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Why APIs Are the Foundation of Modern Software Development

Application programming interfaces, more commonly referred to as APIs, are a foundational building block for nearly all types of modern software development.

Application Programming Interfaces enable developers to connect different services and sources of information in a programmatic approach inside of an application. They are available from nearly every type of data source imaginable and are used as modular components in software applications and services.

“In our trends blog for 2022, I emphasized how if software is eating the world, then APIs are the teeth,” Steve Rodda, CEO of Stoplight, told ITPro Today. “APIs are now prolific and widespread across every industry, sector, and location in the world.”

Application Programming Interface Usage by the Numbers in 2022

According to MuleSoft’s 2022 connectivity benchmark report, the vast majority of organizations (98%) now use public and/or private APIs, up from 96% a year ago. More than a quarter of business leaders (26%) are making an  strategy an imperative — almost double the figure from 12 months ago.

“Today, people expect seamless digital experiences that meet them where they are, no matter the interaction,” Prashant Choudhary, field CTO of the Digital Transformation Office at MuleSoft, told ITPro Today. “Delivering these connected experiences hinges on companies’ ability to connect apps and data, and  are critical to this.”

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“One of the biggest surprises in the enterprise survey was that almost 98% of those surveyed are either building an Application Programming Interface strategy for digital transformation or have one in place, yet many struggle to use their APIs effectively,” Iddo Gino, founder and CEO of RapidApplication Programming Interface, told ITPro Today. “The data shows what we’ve heard consistently from our customers — that their existing set of Application Programming Interface tooling isn’t built for the scale and breadth of Application Programming Interfaces that companies are currently building.”

Application Programming Interfaces can be built in different programming languages and delivered via a number of approaches. The Rapid study found that Ja continues to dominate as the most used programming language for Application Programming Interfaces at 71.6%.

There is still a perception that only support a Rest ful request-response pattern, according to MuleSoft’s Choudhary. However, the modern Application Programming Interface also supports other models, like gRPC, GraphQL, and EDA (event-driven architecture), he added.

“This increases the versatility of Application Programming Interfaces and gives the enterprise architects to choose the right pattern, relevant to their architecture,” Choudhary said.

Challenges to Application Programming Interface Adoption for Modern Software Development

Despite all the benefits Application Programming Interfaces bring to organizations and developers, there are challenges that must be addressed.

According to the MuleSoft Top 7 Digital Transformation Trends Shaping 2022 report, 73% of business and IT leaders caution that specific security and governance concerns have increased as their systems have become more integrated, with unified governance of APIs being a big challenge.

Many companies also worry that by making Application Programming Interfaces available publicly, they are giving away digital resources and capabilities to anyone who happens to find them online, said Kin Lane, chief evangelist at Postman. However, the opposite is actually true when developers apply modern platform approaches to producing APIs, he said.

The Postman 2021 State of the API Report posed a question about the biggest obstacles to producing Application Programming Interfaces, Lane said. Of the 28,000 respondents from around the world, 45% said the biggest challenge was lack of time, with one-third stating it takes one week to one month to conceive, implement, test, and deliver an Application Programming Interface to a production environment. Complexity of APIs and lack of knowledge were the next two most common challenges for executing on APIs.

“This shows there is a need as an industry to lower the barrier of entry for working with Application Programming Interfaces by providing tools and resources for people to learn,” Lane said.

Best Practices for Application Programming Interface Management

There are a number of key best practices that software developers and the organizations that employ them should follow to gain the best possible benefit.

Take a design-first approach. It’s imperative to take a design-first approach to Application Programming Interfaces, according to Stoplight’s Rodda.

In an Application Programming Interface design-first development process, Application Programming Interface architects begin by writing a specification and engaging all stakeholders in the process from its inception, Rodda said. The result of a design-first process is an Application Programming Interface product that is comprehensive, consistent, and understandable by both collaborators and machines.

Design-first means that developers describe every Application Programming Interface in a way that both humans and computers can understand, all before a line of code is written, he said. “You wouldn’t build a house without a set of plans for the design, and the same case can be said for your Application Programming Interface development,” Rodda said.

Treat Application Programming Interfaces as a product. It’s also important to treat Application Programming Interfaces as a product, according to MuleSoft’s Choudhary. Developers shouldn’t expose Application Programming Interfaces if they don’t know what the capabilities are and if they don’t take the time to design the Application Programming Interface for consumers, he said. To drive successful Application Programming Interface programs, the Application Programming Interfaces need to have clear and measurable business value, he added.

“Not all APIs are created equal,” Choudhary  said. “There are different considerations based on who the consumer of your API is going to be, whether they are an internal consumer, a partner, or somebody completely external to your organization.”

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