Application Programming Interface or API- if you ever talked to app developers, chances are that you heard them praise it. The role of API in app development has grown far and wide today. Every app utilizes it. It has become the developers’ best friend. And in the current fastly transitioning development approach, API has essentially become a lifesaver.
If it ever got you wondering what an API is, you don’t have to look very far to find the answer. Mobile apps are important for businesses today, and as frequent mobile app users, you use API multiple times a day. For example, when you log in to your Facebook account, when you make payments using money transfer apps – it is the API that is working behind the scenes there. Seems interesting? Well then, read on. In this article, we will delve thoroughly into the world of API development.
In simple words, an API is a way for connecting different computer programs to communicate with each other. It allows the software to talk to each other, transmit, and exchange data. So, basically, an API is a set of programming codes or a software mediator. And how does it impact the process of creating a mobile app? By simplifying the development and making the process more flexible and rapid.
An API consists of a set of protocols, definitions, instructions and standards that will allow them to integrate with other applications. Each API will follow an API specification, that is, a standard that defines how the API will be built. The internal details of the API will be hidden, and only the interface will be disclosed. And who can access them? The programmer who works on incorporating it into the software.
In most applications where there is communication happening between two entities, API is utilized. It allows programmers to carry out development without necessarily having to go deep into the coding. Moreover, being able to reuse existing APIs to carry out similar functionalities eliminates the need for developing them from scratch, thereby saving much needed time and effort.
Are you wondering if every software-based business must build APIs? Considering how it simplifies the connection between different applications, are you thinking if every business needs it? While it is indeed a popular mobile app development trend, let me tell you that you don’t necessarily have to build APIs for your business solutions. Although it has many benefits, it might not be feasible/appropriate for small/non-technical businesses.
So how to tell if you need an API or not? Check out these points.
API development is a vast domain with several types of APIs being created to satisfy varying requirements. Each type has a specific function and adheres to a certain standard. Let us take a look at the classification of APIs with respect to their release policies.
So far, we have understood the role of APIs in connecting different applications and enabling sharing and integration. Now, to know about the working of an API, we have to first identify what are the building blocks of an API. There are three essential elements associated with an API. They are Data source, Request, and Response.
A Data source refers to a database where programmers store data. This can either be databases like MySQL, Redis, Oracle, or even a simple spreadsheet file. The second element, Request, is how an API is accessed. Programmers make a request when they want to use an API. The requests must follow a predefined format. And the last element, Response, is what an API returns once a request is processed. The response also has a specified format that it needs to follow.
Feeling a little confused? Let me explain the working with the help of an example to help you understand better. Suppose you want to book an event location and open an event booking app/website to find a suitable place. You fill in all the details like capacity, date, time, required amenities, etc. Once you submit the details, you receive a list of suitable event venues with details like availability, timing, and price. What do you think happened here? Yes, APIs.
When you searched for an event location, the platform sent a request to access the database through API. A response containing the relevant data was delivered to the platform through an API, and the platform displayed it for the end-user, that is, you. See how API acts as an intermediate here and enables data sharing? This is how an API works! The execution of several innovative mobile app ideas can be simplified by using APIs.
To better understand the concept of API development, we must be familiar with the basic terminologies involved in the process. So let us see what they are.
Before you enter right into developing application programming interfaces, it will be great for you to understand the essential features that an efficient API needs. So, let us take a look at some of the must-have features.
Authentication is necessary for an API if you want to set any limits on its usage. It means verifying the identity of users who will have access to your API. Will it be available only for internal employees, or can anyone use it- its important to set the authentication rights. Basic Auth, OAuth, and JWT are commonly used to manage authentication.
Paging an essential feature that is used to determine what data are to be displayed and at what frequency. It is important because when databases grow in size, retrieving certain resources may take a longer time. And sometimes, the user may need only partial data and not complete data. In such cases, paging and sorting – ensuring that users can retrieve data based on certain conditions—are very beneficial. This helps to enhance processing and improve the response time.
An effective API should implement JSON support or RESTful APIs. REST APIs, being lightweight, stateless, and with its familiar syntax (to other programming languages for app development), provide excellent ease of development for app developers.
Verifying the correctness of data is crucial in API development. This process, called validation, are of two types- server-side validation and client-side validation. Server-side validation takes care of validation of property details, its need, duplication possibilities, etc. Client-side validation involves providing accurate feedback with visible error marking.
Just like software testing, API testing is also important to check the performance of APIs as well as their integration capabilities. Here the functionality, security, performance, and reliability of APIs are checked to ensure that they meet the set expectations. Tools used for API testing include Postman, SoapUI, and JMeter.
If you have a public API, you need to implement rate-limiting to ensure that your API is not being exploited. People may use public APIs too much, and all those requests may make your API crash. To prevent this, a limit can be set on API usage.
A good API must always consider scalability and have the ability to go up or down depending on the users’ needs. For example, a scalable API will be able to handle 5000 users on one day and 500 users on another without causing any issue.
The speed of an API largely influences its success. Great APIs take less than 100 ms to respond. Of course, it depends on the functionality of the API, its users, and such, but whatever it may be, a slow responding API can never be a good one.
When your API is being used by third parties, you might want to track its usage. If you log every request and response, it’s easy for you to conduct analytics on API performance, monitor its errors, and identify failure scenarios. This will help you improve your API. So, logging is another important feature an API should have.
The development of APIs is a systematic process, and for it to be entirely successful, it must follow certain best practices. If you want to build an API, you must consider these practices and follow them. We will discuss five such important practices in this section.
To aid the development of APIs, there are several tools and technologies available in the market. To get a complete picture of creating an API, you need to be familiar with what they are. So, in this section, we will take a look at some of the popular tools that developers use.
While reading about building APIs, a thought must have crossed your mind “why spend extra time on building an API first when it will delay the time to market.” Well, you are not wrong to think so. While the API first approach does bring about a delay in time to market, its benefits are far too many to outweigh this concern. Want to know what they are?
An API first approach has significant benefits in both software development perspectives as well as business perspectives. By building necessary APIs and implementing desired technological connectivity, APIs enhance development and improve business profits. I hope this article helped you gather a complete understanding of API, its working, and its development. If you want to develop APIs for your service or business, contact a mobile app development company. Their dedicated development team will be able to help you create efficient APIs.
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