A Complete All-Inclusive Guide on API Development [Working, Tools, Types, Best Practices]

The realm of API is extensive and is constantly expanding at a rapid pace. The term API (Application Programming Interface) has been ruling the roots and it is playing a bigger role in the economy than ever before.

A Comprehensive Guide to API Development - PM logo

APIs drive the modern world and we find them everywhere. Whether it is making online payments or logging into our favorite social media platform, people use API many times in their daily life.

Useful APIs are known for enabling effective communication between the products and the services. Moreover, the reliance of developers on APIs increased by a great deal in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021 as well.

Therefore, in this blog, we will study API development, its types, best practices, terminologies, etc. Moreover, we’ll also look at the must-have features in API development and the factors that affect its development process.

Did you know as compared to 2019, 61% of the developers used APIs more in 2020?

What is App Programming Interface (API)?

App Programming Interface (API) is intermediary software that allows the applications to interact with each other. The API can be a database system, web-based system, etc. It is a set of requirements, instructions, and standards that allows the mobile application to offer better services or employ better features from some other applications.

The usage of API is very diverse. It is used in almost all mobile apps, websites, software, computer games, etc. One of API’s better USPs is that mobile app developers don’t need to begin everything from scratch if they build for the same platform. APIs can be used to show the data that is stored in another platform of the website.

APIs are immensely powerful as they allow developers to build their product on someone else’s work. In addition, API allows business organizations to grow into newer areas and expand their user base.

Let us look at some leading business organizations that have applied APIs and expanded their business by leaps and bounds.

Twitter

Twitter

Since its inception, Twitter has focused on its APIs hugely. Because of API, the developers have access to a considerable amount of data and it becomes easier for them to get information about the new trends, statistics, hashtags, etc.

Twitter has dominated the microblogging universe and this dominance has been possible as they tightened up their APIs. They also compelled their larger partners to pay for specific kinds of access. Moreover, the usage of APIs allowed Twitter to grow without sacrificing any of its long-time profits

Quora

Quora

 The majority of the business organizations use APIs internally and Quora is an excellent example of this. Quora has an API, but the platform doesn’t offer any access to external app developers. On the contrary, it uses the API to keep the web applications and mobile apps in complete synchronization.

Internal API has its set of perks. The developers can use the same database, share code, business rules, etc., to power the desktop app, mobile app, website, etc. Moreover, since the API is internal, you don’t have to worry about the competitors stealing your content or mobile app developers misusing the data as a business owner.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp

Mailchimp has a set of well-documented APIs. With the use of the APIs, the users can build customized templates from their own website data. In addition, it is easier to import a large number of existing users from the database and promote the email campaign in newer ways.

With the APIs, the numbers of combinations the user can make are limitless through Mailchimp and this opens more revenue options for the platform as well. Moreover, for a SaaS platform, API can be a great way to increase engagement.

Also, it is advisable to hire dedicated developers who have in-depth knowledge of API development and ensure a free-flowing overall app development process.

Diigo

Diigo

Being a bookmarking and annotation tool, Diigo realized that users who wanted API would be willing to pay a few extra dollars per month to make their lives easier. Although the company knew that including an API might work less for them, the general interfaces are tough to understand.

But with API, the business organization successfully hooked the tech-savvy audience that brought them higher ROIs.

Why are APIs important for business?

With the absence of API, the mobile app development time would increase and the app’s functionality will be limited. It could harm the overall business production process.

Below are the top benefits of using APIs in business:

Newer Technologies

APIs have become an integral part of the new age mobile app development with its emphatic features. It allows innovation and new technologies like cloud services, artificial intelligence, IoT devices, and many more.

Emphatic experience

APIs leave no stone unturned in enhancing the app experience and increasing the mobile app’s user experience. Businesses can leverage the benefits of APIs and enhance their app integration, personalization, and data collection process.

Cost-effective

If businesses employ an API-driven strategy, it reduces the cost of the market and the overall app development process. API enables the app developers to integrate the external features easily within the app without coding from scratch.

Also read: Hidden costs of mobile app development – Tips to avoid

API Monetization

Digital services are an asset that renders value to customers and can make revenue for businesses. Before the inception of the APIs, intellectual transactions were done via data-sharing agreements, contractual processes, etc.

