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By: on June 10, 2021 Leave a Comment
It is no secret that web APIs have become increasingly important to the operation of modern businesses. According to RapidAPI’s Developer Survey and Insights report, 61% of developers used more APIs in 2020 than 2019, with 71% planning to use even more in 2021. We are no longer tied to a small number of monolithic service providers. Businesses tend to gravitate toward specialized managed services, such as billing and authentication, which are backed by APIs. Business models for new products and services are constructed based on APIs. Trust has become a necessity for APIs. APIs that perform consistently and with high quality earn trust, and those that do not are abandoned for a competitor.
If a market exists for an API, it’s a given that there will be competition. To remain competitive, APIs must build and maintain trust with their consumers; sales and marketing can only go so far. The highest quality APIs will inevitably capture the largest slice of market share. Quality isn’t a destination, either—it is a collection of goals that require continuous investment.
Just like the code that drives an API, the quality of an API itself is quantifiable. The following facets describe some broad categories used to measure API quality. The weight of each facet will vary depending on how business-critical the API will be when in production.
Resilient. An API is resilient when it continues to operate in the face of adverse conditions. Can an API continue to operate (even at reduced capacity) if the database is down? How does it handle network traffic spikes?
Robust. A robust API is liberal in what it accepts, but conservative in what it sends. Will it crash when presented with a poorly formatted request, or respond with instructions on how the caller can fix the problem themselves? Can the code be restructured without breaking the API contract?
Secure. API security is vital in most deployments. Are efforts made to check for OWASP Top 10 Web App security risks? Are open source vulnerabilities known and addressed in a timely manner? Are secure endpoints gated with authentication?
Discoverable. APIs that are well documented and well structured are much easier to consume and integrate with other services.
Consistent. A consistent API is one that changes without negatively impacting existing consumers. Changes are backward compatible or versioned as new features are introduced. API consumers should know far in advance if a breaking change will be coming if it cannot be avoided.
Processes, tools and, most importantly, culture, are the key to high-quality APIs. Let’s explore how we can approach each API quality facet.
Resilient. Processes such as chaos engineering, load testing and manual quality assurance can uncover situations where an API is failing to handle unexpected situations. Deploying your API to a cloud provider with a compelling SLA instead of your own hardware and network shifts the burden of infrastructure resiliency to a service, freeing your time to build features for your customers.
Robust. A comprehensive suite of automated tests isn’t always sufficient to provide a robust API. Edge cases, unexpected code branches and other unplanned behavior may be triggered by requests that were not considered when writing the test suite. Traditional automated tests should be complimented by fuzz testing to help uncover hidden execution paths. Canary and blue-green deployments can further expose your API to the real world in a limited manner and prepare for when even more unexpected requests will hit.
Secure. API security is a moving target. It is expected that most APIs are built on layers of open source libraries and frameworks. Software composition analysis is a necessity to stay on top of zero-day vulnerabilities by identifying vulnerable dependencies as soon as they are discovered. OWASP guidance is a must-have—directing API developers to implement attack mitigation strategies such as CORS and CSRF protection. Application logic must be well tested for authorization and authentication.
Discoverable. For REST APIs, the OpenAPI initiative provides a consistent language for describing the API. Many frameworks, such as Spring Boot, can even generate OpenAPI documentation directly from your code. gRPC-based APIs offer similar benefits by providing both instructions for accessing the API and building the clients to communicate with it. Adding support for GraphQL allows developers to connect multiple APIs together with consistent tooling. Whichever direction you choose, it is vital to keep API documentation up to date and accessible.
Consistent. To be consistent, the API development process should make incompatible changes obvious. Code reviews can catch many breaking changes right at the source. API contract testing and integration testing can be used to discover API changes as part of the build. When working in a microservices environment, staging environments may alert engineers if an API change will cause problems before production.
According to the RapidAPI survey, 58% of executives said participating in the API economy was a top priority for their organization. The figure was even higher in certain industries such as telecommunications, where the number is 89%. Whether you are building APIs for internal use or for public consumption, your goal should be to earn the trust of API consumers. Investing in the culture, tools and processes to build quality APIs will pave the way to building and maintaining that trust.
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