APIs are being created faster than ever before with ever-advancing technologies such as node.js and AngularJS. With the flexibility in design and integrations for APIs, there isn't a more exciting time than now to be an API developer. However, with so many new technologies and methods of creating APIs comes the question, "What makes a good API?"
While the increase in API creation has many advantages for businesses in multiple areas, there is also more room for low-quality API production.
Following ten best practices when building an API is essential to ensure your APIs are high quality and of value.
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Table of Contents
- Introductions to APIs
- 1. Accept and Respond with JSON
- 2. Use Nouns Instead of Verbs in Endpoint Paths
- 3. Use Versioning for Your Rest APIs
- 4. Use Logical Nesting on Endpoints
- 5. Use Authentication Schemes to Protect Endpoints
- 6. Be Prepared to Handle Errors
- 7. Use Pagination
- 8. Use strong Security Protocols
- 9. Cache Data to Improve Performance
- 10. Rate Limiting
- How Integrate.io Can Help
Introduction to APIs
An API is a software tool that allows different applications to communicate with each other. APIs can be used to create software that integrates with other common programs, allowing for the easy sharing of data and information between applications.
APIs can dramatically increase your company's ability to integrate its business processes by providing a way for every department to communicate seamlessly through shared services. Unlike traditional integrations, which require dedicated resources, API integrations are quick, easily customizable, scalable, and highly flexible. Companies such as Github have perfected their APIs by utilizing rest API design, which we will reference today. These ten best practices for building APIs will ensure you're creating high-quality APIs that provide real value for users within your organization as well as outside it.
Accept and Respond With JSON
One of the most critical aspects of developing APIs is to ensure you are using a standard data format. By using JSON, you can ensure developers from any discipline within your company or outside of it will be able to use and integrate with the API without learning a new language-specific for that software alone.
If you create an API, always start by accepting requests in JSON because this is the most popular request type among developers today.
Use Nouns Instead of Verbs in Endpoint Paths
Using nouns instead of verbs in the endpoint paths will make it easier for developers to understand where they are sending their requests. Using nouns instead of verbs can also create more intuitive API endpoints that allow users to send and receive data more easily than before.
For example, "upload" is a verb while "photo" is a noun, which allows for a better understanding of what type of request or response should be sent with each endpoint path. Using words like this also aids in creating clear documentation because people can reference these types of names within your API documentation rather than recalling an abstractly named function or command listed elsewhere.
Use Versioning for Your Rest APIs
Suppose you are creating additional versions of your API. In that case, it is essential to use a versioning system that will allow developers to use any previous or current version to access the information they need. There are many methods for doing this, and one option may be more suitable for your company than others, but the essential thing about versioning is not how you do it – but that you do it at all.
It's also helpful to make sure every new endpoint path includes its unique identifier and provides backward compatibility with older requests, allowing users easier access no matter what period their code was written in.
Versioning systems like Semantic Versioning can help ensure backward compatibility by clear rules on how updates should be made to a system.
Use Logical Nesting on Endpoints
Nesting endpoints are another way to help make your APIs easier for developers to understand and use. By nesting related requests together, you can decrease the number of steps a developer must take to access their request data.
For example, instead of having multiple endpoint paths such as "customers/list" and "customer/123", it would be more sensible to have a single path that includes them both called "/customers." This will allow users from any part of your company or those outside it to request filtered customer lists with only one endpoint rather than two separate ones because they're nested under different levels.
Logical nesting also allows for an increased level of security because all user activity begins at this central point before moving deeper into more sensitive data.
Use Authentication Schemes to Protect Endpoints
When it comes to API security, an authentication scheme is the best way for developers and users alike to protect their data whether they are on or off your company's network. Out of all the different types available within API development, OAuth has become one of the most widely used by companies large and small. This is because it gives you total control over who can access what information using a token-based system that works across platforms.
This also allows for maximum protection during pre and post-requests and increased flexibility in user permissions without compromising overall security measures needed when creating APIs.
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Be Prepared to Handle Errors
Errors are a common part of the API development cycle and should be handled carefully by any company looking to impact their APIs. Each error must contain enough information for developers to understand it while also providing a way out if they need additional assistance from your team to resolve issues quickly. Using error codes is a great way to improve debugging procedures and can quickly fix user experience.
To prevent errors, use tools like Swagger, which will allow you to test your code before going live so that these errors can be resolved or prevented entirely rather than waiting until after launch when users have already begun reporting them as bugs. In addition, each endpoint path should include its own unique identifier and backward compatibility whenever possible. This will help ensure requests received are directed correctly even if there is an issue later on down the line, future updates, or version changes are made. You can expect many different kinds of errors throughout your API journey, such as bad requests. There are many tutorials to assist you in learning error handling to ensure the API users have a positive experience when launched.
Pagination is another essential part of developing an API that many developers frequently forget to include at some point or another.
Pagination allows for easier access to large amounts of data because it breaks the information down into smaller groups rather than requiring users to download everything all in one request. This can sometimes contain more information than you expected, resulting in crashes and other issues if your device cannot support such a heavy load.
By splitting up requests with pagination, you ensure that your company's resources and those on the developer side will not be overloaded during standard use cases.
Use Strong Security Protocols
No matter how much planning and work you put into creating a suitable API for developers to use, it will not be up to par if your servers are constantly being overloaded with requests or targeted by cyber attacks.
To avoid this from happening as often as possible, make sure that any company looking to develop an API understands what types of security protocols they need in place both now and down the line when things inevitably change along with technology's ever-evolving nature. Using a secure SSL is always recommended for your project. SSLs can be added in the header code for simplicity or built into the backend.
This can include everything from firewalls placed around sensitive information on each server through daily backups made automatically so that data is never lost due to human error or other technological mishaps.
Cache Data to Improve Performance
For your API to perform at its best, you need to make sure each request is as quick and efficient as possible.
Caching allows requests that have already been made to be pulled up without requiring a new call from the developer's device. The reason for this is that the data has already been retrieved and stored in memory on your server-side.
This can include everything from saving images or other large files used during development. They don't need to be downloaded again every time another user makes a similar request by logging information about previous results received, which will help speed things along with future calls.
Rate limiting is another aspect of API design that can take some planning to get right.
This feature allows for both your company and developers to use your APIs to maintain a balance between the number of requests made while simultaneously not overloading any part of the system involved with handling them.
By carefully considering what time each day or other window will be used when making rate limits, you ensure that there won't be an instance where one developer's request overrides another. This can lead to lost data or crashes on either side because you pushed something too far due to being overloaded by excess information.
How Integrate.io Can Help
Integrate.io is a data automation service that allows users to connect, transform and deliver their data. End users can easily create high-quality dataflows using a series of pre-built connectors and simple drag and drop tools.