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Getting started with OpenAPI in your Backstage plugins

Target Audience: Plugin developers

Difficulty: Medium


The goal of this tutorial is to give you exposure to tools that more tightly couple your OpenAPI specification and plugin lifecycle. The tools we'll be presenting were created by the OpenAPI tooling project area and allow you to create,

  1. A typed express router that provides strong guardrails during development for input and output values. Support for query, path parameters and request body, as well as experimental support for headers and cookies.
  2. An auto-generated client to interact with your plugin's backend. Support for all request types, parameters and body, as well as return types. Provides a low-level interface to allow more customization by higher level libraries.
  3. Validation and verification tooling to ensure your API and specification stay in sync. Includes testing against your unit tests.


Technical Knowledge

This tutorial assumes that you're already familiar with the following,

  1. How to build a Backstage plugin.
  2. Express.js and Typescript
  3. OpenAPI 3.0 schemas

Setting up

There are two required npm packages before we start,

  1. @backstage/repo-tools, this package contains all OpenAPI related commands for your plugins. We will be using this throughout the tutorial.
  2. @useoptic/optic, this package is a dependency of @backstage/repo-tools but is only required for OpenAPI related commands.

Further, for generating the client a java binary has to be available on your PATH.

You should install both of the above packages in the root of your workspace.

Storing your OpenAPI specification

You should create a new folder, src/schema in your backend plugin to store your OpenAPI (and any other) specifications. For example, if you're adding a specification to the catalog plugin, you would add a src/schema folder to plugins/catalog-backend, making a plugins/catalog-backend/src/schema directory. This directory should have an openapi.yaml file inside.

Currently, only the .yaml extension is supported, not .yml.

Generating a typed express router from a spec

Run yarn backstage-repo-tools package schema openapi generate --server from the directory with your plugin. This will create an openapi.generated.ts file in the src/schema directory that contains the OpenAPI schema as well as a generated express router with types. You should add this command to your package.json for future use and you can combine both the server generation and the client generation below like so, yarn backstage-repo-tools package schema openapi generate --server --client-package <clientPackageDirectory>

Use it like so, update your router.ts or createRouter.ts file with the following content,

+ import { createOpenApiRouter } from '../schema/openapi.generated';
- import Router from 'express-promise-router';

export async function createRouter(
options: RouterOptions,
): Promise<express.Router> {
+ const router = await createOpenApiRouter();
- const router = Router();

Generating a typed client from a spec

From your current backend plugin directory, run yarn backstage-repo-tools package schema openapi generate --client-package <plugin-client-directory>. <plugin-client-directory> is a new directory and npm package that you should create. The general pattern is plugins/<plugin-name>-client or if you want to co-locate this with your other shared types, use plugins/<plugin-name>-common. You should add this command to your package.json for future use.

The generated client will have a directory src/generated that exports a DefaultApiClient class and all generated types. You can use the client like so,

+ import { DefaultApiClient } from './generated';

export class CatalogClient implements CatalogApi {
+ private readonly apiClient: DefaultApiClient;

constructor(options: {
discoveryApi: { getBaseUrl(pluginId: string): Promise<string> };
fetchApi?: { fetch: typeof fetch };
}) {
+ this.apiClient = new DefaultApiClient(options);

usage of the types will depend on your type names.

You should be able to use the generated DefaultApi.client.ts file out of the box for your API needs. For full customization, you can use a wrapper around the generated client to adjust the flavor of your clients.

For more information, see the docs.

Validating your spec with test traffic

Add the following lines to your createRouter.test.ts or router.test.ts file,

+ import { wrapInOpenApiTestServer } from '@backstage/backend-openapi-utils';
+ import { Server } from 'http';


describe('createRouter', () => {
- let app: express.Express;
+ let app: express.Express | Server;


- app = express().use(router);
+ app = wrapInOpenApiTestServer(express().use(router));

This adds a wrapper around the express server that allows it to reroute traffic for supertest. Run yarn backstage-repo-tools package schema openapi init to create some required files. Now, when you run yarn backstage-repo-tools repo schema openapi test your schema will now be tested against your test data. Any errors will be reported.

Our command is a small wrapper over Optic which does all of the heavy lifting.

For more information, see the docs.