10 API Development Mistakes to Avoid

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Man worrying about API development mistakes

With low-code tools on the rise, building an Application Programming Interface (API) is simpler than ever. Given the ease of development, it is easy to overlook potential problems. Taking a bit more time in the design phase can ensure the API is truly useful, secure, scalable, and stable. Here, we’ll discuss the top ten most common API development mistakes to avoid.

1 - API Development Mistakes Lead to Bloated Responses

From a development standpoint, it may be more convenient to return the entire object in an API call, rather than only the specific properties required by the consumer. However, this approach can lead to significant issues such as increased latency and bandwidth usage for both the consumer and the provider. A more effective strategy is to include flexibility in the API method by giving consumers the choice to receive either a full object with all properties or a subset of the information they need. This approach can help to minimize unnecessary data transfer and improve overall performance.

In order to avoid these issues, it's important for API developers to take a more mindful approach to API design and to consider the needs of the consumers when building the API and/or microservice architecture. This includes giving consumers the option to only receive the data they need, using pagination, and implementing proper security and access controls to protect sensitive data.

2 - Testing Method Calls In Isolation

Testing individual methods in isolation is a common practice in unit testing, as it allows developers to test the logic and functionality of each method separately. However, this approach has its limitations when it comes to ensuring the overall functionality of the application. Simply because a method works correctly in isolation does not guarantee that it will work as intended when integrated into the larger application ecosystem.

To avoid this problem, it's important to not only test methods in isolation, but also to run them through a variety of scenarios and use cases. This will give a more comprehensive understanding of how the method will behave in different contexts, and can reveal any potential issues that may not have been apparent during unit testing. Additionally, it's also important to perform integration testing and end-to-end testing that simulates real-world usage as much as possible, so you can see the error responses as well as how the API behaves under load.

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3 - Not Understanding the Problem That Needs Solving

Another common mistake that API developers can make is not fully understanding the problem that needs to be solved before beginning to build a REST API. This leads to a number of issues, such as building an API that does not meet the needs of the consumers, or building an API that is unnecessarily complex and difficult to use, making it unusable for end users.

To avoid this problem, it's essential for API development to take the time to understand the problem that needs to be solved, and to gather as much information as possible about the needs of the consumers. This can include conducting user research, speaking with stakeholders, and reviewing existing data and analytics. By gaining a deep understanding of the problem, developers can build a good API that is tailored to the specific needs of the consumers and is easy to use and understand.

It's also important for API developers to keep in mind the bigger picture and consider how the API will fit into the larger application ecosystem and be integrated with other systems. This way, the developer can create an API that is not only functional but also scalable and maintainable in the long run.

4 - Confusing Errors: An API Development Mistake that Causes Time-Consuming Troubleshooting

When error messages don’t make sense to the consumer, it creates unnecessary work on both ends. The consumer must spend hours troubleshooting an issue. You’ll end up having to help them and ultimately do some rework to create a more useful error message. Create helpful error messages by explaining exactly what each one means and what went wrong. Also, stick to using well-known status codes

5 - Ignoring Scalability

Ignoring scalability when building an API can have serious consequences, especially as the number of users and the amount of data being processed by the backend continues to grow. Without proper scalability considerations, the API may become overwhelmed and unable to handle the increased load, leading to poor performance and a poor user experience.

To avoid these issues, API developers must take scalability into account from the very beginning of the development process. This can include using an API management platform that allows for easy scaling and monitoring of the API, as well as building a web application architecture that is designed for scalability. Additionally, it's also important to implement proper load balancing and to use cloud-based infrastructure that can easily scale up or down as needed.

Scalability is a critical consideration when building an API, as the number of users and the amount of data being processed by the backend continues to grow. Without proper scalability considerations, the API may become overwhelmed and unable to handle the increased load, leading to poor performance and a poor user experience. To avoid these issues, API development must take scalability into account from the very beginning of the development process, using an API management platform, building a web application architecture or a mobile application that is designed for scalability, implementing proper load balancing and using cloud-based infrastructure.

6 - Skimping on Documentation

API documentation is a critical part of the development process, yet it is often overlooked or given minimal attention. Skimping on documentation can lead to confusion, frustration, and ultimately more troubleshooting on the development side.

When documentation is lacking, it can be difficult for programmers to understand how to use the API and integrate it into their own systems. This can lead to wasted time and resources, as well as increased support costs. Additionally, a lack of documentation can also make it difficult for developers to troubleshoot issues and make updates to the API.

To avoid these issues, API programmers must prioritize documentation and make sure it is clear, comprehensive, and easy to understand. This includes providing clear and detailed information on how to use the API, including request and response formats, authentication and authorization requirements, and any known limitations or constraints. Additionally, it's also important to keep the documentation up-to-date as the API evolves and to provide a way for developers to give feedback and ask questions.

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7 - Insufficient Input Validation

When you don’t spend enough time on data validation, someone will invariably find a gap that causes problems. It could be as simple as passing invalid data in a seemingly innocuous field. Take the time to validate every input the consumer sends to minimize the chances of this happening.

8 - Improper Handling of High-Polling Requests

Consumers looking for the most up-to-date data make frequent requests that put unnecessary stress on the system. Instead of allowing the customer to request updates, use a framework such as webhooks to push the updated data when it changes. This cuts back on unnecessary polling. 

9 - Redundant API Endpoints: One of The API Development Mistakes That Causes Unnecessary Rework

Redundant endpoints are support and refactoring nightmares. This API development mistake happens when multiple endpoints return the same data, as you need to make updates to all endpoints referencing that data. Keep a close eye on updates as you implement new endpoints to support various use cases. Make sure there isn't an endpoint that contains the same information that you might reuse. 

10 - Not Optimizing for Performance

Performance is a critical consideration in API development and is one of the most common API development mistakes. An API that is not optimized for performance can lead to slow response times, increased latency, and poor user experience. This can result in frustrated users and lost business.

One of the key factors that can impact API performance is the number and size of the requests and responses. Sending too much data in a single request or response can put a strain on the server and the network, leading to slow response times. Additionally, the way the data is stored and retrieved from the database can also have a significant impact on performance. Poorly optimized database queries can lead to slow retrieval times and increased load on the server.

API development must take a proactive approach to optimizing the API for performance. This can include using techniques such as caching, pagination, and compression to minimize the amount of data that needs to be transferred. It also includes using techniques like indexing, partitioning, and denormalization to optimize database performance. Additionally, it's also important to monitor the API's performance and make adjustments as needed.

Create a Full-Featured API With DreamFactory

Developing a robust, scalable, and useful API doesn’t have to be complicated. If you follow a few extra steps and avoid these 10 API development mistakes, you’ll minimize rework and create a full-featured API that provides tons of value. When you sign up for a free trial of DreamFactory, you’ll see firsthand how our low-code tools make building an API quick and easy.

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