Automatically Extracting Web API Specifications from HTML Documentation

Research paper by Jinqiu Yang, Erik Wittern, Annie T. T. Ying, Julian Dolby, Lin Tan

Indexed on: 26 Jan '18Published on: 26 Jan '18Published in: arXiv - Computer Science - Software Engineering


Web API specifications are machine-readable descriptions of APIs. These specifications, in combination with related tooling, simplify and support the consumption of APIs. However, despite the increased distribution of web APIs, specifications are rare and their creation and maintenance heavily relies on manual efforts by third parties. In this paper, we propose an automatic approach and an associated tool called D2Spec for extracting specifications from web API documentation pages. Given a seed online documentation page on an API, D2Spec first crawls all documentation pages on the API, and then uses a set of machine learning techniques to extract the base URL, path templates, and HTTP methods, which collectively describe the endpoints of an API. We evaluated whether D2Spec can accurately extract endpoints from documentation on 120 web APIs. The results showed that D2Spec achieved a precision of 87.5% in identifying base URLs, a precision of 81.3% and a recall of 80.6% in generating path templates, and a precision of 84.4% and a recall of 76.2% in extracting HTTP methods. In addition, we found that D2Spec was useful when applied to APIs with pre-existing API specifications: D2Spec revealed many inconsistencies between web API documentation and their corresponding publicly available specifications. Thus, D2Spec can be used by web API providers to keep documentation and specifications in synchronization.