With API, businesses can make the services available in a scalable manner while tracking the billing in real-time. Moreover, API monetization also has the following capabilities.

Rate Plans

One can charge different kinds of fees through rate plans to use your APIs. The charges can be of several types such as:

  • Fixed fee
  • Freemium plans
  • Pre-paid
  • Post-paid
  • Variable rates

In addition to the above-mentioned plans, there can be rate plans for specific app developers, revenue sharing, plans covering groups of developers, etc.

Setting the limits

To monitor and control the performance of the APIs, the API provider has the privilege to set the limit. Moreover, it can also set an automatic reminder when the limits are approached or reached.

Billing and Reporting

Here the API providers can create billing documents and get reports on the API traffic for which the developers have purchased a specific plan. Monetization also allows the developers to pre-pay for their API use as it integrates with different payment providers such as WorldPay.

Also Read: Comprehensive Guide to Mobile App Monetization: Strategies and Models

Different types of APIs

Different types of APIs

Application Programming Interface (API) has all the capabilities to allow mobile apps to provide exceptional services. The basic types of APIs are:

  • WebSocket API
  • Object remoting APIS
  • Web service APIs
  • Class-based APIs
  • Hardware APIs

Moreover, if we go into details, there are four different types of web APIs as well.

Composite API

Composite APIs are nothing but two or more APIs are combined to craft a sequence of independent or related options. Composite APIs are used in to address tightly-knitted and complex API behaviors. Moreover, it is used to improve the speed and performance of individual APIs.

Partner API

The primary purpose of Partner API is to facilitate business-to-business activities. It is available to only the authorized outside API consumers or developers. They have clear rights to access the Partner APIs. This is the reason why Partner APIs have a stronger authorization, security mechanisms, and authentication.

Public API

As the name itself suggests, Public API is available for outside developers as well as for businesses. If the business has a strategy of sharing its data and applications, having a Public API is always beneficial.

Public APIs have moderate authorization and authentication and the businesses can monetize it by having pay per call costs.

Private API

Private APIs are also known as Internal APIs are used only within business enterprises. Traditionally, Private APIs have weak security as the APIs are only intended for internal use. This is, however, changing as there is greater threat awareness which is bringing a change in the API strategy of the organization.

API and copyright

The fight for API copyrights between tech heavyweights Oracle and Google is well known. Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement and thus it becomes necessary for the business houses and developers to understand the nuances to avoid fouling with copyrights issues further.

Avoiding copyright infringement

One of the basic steps to avoid copyright infringement is that the developers should not third-party’s API unless they have a license to do it. Let us understand this with an example:

In a hypothetical situation, company A is launching a new product that is similar to the lines of their competitor company B’s product. So, there might be a chance where company A would be tempted to copy company B’s API to make competitor’s customers switch to their product. But, if a company does this without a license, they could land into big legal trouble

Thus, businesses should look to develop their API using the ‘clean room’ development. This method is used to address the issue where one developer accesses the other API for the ‘copy test’. Moreover, in the cleanroom development process, freedom is given to the developer to write a new API from scratch without having any access to the competitor’s API.

Difference between patent and copyright

In simple words, a patent protects the functional aspects of the software whereas a copyright protects only the artistic aspects of the software. But when it comes to identifying if the source code or compiled code is copied, copyright protection comes in very handy.

Also Read: Patenting mobile app idea- its importance and how it is done

Now when you talk about patent infringement, it goes like this:

If you reproduce patented methods or processes, even if it is written independently, it is considered patent infringement.

Thus, it is important for companies to know that with reference to software development, copyright and patent are two non-overlapping aspects.

How can companies protect their software?

It is an obvious question that will arise in the minds of IT business owners, how can protect the software of their company?  One answer to this is that the company must publish its API so that they can show the competitor had access to it. Moreover, publishing API is also important as it renders online documentation to the users.

After doing this, if the competitors create a similar API, the concerned company might succeed in claiming copyright infringement against the competitors.

Working process of an API

Working process of an API

The working of API is pretty streamlined and straightforward. Let us understand it with an example:

If you are booking a flight ticket, you need to fill in certain information such as arrival and departure date, city, time, birth date, etc. When you submit the information, you get all the related information within a matter of seconds, such as price, seat availability, timings, etc.

