Building an API Without Losing Your Mind
Thousands of APIs are created and added each year. They’re kind of the hidden backbone of everything we do on our phones and computers, allowing various software programs to communicate with each other without issue.
This behind-the-scenes action that’s taking place is quickly developing into its own economy with photo sharing, online shopping, ride sharing and more, all taking advantage of APIs. It’s big business these days.
But what exactly is an API?
What Is an API?
An API, or application programming interface, is essentially a list of operations that developers can use to help make up their application. You as the developer don’t need to know how to implement a “save” button, you just need to know that you can add one.
If you are developing an app for an iPhone, Apple provides you with APIs to make your job easier—just like with any other operating system. This way, if you want to use an iPhone’s camera in your app, you don’t have to develop the coding to do so. It’s already set up for you in an API. Apple has done this part of the work for you so you can focus on creating the rest of your app.
It’s like a link between two different software programs that gets them to play nicely together. You can find out a little bit more about how this works here.
Think of it like a banana split. You don’t have to grow the bananas, make the ice cream or find the toppings—you just have to choose the flavors you want to incorporate, the ones that serve your banana split (or in this case your app) and put them together.
Building an API
What if you want to create one yourself? Let’s say you’re creating a series of apps that would require the same function or you want to put a brand new API on the market that other developers will want to buy and use. This would be a perfect opportunity to create your own API.
If we are using the banana split analogy, this is like creating a custom flavor of ice cream. No one has created your flavor the way that you like it before, so you need to make it yourself, then you plan on using it in several different sundaes.
Tips to Consider Before You Start
What are some things you should know before you start building your very own API? Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Use a specification framework: There are tools you can use to create your API that can help you through each step of the development process. This also helps you automate your process. You can use these to remove some of the hassle.
- Secure your endpoints: You always should be thinking of security but especially when you are creating something that will be crucial to the functionality of your app or your website. Add authentication, access controls and authorization to limit the vulnerability of your API.
- Continue to monitor your API after its release: You can learn a lot from how your API works once it’s been released into the wild. Continue providing support for your users so that when endpoint issues arise, your team can make the necessary changes to keep them from happening again.
Step 1: Preparation and Planning
Just as you would create a blueprint before you build a house, you want to come up with a plan for what your API will look like, what it will do.
You will want to be very specific and clear about the functions of your API. What is your application’s domain? List all the terms used in your application, and establish what they mean and what they will do.
One of the big questions? What is the architectural style of your API?
It’s architectural style refers to what the API does, how it works and what type of API it is, which will fit into one of the following five categories:
- Web/internet API: This is a network API that is addressable across the internet.
- Product API: A product API is networkable, but typically it comes built in with software you might purchase and download, like a CRM platform.
- Standard API: A standard API is a non-browser API that gets other APIs to play nicely together, especially when there are multiple implementations.
- Browser API: A browser API is there to enable web apps like web audio or other functions while using a browser.
- System/Embedded: A system or embedded API is usually specific to an operating system or device. For example, if you use your fingerprint sensor to log in on your bank’s mobile app, chances are you are using a system API to connect the app to the device’s fingerprint sensor.
The next thing you have to decide is what style coding you are planning to use—this is known as your style guide. What media type are you using? What kind of authentication will be in place? What are the naming conventions?
The more thorough you are in defining how you plan to create your API, the easier it will be to follow your own plans. Once you have finished planning your API, you’re ready for Step No. 2.
Step 2: Building
After you’ve written out a well-thought-out plan, it’s time to start creating your own API. This is also your prototype phase.
First you need to determine what resources you are using—the terms you listed in your application domain and the states these resources might be in.
For example, if your resource is a door, it either might be closed or open. You need to prepare your API to handle either state to avoid major headaches or bugs along the way. Likewise, a message may be sent, drafted or archived—do you have a plan in place for all of these states?
Without accounting for all of the major players, all of the resources involved and all of the states they may be in, coding will be a challenge and you will run into roadblocks.
Don’t forget to use the style guide and naming conventions you’ve already established so there is a clear plan in place for each step of the coding process. That will help keep you from losing your mind when you try to find specific parts of your coding later.
Step 3: Testing and Inspection
This is a crucial part of your API building process before you take your API live. Does it work on multiple devices using all sorts of operating systems?
Some companies may not test their APIs before they release them but then may run into issues later—bugs and endpoints that don’t always work. You want your API to work in all different scenarios so that no matter what, it is usable.
You’ll want to test API locally first before wading into the waters of more generalized testing. It’s helpful to have an API testing tool to automate this process and find any existing bugs or kinks in your coding and programming. You can find a list of the strongest, most reliable API testing tools here to save yourself the trouble of conducting all the testing yourself and to ensure you’ve thoroughly tested it.
Once your API has been tested, it’s ready for deployment! You can share your API, continue to monitor it, and make improvements to make your API stronger and better than ever.
Do you have an idea for an API for your app, or are you looking for some extra assistance to create an app or an API for your brand? Let us help you.
At Webbege, we are skilled in providing web development services for companies just like yours and know all the proper steps to create an API that works for you no matter what.
We pride ourselves on being creative problem solvers, and we want to help solve your API and web development problems. Ready to see what we can do? Contact us today!