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Sphinx vs Swagger UI: What are the differences?

Introduction:

Swagger UI and Sphinx are both popular documentation tools used for documenting APIs and other software projects. While they serve similar purposes, there are several key differences between them.

  1. Integration Method: The first difference between Sphinx and Swagger UI is the way they integrate into the project. Sphinx is a documentation generator that uses reStructuredText or Markdown to create static documentation websites. It requires the project to be configured with Sphinx and generates documentation as part of the project build process. On the other hand, Swagger UI is a standalone JavaScript library that can be integrated into the project to provide interactive API documentation. It does not require any special build process or configuration changes.

  2. Focus on Interactive Documentation: Swagger UI is primarily designed for creating interactive API documentation. It includes features like API exploration, parameter testing, and response visualization. It provides a live, sandbox-like environment for developers and allows them to try out different API endpoints and see the results in real-time. Sphinx, on the other hand, focuses more on providing static documentation with a structured layout and table of contents. It does not have the same level of interactivity as Swagger UI.

  3. Automatic generation: Another key difference between the two tools is how the documentation is generated. Sphinx requires manual authoring of documentation using reStructuredText or Markdown, while Swagger UI can automatically generate documentation from API annotations or specifications. With Swagger UI, developers can annotate their API code or provide a Swagger/OpenAPI specification file, and the documentation is automatically generated based on these annotations or specifications. This can save a significant amount of time and effort compared to manually authoring documentation with Sphinx.

  4. Extensibility and Customization: When it comes to extensibility and customization options, Sphinx offers more flexibility compared to Swagger UI. Sphinx provides a wide range of themes, plugins, and extensions that allow developers to customize the look and feel of the documentation website according to their needs. It also supports the integration of custom JavaScript, CSS, and HTML code. On the other hand, Swagger UI has a more limited set of customization options. While it allows some minor styling changes and configurations, it does not provide the same level of extensibility as Sphinx.

  5. Support for Multiple Programming Languages: Sphinx is a tool that can be used to document projects in various programming languages, including Python, JavaScript, C++, and more. It has built-in support for documenting different types of projects, including APIs, libraries, and command-line tools. Swagger UI, on the other hand, is primarily focused on documenting RESTful APIs. While it can be used with projects in different programming languages, it is specifically designed for documenting the API endpoints and their associated operations.

  6. Community and Ecosystem: In terms of community and ecosystem, both Sphinx and Swagger UI have active communities and widespread usage. However, Sphinx has been around for a longer time and has a larger user base. It has a rich ecosystem with a wide range of plugins, themes, and extensions developed by the community. Swagger UI, on the other hand, is a relatively newer tool but has gained popularity in recent years, especially in the API documentation space. It has a growing community and a number of resources available for developers.

In summary, Sphinx and Swagger UI differ in their integration method, focus on interactive documentation, generation process, extensibility and customization options, support for multiple programming languages, and the size and maturity of their respective communities and ecosystems.

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From a StackShare Community member: "I just started working for a start-up and we are in desperate need of better documentation for our API. Currently our API docs is in a README.md file. We are evaluating Postman and Swagger UI. Since there are many options and I was wondering what other StackSharers would recommend?"

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Replies (3)
Jagdeep Singh
Tech Lead at ucreate.it · | 8 upvotes · 378.9K views

I use Postman because of the ease of team-management, using workspaces and teams, runner, collections, environment variables, test-scripts (post execution), variable management (pre and post execution), folders (inside collections, for better management of APIs), newman, easy-ci-integration (and probably a few more things that I am not able to recall right now).

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I use Swagger UI because it's an easy tool for end-consumers to visualize and test our APIs. It focuses on that ! And it's directly embedded and delivered with the APIs. Postman's built-in tools aren't bad, but their main focus isn't the documentation and also, they are hosted outside the project.

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Sadik Ay
Recommends
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I recommend Postman because it's easy to use with history option. Also, it has very great features like runner, collections, test scripts runners, defining environment variables and simple exporting and importing data.

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Pros of Sphinx
Pros of Swagger UI
  • 16
    Fast
  • 9
    Simple deployment
  • 6
    Open source
  • 1
    Lots of extentions
  • 49
    Open Source
  • 34
    Can execute api calls from the documentation
  • 29
    Free to use
  • 19
    Customizable
  • 14
    Easy to implement in .Net
  • 13
    Mature, clean spec
  • 12
    API Visualization
  • 9
    Coverage
  • 6
    Scaffolding
  • 6
    Easy to use
  • 5
    Vibrant and active community
  • 4
    Elegant
  • 3
    Adopted by tm forum api
  • 2
    Clear for React
  • 1
    Api
  • 1
    Can deploy API to AWS API Gateway and AWS Lambda

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Cons of Sphinx
Cons of Swagger UI
    Be the first to leave a con
    • 3
      Need to learn YAML and RAML
    • 2
      Documentation doesn't look that good
    • 1
      Doesn't generate code snippets in different languages
    • 1
      You don’t actually get in-line error highlighting
    • 1
      Does not support hypermedia

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    - No public GitHub repository available -

    What is Sphinx?

    It lets you either batch index and search data stored in an SQL database, NoSQL storage, or just files quickly and easily — or index and search data on the fly, working with it pretty much as with a database server.

    What is Swagger UI?

    Swagger UI is a dependency-free collection of HTML, Javascript, and CSS assets that dynamically generate beautiful documentation and sandbox from a Swagger-compliant API

    Need advice about which tool to choose?Ask the StackShare community!

    What companies use Sphinx?
    What companies use Swagger UI?
    See which teams inside your own company are using Sphinx or Swagger UI.
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    What tools integrate with Sphinx?
    What tools integrate with Swagger UI?

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    What are some alternatives to Sphinx and Swagger UI?
    Elasticsearch
    Elasticsearch is a distributed, RESTful search and analytics engine capable of storing data and searching it in near real time. Elasticsearch, Kibana, Beats and Logstash are the Elastic Stack (sometimes called the ELK Stack).
    MkDocs
    It builds completely static HTML sites that you can host on GitHub pages, Amazon S3, or anywhere else you choose. There's a stack of good looking themes available. The built-in dev-server allows you to preview your documentation as you're writing it. It will even auto-reload and refresh your browser whenever you save your changes.
    Jekyll
    Think of Jekyll as a file-based CMS, without all the complexity. Jekyll takes your content, renders Markdown and Liquid templates, and spits out a complete, static website ready to be served by Apache, Nginx or another web server. Jekyll is the engine behind GitHub Pages, which you can use to host sites right from your GitHub repositories.
    Centrify
    It is privileged identity management and identity as a service solutions stop the breach by securing access to hybrid enterprises through the power of identity services.
    JavaScript
    JavaScript is most known as the scripting language for Web pages, but used in many non-browser environments as well such as node.js or Apache CouchDB. It is a prototype-based, multi-paradigm scripting language that is dynamic,and supports object-oriented, imperative, and functional programming styles.
    See all alternatives