“Api First”, one of the buzzwords in the software landscape for the last few years. But what exactly is Api First and how can this approach improve your product and your productivity?
First things first; What exactly is an API?
API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a set of definitions and protocols that allow products and services to communicate with each other. Most of the applications you use today rely heavily on APIs. The current industry trend is to use REST APIs, particularly for web interactions.
To explain in a more practical way, we can use the well-known waiter example:
You’re sitting at a table in your favorite restaurant. The kitchen is “the system” that will prepare your order. What’s missing is the critical link to communicate your order to the kitchen and the link to deliver your food back to your table. That’s where the waiter - or the API - comes in. The waiter is the messenger that takes your request or order and tells the kitchen what to prepare. Then the waiter delivers the response back to you; in this case, the food.
What is an API-first approach?
An API-first approach means that your company treats APIs as the most important part of your business or product. To be API-first, you should always prioritize planning and developing consistent and reusable APIs before you start writing any code to deliver web, mobile, and device applications.
Why Is API-First so popular?
The growing popularity of microservices-based apps has led to a corresponding rise in API-first strategies. Companies like Amazon, Netflix & Uber have embraced this architecture type to achieve unseen scalability and growth in their industries. Other companies are now trying to follow their example to step away from their monoliths and migrate to a microservices strategy of their own. By planning the API first – and ensuring it adheres to a consistent, reusable, and widely-understood API specification – developers ensure that their apps and services can easily integrate with virtually any microservices-based architecture.
What are the benefits of an API-First Approach?
The fact that APIs are stateless brings a lot of flexibility and scalability to the table. You can tweak & scale your APIs depending on the demands of the range of services that use your platform.
Time to market
Instead of expanding or building new customer-facing web applications to give customers access to your data, you can expose your data directly to them, enabling your customers to integrate it with their internal systems. Developers can also reuse data components instead of reinventing the wheel. This decreases your development costs and gives more time to the development team to pick up other work.
Language and Platform agnostic
The application that is fetching data from your API does not care about the programming language it is made in or the platform the API is deployed on; it only requires a correct set of data based on the API definition. This allows you to make a technology choice based on the right fit for the project and not because your tech stack requires it.
Does icapps use an API-first approach for its projects?
We tend more toward a Code First approach. Don’t get us wrong here; we highly value the API layer on our projects, but we don’t start by specifying an entire API specification before opening our code IDE. We do this gradually while working on a certain module of the application. Many of our backends also use frameworks/packages that generate OpenAPI specifications based on the annotations in your code. Together with the team, we make clear agreements on the specifications and how to handle updates on the API level.
Although we don’t use an API First approach, the project we deliver could be part of the API ecosystem and API first strategy of a client.
Becoming an API-first company requires a significant amount of planning, collaboration, and communication across an organization. It requires a certain mind-shift on how to grow your product and deliver it to the market. Getting everyone to understand and agree that APIs should be a top priority can be quite the challenge, but it is considered worth it.