API Development Best Practices | Dreamfactory

Table of contents

API (Application Programming Interface) development is a rapidly widening field. Every piece of software you may use will involve an API, and the number of jobs for API developers skyrockets every year. Unfortunately, poorly developed APIs can create difficulty and security concerns for users. What are some API development best practices you can put into place to prevent those outcomes?

Here's the key things to know about API development best practices:

  • It's important to use JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) in API development due to its readability and versatility, especially in REST APIs.
  • It discusses best practices for optimizing APIs for human readers, including using clear naming conventions and providing comprehensive documentation.
  • Security is prioritized, with recommendations for using SSL/TLS, security testing, and rate limiting to protect against attacks.
  • The article also highlights the significance of data validation in ensuring data integrity and security in API development.
  • Effective monitoring, resource utilization tracking, and logging are crucial for maintaining API reliability and performance.

Table of Contents

Optimize for Human Readers
Have Clear Documentation
Prioritize Security
Don't Disregard Data Validation
Ensure You're Monitoring
Connect With an API Management Platform

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API in minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14 day hosted trial to learn how! Our guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example MySQL database provided to you as part of the trial!

Start Your API Development Now


Not all APIs use JSON (Javascript Object Notation). REST (Representational State Transfer) APIs usually allow different programming languages and formats, but JSON is by far the number-one easiest to read and use. Most acknowledge it to be the gold standard for API development, and it is one of the many reasons that SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) APIs are commonly being phased out in favor of REST. SOAP only uses XML (Extensible Markup Language), which is not nearly as easy to read as JSON.

JSON is easy to parse and most frameworks support it, plus any programming language can use it as data. This makes it the most versatile and widely used format to date. DreamFactory helps clients modernize from SOAP to REST for this reason.

Optimize for Human Readers

One of the most important features of any API is that it should be easy to understand and use. JSON is only the first step. Some other things you can do are:

  1. Use nouns instead of verbs in HTTP methods. Example: PATCH /Name/1 vs. PATCH /FindName/1
  2. Use plural nouns for collections in keeping with the accepted norms. Example: GET /Names/1
  3. Have simple and easily understandable explanations for error handling, plus standardized error codes. Example: Error 522 Connection Timed Out
  4. Use simple and clear naming systems without abbreviations. Example: last-name instead of ln

Have Clear Documentation

Having clear documentation is extremely important. Sometimes, documentation may be auto-generated based on an API definition. In other cases, you will need to work hard to make sure that the documentation is easy to understand for those with limited experience.

Ensure that you have full documentation to help users understand authentication, security and error handling. It may also be helpful to offer guides, interactive tutorials and easily-accessible resources. The more detail your documentation has, the easier it will be for users to get right into utilizing your API.

DreamFactory enables users to create fully documented REST APIs with zero code, greatly simplifying the process and reducing the amount of work required to make your API accessible to users at different levels of experience and knowledge.

Prioritize Security

Another best practice for developing APIs is always to make use of current security frameworks like SSL (Secure Socket Layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security). SSL certificates help generate a secure connection by providing both a public and private key. This encrypts the connection. Without it, there is no guarantee that you are adequately protecting sensitive data such as medical or financial information. TLS is simply the most modern version of SSL, offering enhanced protection and security. You can tell whether any website has an SSL certificate by the addition of HTTPS in the URL. HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, and it is a factor in Google Rankings as of 2014.

Some other important API security best practices include regular testing. Two important tests that you can use are:

  • Fuzz testing. Fuzz testing is used to check how an API responds to an invalid or unexpected input in order to discover weaknesses or mistakes in the code.
  • Penetration testing. Penetration testing ascertains the API's vulnerabilities to an actual cyber attack. The tester seeks vulnerabilities that hackers might exploit.

Finally, rate limiting is a simple way to prevent DoS (Denial of Service) attacks where an overload of requests disrupts the normal functionality of an API. Limiting the number of requests per user for a particular amount of time will protect against these attacks.

Don't Disregard Data Validation

In the realm of data engineering and API development, data validation stands as a cornerstone of reliability and security. It's the process of scrutinizing incoming data to ensure it conforms to expected formats, constraints, and standards. Neglecting robust data validation can lead to a litany of issues, from corrupted databases to security vulnerabilities.

