation for all actions in resource

So, we have a resource_description and api methods, but how can we define common parts for all of our actions? I hate copy-paste driven development, let’s write a DSL for this.

We want to have a defaults method which takes a block and executes it for each action.

module BaseDoc
  # ...

  def defaults(&block)
    @defaults = block

  def doc_for(action_name, &block)
    # Only the next line added
    instance_eval(&@defaults) if @defaults
    api_version namespace_name if namespace_name
    define_method(action_name) do
      # ... define it in your controller with the real code

So, we just store passed block and invoke it. This example is much simpler then the previous one.



You can click by statically generated docs (thanks to github pages):


Apipie is an amazing library and its most significant advantage is that you document ruby using ruby (being a ruby developer), which gives you ability to define custom behaviors and scenarios. I can’t even imagine myself writing API docs using yardoc (however, I use it to document plain ruby classes).

If you have any bugs (or ideas to implement), please, create an issue on GitHub (https://github.com/Apipie/apipie-rails/issues), let’s make it even better!


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