Structure of an OpenAPI Description

An OpenAPI Description (OAD) describes an HTTP-like API in one or more machine-readable documents (files or network resources). This page describes the syntax of these documents and the minimal structure they must contain.

OpenAPI Description Syntax

OpenAPI Descriptions are written as one or more text documents. Each document represents a JSON object, in either JSON or YAML format. References are used to link parts of the JSON object(s) to each other, and this linked structure is the complete OpenAPI Description. Parsing begins with an OpenAPI Object, and the document containing that object is known as the entry document, commonly called openapi.json or openapi.yaml.

This section very briefly describes and compares the JSON and YAML data formats.

JSON can represent Numbers, Strings, Booleans, null values, Arrays and Objects. An array is an ordered list of values which can have different types. An object (also called a Map) is a collection of name-value pairs where the names (also called Keys or Fields) are unique within the object and the values can have any of the supported types (including other objects or arrays).

Here’s a comparison showing the different syntaxes.


  "anObject": {
    "aNumber": 42,
    "aString": "This is a string",
    "aBoolean": true,
    "nothing": null,
    "arrayOfNumbers": [


# Anything after a hash sign is a comment
  aNumber: 42
  aString: This is a string
  aBoolean: true
  nothing: null
    - 1
    - 2
    - 3

Basically, JSON does not support comments and requires: commas separating fields, curly brackets around objects, double quotation marks around strings and square brackets around arrays. On the other hand, YAML requires hyphens before array items and relies heavily on indentation, which can be cumbersome on large files (indentation is entirely optional in JSON).

YAML is typically preferred because of its slightly reduced file size, but the two formats are completely interchangeable (as long as YAML 1.2 is used). All examples in these pages will be given in YAML.

However, YAML being a superset of JSON means that both syntaxes can be mixed. While this is not recommended in general, it can come in handy sometimes. For example:

  aString: This is a string
  arrayOfNumbers: [ 1, 2, 3 ] # Abbreviated array representation

Finally, object field names are case-sensitive: openapi is not the same thing as OpenAPI.

NOTE: Ellipses (…) are used throughout this guide to indicate an incomplete code snippet. Ellipses are not part of JSON or YAML.

Minimal OpenAPI Description Structure

To be entirely precise, a minimal OpenAPI Description (OAD) is a single JSON object containing fields adhering to the structure defined in the OpenAPI Specification (OAS).

The OAS structure is long and complex so this section just describes the minimal set of fields it must contain, while following pages give more details about specific objects. The OpenAPI Map is a nice visual tool that can help familiarize the reader with this long specification.

The root object in any OpenAPI Description is the OpenAPI Object, and only two of its fields are mandatory: openapi and info. Additionally, at least one of paths, components and webhooks is required.

  • openapi (string): This indicates the version of the OAS this OAD is using, e.g. “3.1.0”. Using this field tools can check that the description correctly adheres to the specification.
  • info (Info Object): This provides general information about the API (like its description, author and contact information) but the only mandatory fields are title and version.
    • title (string): A human-readable name for the API, like “GitHub REST API”, useful to keep API collections organized.
    • version (string): Indicates the version of the API description (not to be confused with the OAS version above). Tools can use this field to generate code that ensures that clients and servers are interacting through the same version of the API, for example.
  • paths (Paths Object): This describes all the endpoints of the API, including their parameters and all possible server responses. Server and client code can be generated from this description, along with its documentation.
Diagrams are used in this guide to show the relationship between the different objects.

Here’s an example of a minimal OpenAPI Description:

openapi: 3.1.0
  title: A minimal OpenAPI Description
  version: 0.0.1
paths: {} # No endpoints defined

This API is not very useful because it defines no operations (it has no endpoints). The next page remedies that.


This page has shown that:

  • The syntax (language) used to write OpenAPI Descriptions can be JSON, YAML or both.
  • An OpenAPI Description is a JSON object including the fields described in the OpenAPI Specification.
  • Every OpenAPI Descriptions must contain an OpenAPI Object with at least the fields openapi, and info, and either paths, components or webhooks.

The following page describes the contents of the paths field so endpoints can be added to the above minimal snippet.