When dealing with APIs, particularly those that interact with external sources or users, thorough data validation becomes paramount. Every input, whether it's a user-generated query or data ingested from a third-party system, should undergo rigorous scrutiny. This encompasses checking data types, range constraints, length limitations, and adherence to predefined schemas. For instance, if an API expects a date in a specific format, failing to validate it properly could introduce inconsistencies or even open avenues for SQL injection attacks.

Moreover, data validation doesn't end at input. Output data should also be subject to validation to ensure it complies with expected formats and content. This not only safeguards against data leakage but also ensures that consumers of the API receive data that meets their expectations.

Ensure You're Monitoring

Neglecting proper monitoring can leave you in the dark, blind to critical insights about your system's behavior and user experience.

Monitoring encompasses a wide range of activities, from tracking resource utilization and response times to scrutinizing error rates and system logs. It's the continuous observation and analysis of your API's performance and behavior.

Resource utilization monitoring provides insights into CPU, memory, disk, and network usage. It helps identify bottlenecks and performance degradation, enabling us to allocate resources efficiently. Additionally, monitoring response times and error rates allows us to detect anomalies and troubleshoot issues in real-time. A sudden spike in error rates, for instance, could signify a problem that needs immediate attention.

Logging and auditing are equally crucial components of monitoring. Effective logging practices, which capture relevant information about API interactions and system events, facilitate debugging and forensic analysis. Furthermore, auditing capabilities enable you to track who accessed the API, what actions were performed, and when they occurred, reinforcing security and compliance efforts.

To ensure comprehensive monitoring, leverage a combination of tools and platforms that provide real-time insights, alerts, and historical data. Solutions like Prometheus, Grafana, and ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana) can help you gain visibility into your API's performance and behavior.

Connect With an API Management Platform

The main thing you can do to ensure your project meets various API development best practices is work with an API management platform. DreamFactory helps users build secure, documented and live REST APIs with no code.

Some things you should expect from an API management platform:

  • A wide variety of database connectors that include any of the most common database solutions
  • Edition support
  • Critical security features like role-based access controls (RBAC), API key generation, OAuth support, Okta support, lifecycle monitoring and more
  • Expert API advice
  • Easy application deployment
  • Comprehensive SQL support that can auto-generate endpoints
  • Easy SOAP to REST conversion
  • Live and thorough interactive API documentation

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API in minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14 day hosted trial to learn how! Our guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example MySQL database provided to you as part of the trial!

Start Your API Development Now

These can help you attain your goals in API development while ensuring that your solution is secure and easy to use. API development best practices are essential and yet difficult to attain. With the help of DreamFactory, you can now build fully automated and successful APIs with little or no knowledge of coding.

FAQ: API Development Best Practices

1. What is the significance of using JSON in API development?

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is highly recommended in API development because it's easy to read, parse, and widely supported across programming languages. It simplifies data exchange and is considered the gold standard for modern APIs.

2. Why is REST preferred over SOAP for API development?

REST (Representational State Transfer) APIs are preferred over SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) because REST is more flexible, uses simpler data formats like JSON, and allows for easy integration with various programming languages. SOAP, on the other hand, primarily uses XML, which is less human-readable and less versatile.

3. What are some best practices for optimizing APIs for human readers?

To optimize APIs for human readers, consider using nouns instead of verbs in HTTP methods, use plural nouns for collections, provide clear explanations for error handling, and avoid abbreviations in naming conventions. These practices enhance readability and usability.

4. Why is clear documentation important for APIs?

Clear documentation is crucial because it helps users understand how to use your API effectively. It provides information on authentication, security, error handling, and usage examples, making it easier for developers to work with your API.

5. What are some essential security practices in API development?

Essential security practices include using SSL/TLS for encryption, implementing authentication and authorization mechanisms, performing regular security testing (e.g., penetration testing and fuzz testing), and applying rate limiting to prevent denial of service (DoS) attacks.

6. What is API versioning, and why is it important?

API versioning involves maintaining different versions of an API to ensure backward compatibility with existing clients while allowing for updates and improvements. It's important to prevent breaking changes and to support legacy users while evolving the API.

7. What are the advantages of using webhooks in API development?

Webhooks enable real-time event-driven communication between systems. They are advantageous for scenarios where you want immediate notifications of specific events, such as order updates or data changes, without the need for constant polling.

8. How can I ensure that my API complies with security regulations and standards?

To ensure compliance, follow industry-specific security standards and regulations relevant to your application domain. Implement security features like role-based access control (RBAC), data encryption, and audit logging as needed.