Yann Moisan

Scala, Web, Linux…

Add a swagger documentation on a Play application

The starting point of this post is the need to document an existing REST APIs. I want the documentation to live with my code because I think it's the only way to have an up-to-date doc. Swagger seems to be a defacto standard. This post is not a tutorial, it's just to share some issues I faced. So let's get the party started.

I use PlayFramework and Scala. Thankfully, an integration already exists : play-swagger. Play-swagger relies mainly on annotations. I'm not a big fan of annotations, maybe because they remind me of my long years of Java EE development. Last point, my APIs uses snake case and because swagger-core introspect fields, the default behaviour won't work as expected.

Tuple serialization

Some of my services returns Tuple, so I have a custom Writes

  implicit val tupleWrites :  Writes[(Int, String)] = Writes[(Int, String)] {
    case (id, action) =>
          "tip_id" -> id,
          "action" -> action

Swagger uses the return type of your operation method. It detects ActionAnyContent or ActionJsValue, depending on the BodyParser you use, that is never what you want. (I don't understand how the erroneous concatenation happens between the type Action and the type parameter JsValue).

"responses": {
  "200": {
    "description": "successful operation",
    "schema": {
      "$ref": "#/definitions/ActionAnyContent"

So we have to explicitly set the response class with the following annotation :

@ApiOperation(response = classOf[Tuple2[Int, String]])

Due to Java type erasure, swagger will only generate :

"definitions": {
    "Tuple2": {
      "type": "object",
      "properties": {
        "_1": {
          "type": "object"
        "_2": {
          "type": "object"

In fact, play-swagger has no idea how the Tuple is serialized and I came up with a trick to generate the documentation by creating a fake case class.

@ApiModel(value="Tip id and action")
case class TipIdAndAction(
  @ApiModelProperty(name="tip_id", required=true) tipId: Id,
  @ApiModelProperty(required=true) action: String)

The annotation @ApiModelProperty is used to specify the name because I use snake case in JSON and camel case in Scala.

Lastly, this annotation should be added on the action :

@ApiOperation(response = classOf[TipIdAndAction])

In fact, there are some cases where you can have different representation of a model, at least for read and write. For example, a timestamp is forbidden at creation but mandatory during retrieval. It seems impossible to do that with swagger annotations.

And now, I have to maintain the mapping and the case class. It seems boring and error prone. So let's get rid of the Tuple and use case class instead.

implicit val actionWrites :  Writes[TipIdAndAction] = Writes[TipIdAndAction] { ta =>
  "tip_id" -> ta.tipId,
  "action" -> ta.action

Either I can modify my service to return a TipIdAndAction or I have to transform a Tuple into a TipIdAndAction. At first sight, the last idea seems like the return of the DTO antipattern, a really bad idea. Nevertheless, I'd prefer that over polluting my domain model with swagger annotations.

I can also use JSON Macro inception and play-json-naming to avoid writing the Writes class. Unfortunately, I still need annotations on the case class. So now, all the boilerplate is just for swagger purpose. Even if Macro Inception is great, beware that a simple renaming of a property will change the JSON output, so the contract of your API.

  implicit val actionWrites : Writes[TipIdAndAction] = JsonNaming.snakecase(Json.writes[TipIdAndAction])

Nested annotation

for @ApiResponses, the syntax mentioned in the swagger doc triggers a compilation issue for an unknown reason (let me know if you know) :

@ApiResponses(value = { 
      @ApiResponse(code = 400, message = "Invalid ID supplied", 
                   responseHeaders = @ResponseHeader(name = "X-Rack-Cache", description = "Explains whether or not a cache was used", response = Boolean.class)),
      @ApiResponse(code = 404, message = "Pet not found") })

Manage HTTP Header

For HTTP Header, like Accept-Language, you have to copy/paste the following on each operation that deals with this header.

  new ApiImplicitParam(
    name = "Accept-Language", 
    value = "language for the tip in the response", 
    defaultValue = "en", 
    required = false, 
    paramType = "header", 

Finally, I still have two questions :


Using swagger with Play is a pain. It forces you to break the DRY rule. But it remains better than writing swagger with a tool like Swagger Editor, due to the colocation of the spec with the code. Here are some points of attention :

  • Beware of always mentioning an explicit response class
  • Don't use snake case to benefit from swagger automatic generation
  • Don't use Tuples
  • Don't pollute your domain model with annotations