Best Practices in API Design

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According to RapidAPI’s global State of APIs Developer Survey 2021, an annual report featuring trends in application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development, 61.6% of software developers relied on APIs more in 2021 than they did in 2020. Meanwhile, 68.4% anticipated using them even more in 2022. In short: API design and strategy matter. 

API design is a critical facet of any development process, enabling modern organizations to extend the functionality and capabilities of their programs and operations. In short, any business that is involved in software development and/or web development should make it part of their strategy.

An eye on API architecture — and good API design — mean a better experience for the user and developer alike. 

While building APIs is difficult, it is critical to ensure that you are devoting proper attention to them. That’s because while there are many rewards to creating a strong API design, poor construction can result in myriad complications and, ultimately, a bad user experience — something that can wreak havoc on your entire company.

Here, we will look at API best practices, particularly as they pertain to RESTful APIs, a popular subset of the larger principle.

What is API design and why does it matter?

Any technological concept or entity requires a well-planned-out approach and design, and API architecture and creation are no different.

APIs are used, essentially, as communication tools, connecting systems, users, developers, and other parties, revealing important data within the program. They include definitions and instructions for creating the products they serve. 

API design, then, is the careful attention you give to mapping out and building APIs. 

This process — the decision-making that goes into creating APIs — can be rewarding when you do it well; that is why it’s so important in software development. Some of the many advantages include:

• Better user experience

• Better developer experience

• More consistency

• Time savings

• Increased flexibility

• Simplicity in design

• Faster time to market

• More informed decisions

• Better documentation

• Greater opportunities to create and innovate

• More business value and stronger outcomes

Best practices for API design

So, what are some API best practices? Here’s what to keep in mind during the process.

1. Align your goals.

Any development process should complete the organization’s overarching strategy and goals — and API design should, too. When you’re formulating your API process, you should be able to conceptualize it within the framework of your larger business objectives. Consider the value it will bring to your business and how APIs will not only complement your strategy but become an integral component of it.

Think about the opportunities your API strategy can bring to the overall organization. This will guide the construction of these important tools and the specific effort you put into the design, as well as how you will use it most effectively. 

2. Consider the Ws.

What, what, when, where, why, and how — this is what you should always have in mind when thinking about API design. More specifically:

Who are your users and target audience? Who are your team members?

What are the users’ needs and wants? What are you trying to do with your APIs and overall product? What value will they bring to the business?

When is your planned release date?

Where do your APIs fit in with your overarching business goals?

Why are you building these APIs? 

How will you design, support, and maintain them? How will you track and measure outcomes?

3. Use nouns.

It’s a simple but important point — when it comes to API best practices, nouns are better than verbs. They are based on nouns, after all, and they denote the items that fit the endpoints. More specifically, try to use plural nouns as opposed to singular ones, assuming, of course, that this is appropriate.

4. Be simple yet descriptive.

Your API should always be straightforward and easy to understand. It should have a simple construction and descriptor, and the language and practices surrounding it should be consistent. For example, make all naming conventions singular or plural across the set.

At the same time, the descriptions should be complete and thorough. The name should be meaningful, such that anyone using it can immediately understand what it is and how it is used. 

5. Document.

Document, document, document. This is critical for any development practice, and it’s pivotal for API construction. You must always document your efforts and aim to answer any questions that should arise. This makes the APIs and surrounding circumstances more accessible to users and developers alike.

6. Provide feedback.

In order for the developers to improve their API approach and structure, they need insight into how they’re doing. Giving feedback helps them hone their API design and strategy, leading them to success. 

This isn’t limited to errors or mishaps. Developers should constantly and consistently receive feedback — including positive messages — to help them self-evaluate and understand what’s working well, not just what’s going wrong. 

7. Have the user in mind.

Ultimately, API design, like all product and software development, is about the user. The very purpose is to make humans’ lives easier — the developers and the consumers. So, when you’re constructing APIs, you should have that end user in mind.

To that end, while building APIs, consider how to make the experience as seamless as possible. These tools should be simple and easy to use. Think about the structure, the methodology, the format, the data, and the content. They should fit into the context — bear in mind that APIs are not all appropriate for the same situation — understanding that you will need unique APIs for various applications.

8. Remember that it’s a continuous process.

API development is an ongoing effort, much like many processes within your organization. As your business evolves, you should continue to assess and reassess your strategy to ensure that your efforts complement your overall goals and objectives as an organization. This will ensure that you will continue to take advantage of the potential of API design and how it can move your business forward.

For developers, API design is a critical tool to have in your arsenal. At Nearsure, our talented specialists know the value it adds to any business — that’s why this is a foundational skill we look for in hiring quality developers and IT professionals. Learn more about the expertise our specialists can bring to your next project.