7 Tips for Creating a Successful API | Dreamfactory

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Diagram showing 7 tips for creating a successful API

Frequent deployment of APIs can quickly create a software system that is like an overgrown garden, riddled with weeds, bugs, failed integrations, and ill-fitting use cases. Overloaded API collections prevent changes without causing failures. More commonly, they limit the visibility needed to recognize opportunities for feature optimization. Creating a successful API can go a long way to ensuring your organization can avoid many of these problems.

An appropriate API design does more than just prevent cumbersome integration - it can serve as the backbone for your business connectivity. The following guidelines are the best 7 tips for creating a successful API primarily intended for developers and architects who are already managing a diverse collection of implementations, methods, and languages dedicated to their APIs. From high-level conceptualization to interface standards to API testing, these tips will help you maintain your thriving garden of APIs.

Here's the key things to know about creating a successful API:

  • Development managers should establish a procedure for adding new APIs to a centralized, editable system like a wiki.
  • Use common HTTP requests (POST, GET, PUT, PATCH, DELETE) for creating, retrieving, updating, and deleting resources in your API.
  • Implement a full CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) capability within the same deployment to save time and ensure completeness.
  • REST APIs serve as a vital component in modern web development, connecting clients and services.
  • Follow best practices, such as accepting and responding with JSON, using nouns in paths, and maintaining good security practices, to design high-quality REST APIs.

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1. Define and Document Your API from a Single Environment

A disturbing number of companies don't have a central repository containing a catalogue of their current APIs, documentation on how to use them, and reports of versions and changes. Instead, each team maintains its own API repository, relying on developer knowledge and large corporate code bases.

Development managers should create a procedure for adding new APIs to some sort of centralized, editable system, such as a wiki. Create a mind map that lists API dependencies and add links to a wiki page describing the API for each node on the map. This information should use a standard format that describes the API, consumers, maintainers, its location in the code, and tests that serve as examples. For example, the OpenAPI open-source language and tool are commonly used to define and document APIs. A strict API definition includes associated commands, HTTP protocols, URLs, status, error codes, and payload structure.

2. Create a Successful API Using HTTP Protocols to Set Actions

You do not need to use the /getorder command if you are already using HTTP GET to make calls. This URL can be as simple as /order/54321 — the resulting payload will be the call information.

As a general rule, you will want to use these common HTTP requests:

  • POST (create a command for a resource).
  • GET (retrieve the information).
  • PUT (update and replace information).
  • PATCH (update and modify information).
  • Delete (delete the item).

You can also use PUT to create IDs if the client selects the ID number itself.

3. Make All Functionality CRUD-Compliant

The Create, Read, Update, and Delete (CRUD) elements combine to allow developers to create new features and test them. However, it is common for an API not to require the full CRUD structure. For example, a mobile application may depend on the read functionality. Or a developer may add "create," but think, "I'll add the delete function later." Sometimes the "later" never comes. Save time in the long run by implementing a full CRUD capability within the same deployment.

4. Define a Role-Based Authorization Policy

Some users may create their own account in a particular application but not have permission to delete it. Others may have permission to read but not to update, create, or delete a resource. Authentication proves that a person can log in, while permission indicates that they can access a resource. In general, RESTful services do this either through interaction with the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP, for employees) or through a client profile object for software products with clients.

5. Support Sub-Second End-to-End Response Times

Aim for 100 milliseconds for internal services without HTTP dependencies and an upper limit of about one second for complicated services inside the data center. If a function call gets too time-consuming, such as creating an account, don't just let it run for a long time. Instead, come back with an accountID, or at least a token that the customer can use later to view the account. Create guidelines for time limits and try to avoid a voting process that only records the time a process ends, not when it began.

6. Allow Sorting and Filtering

You can implement sorting and filtering on the URL with query parameters. /products?name="*testing*" gives all products that contain the word testing. The documentation shows what parameters are available. Use ?sort=ASC or ?sort=DESC to specify how to return the results, which can get more complex.

In essence, filtering implements the search, while sorting allows the query to change the order preference. These are two of the most common functions in e-commerce or any database. While extreme programming says "You Aren't Gonna Need It" (YAGNI), at least think about how to build and publish URLs so that everyone can implement them later without changing their initial behavior.

