Spring REST Docs advanced feature: Code based documentation

The idea of having documentation as code is not new and was introduced a long time ago. Spring REST Docs is a great tool for doing that.
Roman Tuchin

The idea of having documentation as code is not new and was introduced a long time ago. One of the pioneers was LaTeX. The approach described here is one of many convenient ways for documenting APIs, where you can minimize manual writing of the documentation.Spring REST Docs is a great tool for doing that.


This blog post is not going to cover the basics of using the Spring REST Docs. On the internet you can find several tutorials on how to get started with it, i.e. this or this one.
The goal of this blog post is to provide more insights into an advanced feature, namely - generating custom documentation snippets, which are based on your code. For instance a snippet can contain a table with all possible enumeration values of a field in request payload for a RESTful API.

Technical stack

I chose following as sample technologies:

  • Kotlin programming language
  • Ktor framework for implementing of the sample RESTful API
  • Koin framework for the dependency injection
  • JUnit 5 for running tests
  • REST Assured in conjunction with Spring REST Docs for generating of documentation
  • Gradle (Kotlin) for building

Project overview

The source code of the project can be found here.

As a sample project I prepared a simple Contact API for creating of contacts.
It has one endpoint for contact creation:

POST /contacts HTTP/1.1
  "contactKey" : "dc4b7722-5c47-4ee5-939e-6469b1f9d4e7",
  "type" : "END_USER"

which handles the request and returns another JSON payload:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: application/json; charset=UTF-8

  "contactKey" : "8fa5c51c-cb3e-4cf3-a4b5-6730c99cb011"

First I prepared a Ktor-Application:

fun main(args: Array<String>) {
    // Start Ktor
    embeddedServer(Netty, commandLineEnvironment(args)).start()

fun Application.main() {
    install(Koin) {
    install(DefaultHeaders) {
    install(CallLogging) {
        level = Level.DEBUG

    install(ContentNegotiation) {
        jackson {
            // Configure Jackson's ObjectMapper here

    val createContactHandler: CreateContactHandler by inject()

    routing {
        post("/contacts/") {

You see here a defined POST-route /contacts/ for creating a new contact. Call to the route is passed to the CreateContactHandler (injected by Koin):

class CreateContactHandler {
    companion object : KLogging()

    suspend fun handle(call: ApplicationCall) {
        val request = call.receive(CreateContactRequest::class)
        logger.debug { "handling create contact request: $request" }
        //do handling
        val response = CreateContactResponse(UUID.randomUUID().toString())

data class CreateContactRequest(
    val contactKey: String,
    val type: ContactType

data class CreateContactResponse(
    val contactKey: String

The handler takes the incoming request, deserializes the JSON payload, handles it, responds with another JSON payload.

Documentation generation

To generate documentation, I use the following unit test:

class ContactApiDocTest {
    private val embeddedServer = embeddedServer(factory = Netty, port = 8080, module = Application::main)
        .apply { start() }

    lateinit var spec: RequestSpecification

    fun setup(restDocumentation: RestDocumentationContextProvider) {
        this.spec = RequestSpecBuilder()

    fun `should generate docs`() {
            .header(HttpHeaders.CONTENT_TYPE, "application/json")
            .body(CreateContactRequest(contactKey = UUID.randomUUID().toString(), type = ContactType.END_USER))
            .header(HttpHeaders.CONTENT_TYPE, "application/json; charset=UTF-8")

The code represents a typical Spring REST Docs test, which starts off an embedded web server on a fixed port 8080, and sends a request to it. In a real life scenario you should use a random port number. Thanks to RestDocumentationExtension and the corresponding configuration in the setup(), standard snippets are generated into the build/generated snippets folder:

✔ 18:37 ~/projects/contactapi/build/generated-snippets/create-contact $ ll
total 56
Aug 12 14:17 .
Aug  9 17:28 ..
Aug 12 14:21 contact-types.adoc
Aug 12 14:21 curl-request.adoc
Aug 12 14:21 http-request.adoc
Aug 12 14:21 http-response.adoc
Aug 12 14:21 httpie-request.adoc
Aug 12 14:21 request-body.adoc
Aug 12 14:21 response-body.adoc

Later on you need to put a file index.adoc into your src/docs/asciidoc. This is your starting point for writing docs. Add the following text to get started:

= Contact API
Kreuzwerker Author;
:doctype: book
:icons: font
:source-highlighter: highlightjs
:toc: left

== Intro
Contact API is for managing of contacts.

=== Request


=== Response


As you see, I included some snippets, which were generated in the previous steps.

Now you can start docs generation with the gradle:

~/projects/contactapi [master] $ ./gradlew asciidoctor

After successful generation, open it from build/asciidoc/html5/index.html. It looks like:


Now you have an overview about standard features of Spring REST Docs and we can continue with…

Custom snippets docs based on your code

As you saw above, our CreateContactRequest has a field of type ContactType. The ContactType is enum class:

enum class ContactType {

and I would like to document the possible values of the field, which can be passed as request payload. Let’s say in form of a table. For this sake, you should create a custom snippet for Spring REST Docs.

First step is to add a classing extending TemplatedSnippet:

class ContactTypesSnippet(snippetName: String?, attributes: MutableMap<String, Any>?)
    : TemplatedSnippet(snippetName, attributes) {
    companion object {
        const val SNIPPET_NAME = "contact-types"

    constructor() : this(SNIPPET_NAME, null)

    override fun createModel(operation: Operation?): Map<String, Any> {
        return mapOf(
            "contactTypes" to ContactType.values()

fun contactTypesSnippet() = ContactTypesSnippet()

You see that in the method createModel you add an array of all values from the ContactType enum under name contactTypes

Secondly you configure the additional custom snippet in the unit test with

fun setup(restDocumentation: RestDocumentationContextProvider) {
    this.spec = RequestSpecBuilder()

Afterwards you need to add a Mustache template. Put under src/test/resources/org/springframework/restdocs/templates/asciidoctor/
following contact-types.snippet file:

=== Contact types
| Type name | Description
| {{name}}
| some description

You see a new section in the snippet we just defined and iterate over the array of contactTypes enum values.
The Description column is static, but it can be easily provided by the enum as well.

Last step, you need to include this snippet into your index.adoc by adding:


Now run $ ./gradle asciidoctor again and as a result, you’ll see the following section in the docs:



As you’ve seen, you can generate great documentation relying completely on your code base, which means, later on you don’t need to keep docs and code synchronous, and you can just publish the docs every time you build your project (i.e. via Jenkins).

Credits for cover image go to: pexels.com