June 17, 2021
Strategies for Designing, Building and Delivering APIs
Your API development process will dictate whether you can maintain the speed limit all the way through or whether you will hit a few speed bumps. If you don’t implement a well-thought-out process or don’t use any process at all, you will likely find yourself repairing many flat tires!
On the other hand, a methodological standard process helps you deliver quality APIs. You will experience fewer defects, shorter delivery times, and faster time to value.
In this article, we examine three of the key phases of the API development process. From Designing to Building to Delivering, each step has certain strategies you will want to follow.
Designing APIs: Careful Planning Before Coding
The first step in designing APIs is to examine the mission you hope to accomplish. This includes defining your users. They could be existing customers, potential customers, strategic partners, internal developers, external developers, or perhaps a combination of audiences. You also want to consider their backgrounds—such as mobile app development, enterprise app development, and/or IT operations—and unique requirements.
From there, consider the challenges you are trying to solve for your users or the opportunity you hope to give them. Perhaps it’s a more efficient process for them to drive a business workflow by connecting with one of your application services. Or you may have a revenue opportunity they can tap into. For the challenge you propose to solve, or the opportunity you offer, it’s also good to identify specific use-cases your API will support.
Then look inwardly—what’s the value of the API to your organization? By defining the internal benefits, you set the stage for getting the resources and emotional buy-in you need from your team as well as business leaders to help drive the project to a successful conclusion.
You can then delve into designing the API with the necessary syntax and code to make the API visually appealing. You also want to provide an interface that helps end-users understand how the API works and how to integrate with the API. This involves providing the structure of resources and the documentation of your resources.
An effective API design will be easy to work with, and its operations can be quickly memorized by developers. As a result, incorrect code is less likely to occur.
A strong design also gives you a blueprint for what your API wants to achieve and streamlines implementation. You will also avoid complicated configurations while making sure there’s adherence to naming schemas.
A Business Leader’s Guide to APIs
Building REST APIs: Standards Boost Efficiency
The most common approach for building web and mobile APIs is REST (Representational State Transfer). REST provides data as representations of resources and uses a variety of data formats including JSON, XML, HTML, and plain text. Requests can be cached, and no detailed contracts are needed.
REST is a flexible architectural style with loose guidelines, but there are certain constraints that define a REST architecture:
- Code each call to provide the necessary context.
- Avoid storing information about previous interactions.
- Develop the backend independently from the user interface.
- Inform users whether responses are cacheable.
- Use a layered communication between client and server that benefits from caching and facilitates scalability.
- Use a uniform UI so calls from different clients look alike.
As you develop the code and the framework to implement your API, there are also a few best-practice tips to keep in mind. For example, throttling allows you to redirect traffic overflows and protect the API from Denial of Service attacks, and API keys enable you to make sure only authorized users can access the data. It’s also important to encrypt confidential information.
Don’t forget to create documentation for your API. This will make it easy for developers to understand the whole process and utilize the information for creating better user experiences. Good documentation will also lessen project implementation times and project costs while boosting your API efficiency.
Delivering APIs: Choices Depend on Target Audience
You have three choices in the way you deliver APIs. They can be open to the public, closed for internal use only, or you can use a hybrid approach to give access to a limited set of external users, which might be strategic business partners or a select set of customers.
For open APIs, the main priority is to make the APIs easily consumed by external developers, so it’s important to avoid using proprietary protocols and custom data formats. Open APIs offer tremendous opportunities to insert your application services into external applications that will potentially lead to customers purchasing your products and services.
Closed APIs are usually best when you want to keep development in-house. A closed API allows only your development team to use the application services to make new applications. This gives you a high degree of control over the types of applications that can be developed and the different functions they can perform. While the capabilities of the application will be limited to what the internal team was able to envision and develop, the application will be fully dictated by your business.
With a hybrid approach, you can open your APIs for limited use by companies with an application that represents a strategic value to your application. To grant access, you would give partner developers a unique key ID, but you would keep the API closed for everyone else.
Whether to use this hybrid approach or keep an API closed or open should be driven by the business strategy of the application you are developing. Accessibility has its benefits because outside developers can offer innovative ideas and new ways your application can be leveraged. An open API will also increase the growth in the number of applications that will work within your application’s environment so that your customer base can expand more rapidly.
Helping Your Key Audiences Solve Challenges and Seize Opportunities
The ultimate goal of any API development project is to produce high-quality, reliable, and maintainable code—quickly and cost-effectively. Staying on-track, on-time and within budget is only possible with a well-designed development process.
By carefully planning what is best for your APIs and adhering to best practices in the Design, Build and Delivery phases, your team is much more likely to collaborate effectively. More importantly, you will help your key audiences solve workflow challenges and seize upon revenue opportunities.
APIs are a vital component of the products we build at 3Pillar Global. Whether you are struggling with your current APIs, or planning an API strategy, be sure to download the Business Leader's Guide to APIs. To learn how we can help your product development efforts, contact an expert today.