Spring Boot: API First Design

In this blog, I take a practical approach to API first design with an example using Open API 3 specification.

Firstly, I describe how I created the API definition, then how I created the server and the client code from the API definition. Then I will talk about some of the problems I faced.

Advantages of API first approach

As we are adopting microservice-based architectures, API first approach have been gaining some traction. There are quite many advantages to using API first approach and I will discuss a few of them.

Clear Contract Definition
With API first approach, you can create a concrete contract with which you can set clear goals on what will be provided by your application. It also helps to decouple your implementation from the Interface you provide via the API.

  • Well Documented API
    You follow a well-structure documentation of the API you are providing and it helps stake holders to have clear understanding of the interface you are providing via you APIs in a human-readable format.
  • Promotes Development in Parallel
    The producer and consumer of the API can work in parallel once you have the API definition in place. The consumer or producer can easily create mocks with the already agreed API contract and start their end of the development.

Let’s Get Started!

To start off, I went to https://editor.swagger.io/ and created my API definition. I used the Open API 3 specification to create the API definition. There are many other tools to create API definitions, but I choose this as I was familiar with creating Swagger API documentation in Java. I used this online editor as it provides auto-complete feature (with ctrl + space) depending on the context you are in. This helped me a lot to create the API definition.

However, I am not a fluent API definition creator, So I learned the way to define the API using the petstore API definition example.

To get started, I created a very minimal API definition in which I can create an account using a post request.

Generating Code.

With the API definition all set, Let’s start with creating the server and client of the API. For this I created a spring boot application which I created normally via https://start.spring.io. The only dependency I added here was spring-web .

Next, I used the Open API Generator maven plugin to create the server and the client for me. Let’s see how to do that.

Server-Side Code Generation

To create the server-side code from the API definition, I added the Open API generator plugin and provided it with the API definition file. Since I am creating a server based on spring, I provided a generation type spring, So that it knows it can use spring classes to create my server code. There are quite a few server code generators that you can find here. Now, Let's look at what the plugin config looks like:

Some of the customization options I used here were, which package name to use to create my API and model classes. There are quite a few other options you can specify. E.g., you can define what your model class names can be pre-appended with and you can find the various other options on their GitHub link.

Now, the code that gets generated from the plugin requires a few more dependencies for it to compile successfully. I exactly found the minimal set I needed and added the following dependencies.

Now comes the main part i.e., generating the code. After building the code using mvn clean verify, There were a few classes that got generated.

In the API package, there were two main interfaces, AccountApi and AccountApiDeligate . The AccountApi interface contains the actual definition of the API using @postmapping annotation and it also contains the required API documentation using spring swagger annotations. Its implementation class is AccountApiController which calls the delegate service.

The important interface for you is the AccountApiDelegate interface. This provides a delegate service pattern, which allows you to provide the implementation of what needs to be handled or done when the API is called. Here you put in your business logic that handles the request. Once you implement the service delegate, you are actually ready to serve requests.

That’s it, you are done with the server-side. Next, the Client

Client Code Generation

For the client-side code generation, I use the same plugin, but this time with the generator name as java .

I also provide some config properties, Like the library to use for making the rest client. Here I wanted it to use restemplate for making the calls to the server. There are quite a few options you can configure that you can find from their documentation here.

You would also require some more dependencies to help you compile the generated code.

After the code generation, You can find classes that provide you how to configure the client to talk to the server. It also provides some basic authentication, using bearer token or basic auth.

Now you need to create an instance/bean of the ApiClient . This contains the host config of the server you want to communicate. This is then used in the AccountApi class to help you make requests to the server. To make a request, you would only have to call the API function from the AccountApi class.

There we have it now. You have successfully generated the client code and you can now check the interaction between the client and the server.

Problems I encountered

There are quite a few bugs in the latest version of the plugin that I was using (5.0.1).

  • For spring generator, there is some unused import from spring data that get added by the generator while creating the controller. Hence you would have to add spring data dependency, Even if you not using a database with the service. This may not be a big problem, because mostly you would have a database that you connect to with your service. You can check the current open bug here.
  • Usually, you would define the schema for request and response in the components section of the API definition file and then use the reference to these schemas in the API using the $ref: property. This is currently not working as excepted. The way to get around it was to define inline schema for each request and response. Hence the model names get generated with a prefix Inline* . You can track this bug here.

If you use the older version, i.e, 4.3.1; it's free from these bugs and the plugin works well as expected.

As usual, I have uploaded the code to GitHub. Enjoy!!

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Software Craftsman, Tech Enthusiast. I run https://refactorfirst.com to post all my articles