Application programming interfaces, or APIs, have been around for decades. They function as software interfaces that enable applications to communicate with each other. But now, with the emergence of API-first architecture, APIs are entering a new phase. Let’s take a closer look at the concept of API-first architecture and how to get there.
We’ll start with a concrete example. Let’s say you’re the owner of a record store, and for the last couple of years you’ve run a webshop in addition to your brick-and-mortar store. You need search functionality so your customers can browse your stock online. That’s where a search API comes into play: it allows your website and the hosted search engine to exchange data. Most companies rely on APIs for nearly every business process: sales and marketing, communications, applications for consumers, etc.
What is API First architecture?
Given the above example, it’s obvious your team would say: “great, let’s start building more of these applications!”. There are two ways to go about it. The Code-first or the API-first approach. In a code-first approach developers would first write the code of the application’s functionality and in a later stage figure out how that software should communicate to other systems.
The red flag here is that no two pieces of software are alike. And it requires constant tinkering and bootstrapping interfaces between the two in order to make it work. That’s a resource-heavy and time-consuming approach, especially when you start to scale.
Instead, you want to build products rapidly and securely in a way that is future-proofed and easily scaled. An API-first architecture helps with that.
An API-first architecture means that you start with the interface – or the bridge – first. By creating the connecting piece – the API – you can easily stitch it together with whatever software you have on either side. An API-first architecture is the designing and building of your programming interface(s) first, and then starting the development of the application. With an API-first architecture, you are focused on building entire ecosystems of applications that are all modular and reusable with maximum agility.
API First architecture: The next big thing
At a lot of cutting-edge businesses, APIs have been crucial to the evolution of their developers’ success. Why? Because the end products, such as apps, are increasingly popular for mobile devices, and APIs are used in customized client applications. This has led to an evolution of software designed around APIs, or what’s become known as API-first architecture. The way software is written should make it possible to perform every action using the same scripting language, and all functionalities should be available to other systems.
Following the principles of API-first architecture results in maximum flexibility and agility. This is no longer an optional extra for businesses, as the consumption of data has increased exponentially, by both humans and machines. We constantly consume data via applications on a range of different devices — smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops — and we expect apps to work and look good on all of them.
Efficiency and speed
API-first architecture ensures that APIs serve all applications and that applications can be developed and maintained efficiently on all devices, platforms, and operating systems. But there’s more. Another big advantage is that development costs are reduced, since the APIs and coding can be used again and again on different projects. Development teams don’t need to start from scratch when building a new app. Thanks to the API-first design, most problems can be solved before any code is written. This means that development teams can work in parallel, as they’re all working with the same API-first architecture.
API-first architecture is also gaining traction because it allows businesses to get their product to market more quickly. APIs and application development keep speeding up thanks to the shift toward automation. This also applies to adding new services and technologies to applications, because there’s no need to redesign the entire system. All that is achieved while also reducing the risk of failure. API-first design guarantees reliability, consistency, and usability.
How to get started with API-first architecture?
Understanding why an API-first approach could really make the difference for your company is one thing, getting there and implementing it is another. So we want to give you some key takeaways that should inform your API-first plan.
- What are your key services? — As a business manager, you’re probably best placed to identify the key services and capabilities of your business. The design and construction of APIs starts from this service perspective. A use case for each API will come in handy for identifying potential endpoints and limitations.
- API stakeholders — As many people as possible should be involved in your API-first initiative. Why? If all the teams in your organization share a vision, you have a better chance of success. And the more people participate in the API-first design, the better the initial design will be, with a reduced chance of problems.
- API contract — Reusability is one of the core concepts of API-first architecture. Open and accessible APIs enable companies to seamlessly reuse, redeploy, and share functionalities. To put this into practice, a consistent API description language is vital, i.e. a set of rules and agreements setting out how an API should behave. Establishing this requires some time and effort, and you might encounter unforeseeable pitfalls.
- Consistent design — The above also applies to the design of APIs: codes, versioning, error handling, etc. A comprehensive style guide ensures consistency between development teams, so all APIs are designed in the same way.
- Automate processes — APIs lend themselves automation by processes for generating API documentation, style validation, API mocking, versioning, etc. API-first architecture also allows self-service for developers, so they can start building apps with APIs from scratch in no time.
- Track and manage — The advantages of speed, efficiency, and self-service are clear, but you have to be careful not to duplicate code or build excess APIs. You can keep an eye on this by tracking and managing your API portfolio using a managing system.
- Set up a portal — Development teams should have easy access to everything that’s API related: specifications, documentation, contracts, versions, etc. Ideally, this should all be stored in one central place or portal. An internal app, if you will.
We can help
With an API-first approach you have the key to digital transformation in hand. APIs make collaboration easier, create new avenues for business and can disrupt entire industries for the better. At Yenlo, we consider API-first infrastructure as the next big thing in the digital world. If you’d like to know more about how you can shape the best integration strategy with API-first development in mind, we are here to help you discover the opportunities available to you! Schedule a free consultation with one of our experts.