As more organizations move into the cloud, they implement processes to cope with new micro services, containerization, and continuous delivery architectures. Whether you’re adopting cloud services or moving to a cloud infrastructure, an API-first approach can help you manage the complexity of working in the cloud.
The traditional approach to application development through initial codes sometimes leads to delays, rework, or a disjointed frankenstein-esque developer experience, especially in this cloud-based landscape.
An API-first approach assumes that the design and development of an application programming interface (API) comes before implementation. Your team starts by creating an interface for their application.
Once the API has been developed, the team will rely on this interface to build the rest of the application.
By introducing new features as an independent service accessed by API, the rest of the app can be stitched together, along with any other future apps.
In a world where the speed of marketing is rewarding, why spend more time focusing on APIs first?
When the code is first
With a first code-based approach, you could start with the integrated development environment (IDE) to introduce a few lines of code. Somewhere behind your mind, you know that an interface will eventually be created to provide this service. However, your main focus is on what you call “basic functionality”, not “interface”.
When it comes time to implement the interface (API), the core service is largely done so as to guide the implementation of the API. In some cases, the API may need to be deployed to accommodate basic service behavior. For example, you cannot retrieve information the way youwant because of the way access is granted or the way a database is structured.
For the user who will eventually use this API, it may feel approached, as a later thought for the basic service
.In addition to a disjointed developer experience, this approach leaves your team vulnerable to blockages.
Once an API version is finalized, developers will transfer the code to a shared repository and release it in a server environment. Only then can your dependent teams begin. At this point, there are a number of other tools you can use to consume the API, develop test cases, write documentation, and provide feedback.
This is a synchronous flow commonly encountered in the traditional process of waterfall development. Delays at any time will prevent dependent teams and will prevent the general delivery of the product.
Feedback is gathered later in the development process, so the changes are more costly because valuable time and resources have already been invested in this previous version of the product.
When the API is first
With an API-first approach, instead of starting with code, you can start with design, planning, simulations, and testing.
As you might already suspect, this process is aligned with the popular agile principle of fast-paced software development. This allows the team and any other stakeholders to analyze the proposed direction and functionality, early and often.
Collecting feedback at this early stage allows you to make changes more easily before putting a lot of time and effort into the project. The use of simulations or an API development environment makes the current state of the project more accessible to both technical and non-technical team members.
By also separating the API design from its implementation, the architect is constrained only by the data model and business logic. Your API can now evolve unrestricted from any existing user interface or old engineering frameworks.
Once the direction has been solidified, the design serves as the contract to which all teams can start working in parallel and only then officially begins coding.
To detail a little deeper the API-first approach, let’s talk about API-first development and API-first design.
This concept refers to the development of the API itself in the first place. When you develop new features, the functionality should first be exposed as an API in your organization. The developers responsible for the rest of the application will be the first consumers of this API. This ensures quality, predictability and stability to withstand web customers, mobile users and other consumer consumers. Other projects that require this functionality can now independently consume the functionality through this API.
This approach goes a step further and requires planning the intended API functionality before building the API itself. What functionality will the API have? What data will you expose? What will the developer’s experience be like? How will it be scaled? How will we add new features in the future?
When people talk about API-first, sometimes it only refers to API-first development and sometimes they also include API-first design. For the rest of this article, the API will first include API-first development and API-first design.
Why API first?
Clearly, interrupting the implementation of the API delays valuable construction time. Deserve? Although not all organizations have the freedom to fully plan their work, there are several benefits to choosing this approach that can overcome the delay in time to market.
Previous validation: Getting early feedback on the project allows the team to pivot or adapt to any new inputs, while the cost of change is still relatively low.
This reduces the overall cost over the life of the project.
Delete the abstraction layer: displaying only the details needed by the intended user hides the internal complexity. This allows others to grow faster when implementing the new service.
Decoupling of dependencies: by adhering to a contract between internal services, the dependencies are decoupled, so that the work can progress independently of the work of other teams. Working in parallel minimizes the overall development time of the project.
Faster growth: Building an API design at an early stage takes into account future functionality, laying the groundwork for expansion and providing the ability to scale quickly to other applications, devices and platforms.
Release constraints: Focusing on the API instead of code and implementation first releases the old constraint design.
What does API look like in modern organizations?
Some organizations have launched as API-only companies, such as Twilio or Algolia, which are known for offering their services most importantly as APIs. Twilio has virtualized the traditional telecommunications infrastructure, allowing developers to replicate any communications experience using APIs. The company recently announced Twilio Build, a partner program designed with an API-first approach.
At this point, we could probably pull up our integrated development environment (FDI) and jump straight in and start coding.
Instead, let’s take a first API approach and learn about a way to build a new product or feature in Postman.
- Design the new feature
- Get feedback on the new feature
- Build the feature
- Implement the changes
Closing thoughts on software development for the first API
We analysed several reasons why organizations choose an API-first approach to software development. Some organizations are under the gun to push something into the market and do it faster than any headaches they might have to deal with down the line.
For other teams, let’s make APIs a first-class citizen. It is conceivable that one day, if not today, the components will talk to each other and the services will be based internally and externally. The world of code only grows in complexity.
Consider your API, one that is robust, versatile, and future-friendly. Designing and building the API first will save you time, resources and headaches throughout the project.
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