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Implementing a Simple REST API using OpenAPI, Flask & Connexions

hmajid2301 profile image Haseeb Majid Updated on ・9 min read

We will need to use Swagger.

RESTful APIs are very popular at the moment and Python is a great language to develop
web APIs with. In this article we will go over a documentation first approach to building APIs.
We will be using Flask, Swagger Code-Gen (OpenAPI) and Connexions.
I will go over an API/documentation first approach to building a RESTful API in
Python. Which will try to minimise the differences between what's defined in the API
specification and the actual API logic

One of the main problems you'll find with using openapi is that every time you update your API
you have to update your documentation or your openapi yaml/json file. Now what happens if you
forget? Now your API is different to what's documented which can be a real pain for your users.
The aim of this approach is that you update your specification file first.


Let's very quickly go over the tools and libraries we will use.


Openapi or the Openapi Specification (OAS), defines a standard language agnostic approach to developing RESTful APIs, which are both human and machine readable.


A set of open-source tools built around the OAS that help support development, including:

  • Swagger Editor: Browser based editor where you can write (and view) OpenAPI specs.
  • Swagger UI: Renders OAS as interactive API documentation (also can be seen within Swagger Editor).
  • Swagger Codegen - generates server stubs and client libraries from an OpenAPI spec.


Is a Python library that "automagically" handles HTTP requests based on your OAS. It acts as a
simple wrapper around Flask reducing the boilerplate code you have to write as well. So we still
have access to all the functionality we would have when developing a normal Flask web API.

NOTE: At the time of writing this article OAS3 support had just come out for codegen.
So this article is written using OAS2. However everything in this article should be applicable
to OAS2 and AOS3.

Swagger UI


Now onto actually developing our API.

Project Structure

In this article our code will be using the following structure.

├── openapi/
├── src/
|   └── test_api
|   |  ├── wsgi.py
|   |  ├──__init__.py
|   |  ├── core/
|   |  └── web/
└── setup.py

Define Specification

First thing we do is define our OAS. We will use YAML to do this because I think it's much easier to read and almost all specifications you see will be written in YAML (not JSON). However you can write the specification in JSON if you so wish. There are a few tools that can make this a bit easier.

We can use the online swagger editor, which allows us to edit the OAS and you can see the OAS as an interactive document (half the screen for the editor and half for the interactive document). You can also run the editor locally as a Docker container

NOTE: If you use the editor to generate models (using swagger-codegn), it makes an API call to
a remote server. Run the swagger-codegen manually to generate the models locally, if you're using
this for work and confidentality matters.

My preferred way of writing an OAS is using VSCode with the
Swagger Viewer
plugin, which allows you to write the OAS and preview the interactive document at the same time.
I prefer this approach because I have all my plugins setup (colour scheme, vim bindings etc).

Now we have to define our specification. We will be using OAS version 2 because swagger-codegen
at the moment cannot generate models for flask for OAS version 3. Now I've created a very simple
specification for an imaginary pet store.

# openapi/specification.yml
swagger: "2.0"
  version: "1.0.0"
  title: "Pet Store"
basePath: "/api/v1"
  - name: "pet"
  - "https"
  - "application/json"
  - "application/json"
        - "pet"
      summary: "Get a pet in the store"
      operationId: "get_pet"
        - name: "pet_id"
          in: "path"
          description: "The id of the pet to retrieve"
          required: true
          type: "string"
          description: "Successfully retrived pet"
            $ref: "#/definitions/Pet"
          description: "Pet doesn't exist"
      x-swagger-router-controller: "test_api.web.controllers.pets_controller"
        - "pet"
      summary: "Remove a pet in the store"
      operationId: "remove_pet"
        - name: "pet_id"
          in: "path"
          description: "The id of the pet to remove from the store"
          required: true
          type: "string"
          description: "Successfully deleted pet"
          description: "Pet doesn't exist"
      x-swagger-router-controller: "test_api.web.controllers.pets_controller"

The specification defines several endpoints for our API. Essentially I've defined one endpoint for each of the main CRUD verbs (GET, POST, PUT and DELETE). Some things to note: the operation_id, will be the function name in our Python code. In a production, you should also look at using OAuth2 for securing your API this can also be defined within in the specification.

