APIs are essential to developers for succeeding in this high-demand consumer services world. New tools to enhance a developer’s experience and aid them in developing an interface with websites are released daily. As a developer, you need to figure out which tools to use that will help you create high-quality APIs.
In this beginner’s guide, CrescoData’s CTO Florian Rueckert is able to share insights about API, its important elements and its benefits to eCommerce businesses and startups.
Why startups need to focus on APIs
“APIs offer a standard interface to services, features and data points. With all communication going through these predefined interfaces, any setup can scale more easily, can be used externally and is therefore applicable to a broader range of users,” says Rueckert.
With more than 14 years of experience as a technologist, Rueckert feels that for startups to be flexible from a business and technology standpoint, it is important to modularise their offerings as much as possible. This means making each feature as an independent and dedicated offering. This can be done with API with backdoors or hidden workflows – for external users and for staff members.
Use of a module (internally or externally) should only offer one interface. With a setup like this, only a single data flow is supported and therefore only a single dataflow needs to be tested. It also means that all features are available externally as well as internally to staff members. Focusing on APIs helps achieving a setup like this because it encourages to think about different features as distinct smaller actions and each of those actions is available via an API.
The evolution of API or Application Programming Interface
Using an API simplifies the data process for you as a developer as there are considerably fewer steps that you will have to take in developing that app-website communication process because the API does it for you.
Early implementations were complex in comparison to today’s standards. A big focus used to be on extreme flexibility and automatic adjustments to changes often with an approach to ensure that the communication always works even if the data undergoes changes. Formats like XML or protocols like SOAP were powerful tools with these goals in mind.
With recent developments, APIs have taken a simpler and more easy-to-maintain approach. Data formats like JSON are easier to develop against and understand. API versioning, when done right, forces the selection of the supported protocol explicitly rather than implicitly. The setup and maintenance of these RESTful standards is a lot easier today.
Defining the API’s purpose and knowing your audience
When thinking about developing APIs, it is necessary to approach each project like you are selling a product. Ask yourself, why is an API needed? Are you trying to interface with multiple systems? Do you need to sync your data? How frequently is data being retrieved?
The development stage is also the time to determine if you are going to monetise your API. Being aware of your goals will help you determine which type of API is the best fit for your project.
Knowing your audience is also key to determining the purpose of the API. Your audience can be:
- the developer who will be applying your API into his program,
- the business that hires you, and
- the consumer who will be using the end product.
While you are designing for other developers, your audience is the end-user or the consumer. Keep each of these users in mind as you program.
Types of APIs
There are two types of APIs: web-service APIs and web APIs. Many times you will use aspects from both types. For example, a product might need the support of both REST and Open APIs.
Web-services APIs are developed for software or systems that use a web URL to access its database. Here are the four most common types of web-services APIs. Out of these four, Simple Object Access Protocol is the most commonly used web-services API.
- SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol)
- REST (Representational State Transfer)
The most popular type of APIs are web-based. Web APIs receive a request from a user and returns data in response to that request. There are four types of web-based APIs.
- Partner (licensed or “permissioned” access to the APIs)
Open/Public is the most used web-based API. Examples of Open/Public APIs are Google Maps, weather, traffic, calendar, news, Dropbox, and Ticketmaster.
Designing API tools
In your design-making process to develop APIs you should consider whether your primary goal is to: reduce development time, reduce the costs of development, assist in mobile application, or for “social” integration. When designing APIs, developers want tools that are simple to use and easy to implement. API developers use five tools when they develop high-quality APIs: functional testing tools, unit testing tools, API documentation tools, CI/CD tools, and source control hosts.
Tools like SwaggerHub, Apiary and Reprezen can help development teams design and build APIs in a collaborative environment. Some of the tools that CrescoData relies on are Swagger to technically document the API and as a central format to communicate API setups between tools plus Slate for a standardised and broadly used way of providing an API documentation interface.
API documentation and testing
Platforms and tools can be used incorrectly without the right documentation and understanding of features and functionality. This applies even more so to APIs where terminology is not always as clear as it can be in GUIs. For end-users and developers to use a platform and API correctly, it is important to offer documentation that outlines features, functionality, use cases and ideally samples.
Cleanly structured APIs clearly define a range of actions and provide a clearly defined output of successes and failures. With such, testing becomes easier as flows are broken down into smaller tasks with clearly defined outputs. These tests should be automated wherever possible and part of a continuous deployment flow. Platforms and tools can be used incorrectly without the right documentation and understanding of features and functionality.
This applies even more so to APIs where terminology is not always as clear as it can be in GUIs. For end-users and developers to use a platform and API correctly, it’s important to offer documentation that outlines features, functionality, use cases and ideally samples.
Find the right team
APIs are the integration tools to this digital world. According to a report published by Accenture in 2016, 81% of executives say platform-based business models will be core to their growth strategy within three years. APIs are the key to this new era of digital transformation. Open designs are key to allowing platforms to be well-integrated and to scale. By exposing key features and functionalities, as well as making data points available to external tools, well designed APIs are extremely relevant to the success of any platform.
The development team will determine the success of your API. You need a team like the developers at CrescoData who are committed to seamless integration of platforms in commerce markets. Our techniques and expert team will help you reduce costs and manage maintenance issues, leaving you the freedom to develop. Connect to the CrescoData Commerce Connect Platform’s Open APIs to access their efficient, user-friendly features.