7. Make the Pagination Programmable

This looks like sorting and filtering. The simplest way to do this might be /products?name="*testing* "? limit=10?offset=10. This would give the second set of 10 results. This allows programmers to change the length of pages with parameters. Use filterNames whenever possible to simplify the creation of database queries.

API Design Best Practices

REST APIs play a pivotal role in connecting clients and services. To ensure the long-term success of your REST APIs, it's crucial to design them with security, performance, and user-friendliness in mind.

What is a REST API?

Before we explore these best practices, let's clarify what a REST API is. REST, or Representational State Transfer, serves as an architectural style for designing networked applications. While it's not a protocol itself, REST APIs usually operate over HTTP or HTTPS and adhere to specific architectural principles, including stateless communication and cacheable data.

Tips for API Design

With this foundational understanding, let's dive into the key best practices for designing REST APIs:

  1. Accept and Respond with JSON: JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) has become the standard for data transfer in modern web applications. Make sure your REST API accepts JSON for requests and responds in JSON format. This ensures compatibility across various platforms and simplifies data interchange.
  2. Use Nouns in Paths: Avoid including verbs in endpoint paths; instead, use nouns to represent the resource being retrieved or manipulated. Let HTTP verbs convey the action.
  3. Name Collections with Plural Nouns: When dealing with collections of resources, employ plural nouns to name them, enhancing clarity and consistency.
  4. Nest Resources for Hierarchical Objects: Organize endpoints logically to reflect the hierarchy of related resources, making it easier for clients to access related data efficiently.
  5. Handle Errors Gracefully and Return Standard Error Codes: Implement robust error handling by responding with the appropriate HTTP status codes and informative error messages. Ensure security without compromising user experience.
  6. Maintain Good Security Practices: Prioritize security by employing SSL/TLS encryption, role-based authorization, and caching mechanisms to enhance data protection and performance.
  7. Versioning Your APIs: To accommodate evolving requirements and prevent disruptions, implement versioning for your APIs. Use version prefixes in endpoint paths to clearly indicate API versions, allowing clients to choose the version that suits their needs.

Designing high-quality REST APIs involves adhering to consistent standards, optimizing performance, and prioritizing security. By following these best practices, you can create APIs that are not only easy to understand but also robust and adaptable to future changes.

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Creating an API with DreamFactory

To create successful APIs, developers must follow a set of best practices from design to implementation. In this article, we outlined the best 7 tips for creating a successful API. For similar updates, keep an eye on our DreamFactory Blog.

DreamFactory is an API management platform that helps you streamline everything while you focus on building your frontend application. DreamFactory can help you bring your API-as-a-product mindset to life and get more out of the solutions your business is creating. Start your 14-day free trial today and experience it for yourself.

Related reading:

5 Essential APIs for Application Integration

Frequently Asked Questions: Building a Successful API

Why is it crucial to design REST APIs with security, performance, and ease of use in mind?

Designing REST APIs with these aspects in mind ensures the long-term success of your APIs. Security safeguards sensitive data, performance enhances the user experience by delivering data efficiently, and ease of use simplifies integration for clients, making your API more appealing.

What is JSON, and why should I use it for data transfer in my REST API?

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a lightweight data interchange format. It should be used because it has become a standard for data transfer in modern web applications. JSON is universally supported, simplifying data interchange across various platforms and programming languages.

How do I handle errors in my API, and why is it important?

Graceful error handling involves responding to errors with the appropriate HTTP status codes and informative error messages. It's crucial because it ensures a smooth user experience and helps developers diagnose issues promptly without compromising security.

Can you explain the importance of versioning in API design?

Versioning is essential because it allows you to make changes or introduce new features to your API without breaking existing clients. By specifying API versions in the endpoint paths, you enable clients to choose the version that suits their needs, preventing unexpected disruptions.

What role does SSL/TLS encryption play in API security?

SSL/TLS encryption ensures secure communication between clients and servers by encrypting data transmitted over the network. It's vital to protect sensitive information from eavesdropping and unauthorized access.

How can I efficiently handle large datasets in my API?

You can efficiently manage large datasets by offering filtering, sorting, and pagination options. These features empower clients to retrieve only the data they need, improving performance and preventing resource exhaustion.