API-first Approach in Software Development: Benefits and Challenges

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API, short for Application Programming Interface, is a technology designed to unite applications and services. Its main purpose is to provide connection in a digital world.

A lot of programmers will consider the importance of API software development essential and multifunctional. It is not limited to the functions of the building and connecting applications, and it can also become the fundamental principle of your whole development strategy.

The following article offers an explanation of the API-first approach. Specifically, you will see the benefits of implementing this technology and what challenges it might burden you with on the go.

How to define the API-first approach?

The definition is very simple. The process of developing an application begins with creating the API, and all the other elements revolve around that. This is what distinguishes this strategy from traditional application development techniques. If you are aware of such, they usually include API design and implementation but not as the first step. Simply put, the API-first approach presupposes creating a good API before everything else.

Sometimes they call it an API-driven approach which is practically the same thing. Both terms are not contemporary and have been used since 2010. However, they have started to gain popularity just recently. The reason for this change is that a predominant amount of companies are beginning to realize the undoubtful advantages this technique can provide for the business.

The advantages of the API-first approach to software development

  1. Reinforces modular and distributed construction 

The API-first approach is designed in a way to reinforce modular and distributed architectures. Specifically, it helps to unite separate particles of an application, in other words, modules. Also, by splitting the application into modules, you make arranging them in a distributed environment much easier. Lastly, the API helps to keep the distributed environment all in one place.

Generally, all the details with regard to modular and distributed construction are not the main points of the article. We can only reference the prevailing number of professional developers stating that it dramatically increases the flexibility of the application.

  1. Unlimited access to every feature

In any development procedure, there might be the following situation. Let us imagine the developer tends to use the traditional approach. The one where you develop API after establishing the groundwork for the application. Though it might seem trivial at first, it is proved that overlooking components to serve via APIs later is a common situation. When you finally create your API, those components may be troublesome. For instance, they can format data, not in the right way to be fitted with your API, which creates a dilemma. Usually, developers do not tend to recreate those components from scratch. Finally, the application has some API accessibility bugs.

On the other hand, by making the API fundamental for your application, you break the scheme. Now, it becomes impossible to overlook the components and their compatibility with API. As a result, sticking to the API-first approach prevents you from having access troubles later.

  1. Applications with an embedded cloud-friendly feature

Taking into account the fact that the API-first approach presupposes connectivity, the cloud-friendly nature of the application is natural. It is a hugely advantageous feature, and most developers find it obvious when creating an API. 

However, there are two essential points to consider. APIs are not that simple and apparent. There are two types of API – the ones uniting internal services and others connecting the application to the outside servers in a cloud environment. These two types are not necessarily combined. Usually, an effort is required to implement two of them at the same time. Nevertheless, thanks to the API-first approach, you have time and space to predict all the types of APIs you might need later.

As a result, you will have an impeccable application that can easily integrate within the cloud and unite all internal resources.

  1. The main bullet points to deliver software.

The fact that any software delivery requires different teams may be challenging. You have to hire developers, sysadmins, QAs, and many others to finish projects on time and provide flawless service. If you lack leadership or simply not being careful, each team will work in its rhythm. Finally, you will end up with inefficient productivity.

And here comes the API-driven approach. Being the cornerstone of the application, it will provide the central point of reference for all the teams. Developers, testers, and ops sysadmins may concentrate on processes keeping the APIs working smoothly and efficiently. It will significantly boost productivity and help to prevent each team from working in a silo.

Eventually, API-driven development will coordinate the efforts of all teams. And when you ask them to concentrate on the code, each member of your squad will interpret it similarly. As a result, you will get a fully efficient development process and deliver all data even faster than expected.

Challenges you might face implementing the API-first approach

No doubt, any innovative technology has its drawbacks and challenges. Here are some connected to API-driven software:

Importance to gain new skills. Everybody working with API has to possess at least a minimum level of understanding of the procedure. It does not mean mastering the technology, but some members of the team, such as testers, might need to expand their knowledge.

Achieving API consistency. Of course, with every new API, it will become harder to connect all of them and achieve consistency and compatibility. However, a good level of communication between staff members will help to minimize the risks of APIs going wild.

Managing all APIs. Keeping track of all APIs is a demanding task. Especially if there are large numbers of them and a lot of manual processes to keep them in order, in this case, an automated API management solution might come in handy. Combined with the API-driven approach, they will guarantee minimum manual efforts and maximum efficiency.

In conclusion, the API-first approach to software development is still a raw idea. Although it is becoming increasingly popular with cloud-based technology gaining scale, there are some challenges and drawbacks to this technology. Undoubtedly, it will take some work to ensure maximum productivity. But if you invest your efforts in API-driven development at the beginning, more advantages will come in the end. Every organization can reach its full potential with careful planning and API tools assistance.

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