In the interconnected web and cloud space, we have today, it is hard to imagine that a world existed where APIs did not exist. From the early days of middleware, APIs have proven their relevance by allowing us to interconnect our worlds over the internet. Today we have some major players orbiting the API scene. APIs such as GraphQL and REST API.
While some developers prefer to manually integrate their chosen API into the application they are building, some online development platforms offer seamless integration of these APIs directly into the online development environment. These online platforms, like amplication.com for example, provide auto-generation of API authentication and security built-in. Greatly simplifying the experience of the developer, resulting in applications being more robust and concise.
While these APIs are available for any developer to use, a development team might have a very specific use case that requires a specialized API to be developed. Such an API would cater to transferring a distinct dataset to a user or system that would not necessarily be catered for by existing APIs.
All APIs are not created equal though, and best practices are often necessary to guide developers in the process of building such custom APIs.
What are the traits of a well-developed API
While APIs that are built for industry-specific applications allow distinct customization some factors need to be considered when developing a custom API.
Well-developed APIs need to be developer friendly. This implies that they are easy to understand and that the implementation thereof should not be overly complex. The source code of such APIs is typically easy to read too, so developers are not discouraged to work with it. A second trait is that an API needs to be designed in such a way that developers don’t need to write complex code to utilize it. The more complex the source must be the more error-prone such code will be. With that said the technical weight should not be passed onto the end user either. By keeping the process simple both sides would benefit from the API.
The third trait is that the API should be comprehensive enough to be utilized in multiple scenarios. A well-developed API will allow developers to build feature-rich applications using the data being exposed by the API. The maturity of the API should increase over time as the authors continually improve it.
How APIs share resources
Since the purpose of APIs is to facilitate the connection between two systems where communication relies on a predefined set of rules. These rules dictate which resources are available to the connecting application requests. Resources provide data as well as links to other resources and methods of reading and altering data.
These resources are accessed through well-formed URLs following a specific convention. The syntax of this URL should be intuitive to mitigate possible input issues. One way of achieving this is by utilizing nouns in the URL to access methods.
Giving adequate feedback to adopting developers
Having an API that provides ambiguous feedback or is unresponsive when connected to are caveats of a poorly designed API. Understandably, relevant feedback must be given back to the entity connecting to the API. This consideration will make developers more willing to adopt and implement your API. Not only should errors be concisely and informatively communicated but also connection successes.
By providing concise feedback the API will allow developers to troubleshoot possible issues in their product, giving them adequate context on the usage of the API.
The API should be designed to adhere to and utilize the HTTP error code standards. Allow developers to pinpoint which part of the stack is not functioning as expected. Enough information needs to be provided to the developer without being overelaborate.
The fact of the matter is that APIs are simply no longer a case of “one size fits all”. Ultimately an API needs to be able to facilitate communication and data transfer with an external resource and it is this requirement that needs to guide the API design process. To increase the adoption of the custom API it needs to be well-designed, not hindering developers with overly complex technical intricacies, while being efficient and secure.