Note the extra field x-swagger-router-controller is very important. It is used by Connexion to
map which module (and function) to send requests to. For example a GET request send to /api/v1/pets,
will go to test_api.web.controllers.pets_controller and function called get_pet (operation_id)
so it looks like test_api.web.controllers.pets_controller:get_pet. Which means we call the function
in the folder src/test_api/web/controllers/pets_controller we call the get_pet function.

Server Stubs

Now we want to generate some server stubs from this specification we can do this by either using the codegen tool or in the editor we can go to Generate Server > python-flask. This will download a zip file, after you decompress it. We want to copy the controllers, models, encoder.py, __init__.py and util.py files into the web folder. The models are the classes of objects that we expect as input and output such as a Pet class. The controllers contain the actual webserver logic. There is one function for every endpoint (and CRUD method) we defined above, there is also one file for every tag we defined. In this example we only have one controller file because we only have tag called pet. Then in the controller we have 4 functions (named after the operation_id).

We have to make some changes to the codegen generated files. The imports will be wrong when we move the files. We have to change them from swagger_server. So for example controllers/pet_controller.py and models/pets.py would become:

from ..models.pet import Pet  # noqa: E501
from ..models.pets import Pets  # noqa: E501
from .. import util
from .base_model_ import Model
from .pet import Pet  # noqa: F401,E501
from .. import util

In this case I'm using relative imports but you could also use absolute imports. For example ..models.patch_request would become test_api.models.patch_request. It's all personal preference. This article goes into more detail on the issue.

Note: Some imports aren't required and can always be removed later, this will vary project to project. You can use a linter to help you determine
unused imports.

So now we have generated some models and controllers from our openapi specification we can write the logic for our application. I usually
write all of my core logic in a folder called core which is a sibling of test_api. Then I import the modules into the controllers. This
adds a nice layer of abstraction, let's say tomorrow you wanted to turn into a cli we can keep the core folder and delete the web folder
and add a cli library such as click. This involves minimal code change.

Note Some import maybe unnecessary you can use a linter (such as flask8) to help you remove them from the models.

Core Logic

I've created a file called pets.py in core. In this example we just write and read from a JSON file. This isn't the best code I've written but should be enough to show what we're trying to achieve. In reality this data would likely be stored in a database but I don't want to overcomplicate this example. As far as you're concerned data is being stored and retrieve from a file as if it were a database.


def add_pet(pet):
    pets = read_from_file()
    ids = pets.keys()
    new_id = int(ids[-1]) + 1
    pets[new_id] = {"name": pet.name, "breed": pet.breed, "price": pet.price}



Now we have our core logic, let's looks at how we interact with it in our controllers, first import test_api.core import pets import our new file into the controllers (pet_controller).

Then let's look at get_pet

def get_pet(pet_id):  # noqa: E501
    """Get a pet in the store

     # noqa: E501

    :param pet_id: The id of the pet to retrieve
    :type pet_id: str

    :rtype: Pet
        pet = pets.get_pet(pet_id)
        response = Pet(id=pet.id, breed=pet.breed, name=pet.name, price=pet.price), 200
    except KeyError:
        response = {}, 404

    return response

As you can see we call our get_pet() function from our core.pets module. Then if the pets exist we turn the dict that is returned, into a Python object of class Pet as per rtype we defined in our OAS. Connexion will handle converting this object into JSON. One other thing we do is if a KeyError exception was thrown, that must mean we don't have a pet with that id in the pet store. Say we have the following

  "1": {
    "name": "ginger",
    "breed": "bengal",
    "price": 100
  "2": {
    "name": "sam",
    "breed": "husky",
    "price": 10
  "3": {
    "name": "guido",
    "breed": "python",
    "price": 518

If we try to retrieve a pet of id 4, Python will throw a KeyError saying this doesn't exist (when we load the JSON file we convert into a dict). So in this case as per our OAS we want to return a 404 pet doesn't exist.

    description: "Successfully retrived pet"
      $ref: "#/definitions/Pet"
    description: "Pet doesn't exist"

One very important thing to note is that when we receive a HTTP request with JSON, say for the add_pet() function Connexion will convert this into a Python object for us and when we return a Python object it will convert that Python object into JSON. So within our controllers and core logic we don't actually need to interact with JSON at all. It's all abstracted away with the Connexion library. We also don't need to use Swagger codegen to generate the models and controllers we could've done ourselves, Connexions can run on it's own without them.