All this is possible as the ticket booking platform sends the request to the airline’s website and access all related databases through API. The website then responds with the data according to the API development delivered to the platform. The final information is then displayed on the screen.

Concerning communicating to the endpoints, APIs mainly work in two ways: SOAP and REST. In addition, API completely eliminates the requirement of the third app as it streamlines the data sharing process.

Factors that affect the development of an API

Although APIs are very beneficial, businesses should consider all the factors before including them in their business process. Below are the factors that impact the development of an API.

Documentation

The developers must be clear about the usage of the API before including them.  API documentation should clearly state the format and types of data allowed, requests, and responses returned by the API.

The documentation can be of standard format or can be different between every API.

Authentication

Authentication is required to set the limit on what level you want to use the API.  With proper authentication, you can decide whom you want to give your API access to, etc. The standard authentication options are API Keys, JSON Web Tokens, OAuth tokens, Basic Auth, etc.

Analytics

Analytics or logging is added to capture the entire request and the response. Moreover, analytics is used to track the total usage of the API, especially when there is the involvement of third-party users. In addition, when the API returns an error, logging is used to record it.

Speed and Scalability

Lagging of a few milliseconds might not be that visible in real life, but the same is considered to computers. Many successful APIs respond within 100 milliseconds as speed plays a significant role in defining success in the modern-day business world.  Moreover, the speed also depends on the type of users.

In addition, scalability is the ability of the API to shrink or grow as per the need of the team or the customers. Also, a good, scalable API is cost-effective as well.

Route and role-based permissions

There will be instances where you will need your authentication rules to be more complicated. For example, there might be certain parts of the API that your customers cannot access but the developers can. So, in this case, the developers can build role or route-based permissions to stop the illegal use of specific parts of the API.

Terminologies related to API

To understand APIs to the core, it is inevitable to be familiar with their terminologies. We have listed them for you below:

API Key: API Key is the authorized code passed into the request key when the API checks the request through the parameter and understands the requester.

GET: It is API’s HTTP method that is used to generate more resources

JSON: JSON is also known as JavaScript Objects. It is a data format that is used for the response body and the request parameters of the APIs.

Endpoint: One end of the communication channel is when API from one system interacts with the other system.

POST: It is the RESTful HTTP method of API. The primary purpose of POST is to build resources.

Rest:  Rest shares required data, and this programming enhances the overall communication between the two systems. The system on this architecture is known as RESTful and the best example of this is the World Wide Web.

OAuth: The primary purpose of this standard authorization framework is to provide access from the user’s side without sharing any other information (credentials).

Rate limiting: It simply means the restrictions that are applied to the number of requests to an API per time

SOAP: Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) is a protocol for sharing structured information during web services.

Latency: The total time an API development takes right from the inception of the request to respond is latency.

Top features to have in an API

Top features to have in an API

For businesses, it is important to understand that the features of API will be dependent on their usage. Thus, they must hire offshore remote development teams as the offshore app developers will have a large pool of talent and can develop the app in the best way. Also, along with the must-have features, API design features are also important for its smooth running.

We have sorted the top features to make them easier for you to understand.

Must-have features of an API development

Paging: The API must be data proficient. It should be able to determine how much data is displayed to the user and the rate of its frequency.

Sorting: Sorting is necessary as it ensures that the user receives the data as per the requirement and modification

Modification: The API should be flexible enough to allow the users to search according to their pre-defined criteria. The searches can be based on date, place, time, etc., for better user engagement.

OAuth: The entire developed API must be authorized by OAuth as it is better and faster than other methods.

Must-have features in API design

Pagination: API Pagination is critical, especially when dealing with a lot of endpoints and data. Pagination adds order to the query result.

Wrappers: These are language-specific packages or kits that engulf API sets into easy-to-use functions. The API wrapper is used to add functions that the API might not have itself.  Moreover, a typical API wrapper transforms the API from one form to another.

Cache: Caching in API design reduces latency and bandwidth and lowers the load on the API servers. Moreover, if the network is optimized using caching, it increases the overall quality of service of the mobile application.

Validation: Validation of the API design is essential as it helps determine the quality of the data being sent to the API. The process of validation can either happen on the client’s end or the server.

