Top API challenges and how to overcome them

APIs are modular programs that allow businesses to cut development costs and shorten the time needed to develop software. APIs also provide companies access to software services, external features, and other resources, enabling scalability and better functionality for modern apps. However, companies need a clear strategy to develop and integrate APIs with existing systems to hurry up the process. There is also a need for clarity on what the API does and how it works, as they need to spend more time on documentation. API development is different from application development, and therefore, the challenges are also unique. So, while APIs have several benefits as they help link data and systems, there are also a few challenges. This blog will discuss these challenges in greater detail below and offer tips to overcome them.

API Challenges

When it comes to API development, there are a few key challenges that can be hard for even the most experienced developers. But with a bit of planning and forethought, these challenges can be overcome easily.

Where do you begin?

The first challenge is figuring out where to start. With so many different options and moving parts, it can be tough to know where to begin. The best way to tackle this challenge is to start by defining your goals for the API. What do you want it to do? Who will be using it? Once you have a clear idea of your objectives, you can start mapping out the different pieces that need to come together to make your API a reality. This mapping will encompass APIs’ different standards and protocols. There are many moving parts to APIs, each with its own set of standards and protocols. This can be overwhelming, but luckily there are tools available to help make sense of it all. Swagger is one such tool that can help you design, build, document, and test your API all in one place. Moreover, security is key regardless of the software in any form. It is only more so because they expose data and functionality to external parties, ensuring that your API is secure from potential attacks is essential. Some standard methods include using tokens or keys for authentication and authorization, rate limiting requests, and encrypting data in transit.

Lack of Documentation

One of the main challenges to API integration is the need for stronger documentation. Either the documentation is subpar, inaccurate, or overly complicated. For web APIs with straightforward calls, it’s not a complete deal breaker, but for more complex libraries, it can be stressful.

While the API developer may find the library and class structures intuitive, the external developer who must use or integrate them may not. APIs simplify the coding process and eliminate duplication (in addition to providing a gateway layer). This goal is defeated by poorly documented and annotated code, which forces developers to experiment and learn as much as possible from the visible code.

Therefore, API developers must take the time to document the code, including an API specification guide and code snippets.

How to build your API team?

API teams are responsible for developing and maintaining APIs that enable other parts of the organization to access data and functionality. They typically consist of software developers, architects, and testers. Building an effective API team requires careful planning and execution. Here are some tips:

  • Define the team’s goals and objectives. What does the team need to achieve? What key performance indicators (KPIs) will be used to measure success?
  • Identify the skills and expertise required. What kind of technical skills will team members need? What about soft skills like communication and collaboration?
  • Recruit the right people. Use job descriptions, candidate screening questions, and coding challenges to identify candidates with the right skills and attitudes.
  • Build a collaborative culture. Encourage team members to share knowledge and best practices, solicit feedback, and embrace change.
  • Invest in tooling and automation. API teams need the right tools to be productive, including IDEs, automated testing tools, CI/CD pipelines, etc.

What to track while building your API?

Using inaccurate metrics to track and measure API performance can be a challenge. Therefore, choosing a set of standard agile metrics is essential. There are many things to track while building your API. The most important aspect of the API is to track the number of endpoints and methods exposed by your API. This will give you an indication of how complete your API is. Other things to track include:

  • The latency of each endpoint.
  • The number of requests per second that your API can handle.
  • The average response time for each endpoint.
  • The number and types of errors that are returned by your API.

Other metrics include API adoption, cost reduction, and data-specific KPIs. By tracking these metrics, you will be able to gauge the performance of your API and identify areas that need improvement.

Testing your APIs

Web APIs like REST, RPC, and SOAP need extensive testing to meet the expected standards. API testing can be challenging when you have to test all combinations of data values and different use cases. APIs must be tested to handle large loads while remaining secure. Therefore, API developers must create stringent testing protocols, such as

  • Validation testing to test efficiency and API behavior
  • Functional testing to ensure that the API performs as required
  • Load testing to measure how many calls API can manage
  • Security testing to assess the access controls and API’s encryption.
  • Penetration testing to analyze the attack vectors from outside
  • Reliability testing to ensure that the APIs produce consistent results

Thorough testing will ensure that the connections are reliable, secure, and scalable in the long term. It is best to plan and write the API tests based on the scope of your API.

How to ensure your APIs have business value?

When it comes to APIs, ensuring they have business value is critical. When APIs’ ownership resides within the IT department, they tend to be classified in more technical terms. It doesn’t always smooth the way for business stakeholders to engage with a particular API design or program. Driving customer experiences is the objective, which requires all stakeholders to engage with the IT teams and prioritize the APIs that enhance CX. Here are some ways to overcome this challenge:

  • Define what success looks like for your API. It could be increased brand awareness, traffic to your website, or increased sales.
  • Set KPIs and track them regularly. It will help you measure whether or not your API has the desired effect.
  • Make sure your API is well-documented and easy to use. If developers can’t figure out how to use your API, they will not bother with it.
  • Promote your API through social media, blog posts, and developer conferences. The more visibility your API has, the more likely it is to be used by developers.
  • Keep your API up-to-date and add new features regularly. Developers will quickly lose interest in an outdated API, so it’s essential to keep things fresh.

The right tools and technology to build your APIs

Your choice of tools will depend on first knowing the application development framework or platform to build the APIs. The technology must be feasible and ensure that your API has robust error handling. Additionally, your decision will be based on the API developer portal and the gateway that will house the APIs, capture transaction analytics, etc.

With the right tools and approach, you can build an API that is both robust and easy to use. For example:

  • A good code editor: A code editor is a software that allows you to write and edit code. It’s important to choose a code editor designed for API development. Some popular options include Visual Studio Code and Atom.
  • A documentation generator: A documentation generator will take the source code of your API and generate documentation for it. Developers can then use this documentation to understand how to use your API. Many documentation generators are available, but one of the most popular is Swagger. Swagger is an open-source tool that can generate human-readable and machine-readable documentation for your API.

Once you have a good code editor and documentation generator set up, you’re ready to start building your API with the following principles:

  • Keep it simple: An API should be easy to understand and use.
  • Keep it consistent: An API should use consistent naming conventions and data formats.
  • Keep it well-documented: As mentioned earlier, a well-documented API is crucial for developer adoption.

To Conclude

The key takeaways from the blog are that API development is more than technology. It is an integral part of the overall business strategy. Therefore, it is crucial that API development keeps business value at the forefront, even as the APIs remain functional and accessible for other application developers. Ensuring all business stakeholders understand the value of the API, staying up-to-date on the latest standards and technology, and working to overcome the above challenges and any new ones that arise will be imperative.

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