Let's see an example of this.

# pets_controller.py
def add_pet(body):  # noqa: E501
    """Add a new pet to the store

     # noqa: E501

    :param body: Pet to add to the store
    :type body: dict | bytes

    :rtype: None
    if connexion.request.is_json:
        body = Pet.from_dict(connexion.request.get_json())  # noqa: E501

    return {}, 201

The body variable will be a Python object of class Pet. We can then pass this as an argument to our other add_pet function in our core folder. As you can see we access attributes because it's an object not a dict i.e. pets["name"] vs pets.name.

# pets.py
def add_pet(pet):
    pets = read_from_file()
    ids = pets.keys()
    new_id = int(ids[-1]) + 1
    pets[new_id] = {"name": pet.name, "breed": pet.breed, "price": pet.price}

Swagger Codegen vs Connexion

So Connexion does all the routing and validation for us but Swagger codegen is what converts our input and output into Python classes. Connexions only deals with JSON, it will convert the JSON into it's equivalent Python object such as lists, strings and dictionary. Swagger codegen will take this input (a dictionary) and convert that into a Python class. One example of this in the add_pet function in the pets_controller file. It converts our dictionary into a Pet object (as shown below). So rather than accessing data using normal dictionary notation body["id"] we can now use body.id. body = Pet.from_dict(connexion.request.get_json()) # noqa: E501

For Codegen to convert our Python objects back into a dictionary, so that Connexion can then convert this into JSON so respond back we use the JSON encoder that codegen provides us (test_api.web.encoder). To use it all we need to add is to set it as our default encoder for our flask app flask_app.json_encoder = encoder.JSONEncoder, usually this is done in the app setup (shown below).

Run a Server

Now that we have our code how do we actually start up our web application so we can test it. To do this we will create a file which in turn will create our Connexion/Flask app and start the server, called run.py inside of our test_api folder.

import os

import connexion

from .web import encoder

def create_app():
    abs_file_path = os.path.abspath(os.path.dirname(__file__))
    openapi_path = os.path.join(abs_file_path, "../", "../", "openapi")
    app = connexion.FlaskApp(
        __name__, specification_dir=openapi_path, options={"swagger_ui": False, "serve_spec": False}
    app.add_api("specification.yml", strict_validation=True)
    flask_app = app.app
    flask_app.json_encoder = encoder.JSONEncoder

    return flask_app

You can run the application like a normal flask app from the project root(running from folder where openapi/ and src/ exist.)

FLASK_APP=./src/test_api/run.py FLASK_DEBUG=1 flask run

Example Project

Related to this article there is an example project which you can take a look at, to get it running do the following. Voila we have built a Flask web service with Connexion and OpenAPI.

git clone https://gitlab.com/hmajid2301/medium.git
cd medium/13.\ REST\ API\ using\ OpenAPI\,\ Flask\ \&\ Connexions/source_code/test-api
virtualenv .venv
source .venv/bin/activate
pip install -r requirements.txt
FLASK_APP=test_api.wsgi:app FLASK_DEBUG=1 flask run

Final Thoughts

So as you can see we've built an web API using Connexion and Flask, where all our code is generated based of our OAS. So now we are sure our API documentation is accurate. We've also managed to reduce some of the boilerplate using Flask, Connexions handles which functions should be called depending on the CRUD (Create Read Update Delete) operation and endpoints defined in the OAS.


Posted on by:

hmajid2301 profile

Haseeb Majid


Software Engineer | Python | Typescript


Editor guide

The article was really helpful. One change which I would suggest is to use ids = list(pets) instead of ids = pets.keys()