The client-side validation is used to provide rapid feedback to the users. On the other hand, server-side validation is required for an API as it is important to know what is going on at the server end.

Best practices to develop the proper API

Best practices to develop the right API

There is plenty of helpful APIs available in the market. But to leverage the full benefits of API, it is important to employ the best practices. By doing the best practices of API, the developers will have a clear idea to implement the best steps to build an app. We have listed six of the top API development practices.

API gateway as the enforcer

It is always important to consider gateway as the enforcing point while setting up the API keys or OAuth or setting up throttling rules. API gateway is the police that let only the right users get access to the API data.

Proper use of throttling

Throttling has always been a great practice to redirect the traffic overflow or safeguard the API from Denial-of-Service attacks. In addition, throttling can also be used for backup APIs as well. This is the reason why throttling has become one of the most popular API practices.

Real-time analysis and API infrastructure

It is always important to evaluate the APIs at the current time. But real-time analysis might not be possible if the API server has some memory leaks or some draining CPU issues. However, there are numerous tools available in the market like AWS cloud watch to eradicate this problem.

HTTP method

Some proxies only support POST or GET methods. Thus, it becomes essential for the developers to let the RESTful API override the HTTP method. Moreover, it is critical to employ a customized HTTP Header X-HTTP-Method-Override to ensure that overriding the HTTP method is successful.

Proper Documentation

For businesses, it is always advised to create extensive documentation of the APIs so the developers can use them for future purposes. Moreover, they can utilize the information to enhance the mobile app’s performance and render a better user experience.

Proper documentation is also one of the most popular API practices in a good API development process and will help shorten the overall API development time.

Security

Last but not the least, it is important to make the API secure but the user-friendliness must also be taken into consideration here. To resolve this, it is advised to use token-based authentication to make the API more secure.

List of tools to build an API without any code

List of tools to build an API

We have a list of solutions that will ease your API development process as these solutions don’t require any code. Let us have a look:

WrapAPI

WrapAPI is a potent tool and it works great if you have data that already exists in the web. In addition, it has API-key based authentication and it is also useful to monitor the web pages that are not offering official APIs

Airtable

It is super simple for the developers to get started with Airtable as it gives authentication via a single API Key. In addition, it has a database-style linking between the records and input forms that allows the users to add the content. Also, with Airtable, the API is automatic and it also allows limited role-based permissions for the users.

Sheetsu

Sheetsu has automatically generated documents and route-based permissions. In addition, it has a ‘Handlebars’ option that allows creating an afront-end template from the data. It also has ‘instructions’, which can be emailed to the developers to help them start using the API.

Bubble

The documentation generation in Bubble is done with Swagger and the logging is done through the admin interface of the Bubble. It creates data models that are pretty simple and also allows importing CSV files with the data. Besides, the authentication and permission are managed in the same manner as in the app builder.

Algolia

Algolia is an excellent solution as it is super good at searching and setting up the search rules. Also, it can be used as a replacement for Elasticsearch or Solr. The developers can scale it as high as they want and logging is available.

Restdb.io

Restdb.io starts simple and creates a ‘lookup’ between the records. Besides, if there are some JavaScript chops, Restdb.io allows writing that on your own. The developers can bring and customize their own database in Restdb.io.

There are options to add lots of features through ‘Codebooks’. It can be Logging, Authentication, Emails, and role or route-based permissions.

When and when not to build an API

Here is the list of exhaustive reasons that will determine when and when you should not build an API. Let us all have a look.

When to build an API

  • If you want to have access to the same data in many different ways and places
  • If your business strategy is to develop mobile as well as desktop apps
  • You have a data-heavy website and you wish that it should load quickly enough for the users
  • Your goal is to upsell all your customers on the direct API access
  • If you wish to render partial or complete access to data to your customers or partners

When not to build an API

  • You just need a blog or a landing page as your website
  • You are a newbie and are not familiar with the technical complications of building a website
  • You don’t have an intention to grow your app as the mobile application is temporary
  • No intentions of expanding the app

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Closing thoughts

In-depth knowledge in API development is necessary both for the businesses and for the developers. Proper implementation of the APIs plays a vital role in enhancing the overall quality of the mobile app and helps in rendering a better user experience. But to leverage the full benefits of API development services, you need to hire the best mobile app development company.

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