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Embracing API-first Approach Beyond Product Designing

November 23, 2021

Organizations and individuals relied on a code-first approach to build applications until recently. With this technique, business requirements are laid out first, and code development happens after. Finally, the documentation is generated from the code. But using this approach results in reworks, delays, and disjointed developer experience, particularly in cloud-driven landscapes.

Organizations have now moved to the cloud and adopted cloud services. An API-first approach is the best fit for such a development environment. This approach adds more flexibility and clarity to the development process and supports a reactive event-driven programming paradigm.

In this post, you’ll learn what an API-first approach is and why you need to develop the API first. You will also know what API-first design is, why you need an API-first approach as a developer and the relevance of API to automation.

What is an API-first approach?

Under an API-first approach, the application programming process starts with planning the API. Each stage of the API-first programming method stays within the initial API plan. This approach promotes API’s reusability, quality, and consistency. It does this by

  • Ensuring your app is integrable with other apps and systems. In this way, a developer can use your API to integrate your app into their projects.
  • Ensuring your API is adaptable to a wide range of users.
  • Using an easy-to-understand API specification language. API Blueprint, RAML, and Swagger are examples of easy-to-navigate languages.

What is API-first design?

In an API-first architecture, the developer creates an API first before developing other relevant resources and tools. Apps created this way can easily interface with one another. Here are examples of API-first design.

  • An API created before syncing with a database.
  • An API created before integrating with a system.
  • An API created before an app.
  • An API created before a website.

Why API first?

APIs are essential as they allow you to use multiple components as the building blocks for creating new products. They can even create reusable and modular apps by implementing an API-first approach. This approach is a significant move towards the timely implementation of a successful digital transformation strategy.

There are more reasons as to why you should use API-first development. The main ones are discussed below.

Accelerated development process

The API-first strategy concentrates time and resources on API development before beginning coding. You may argue that this might cause delays in time to market for the app, but this is not the case. This strategy allows you to reuse existing infrastructure power and software to promote faster software delivery. Time to market is also accelerated by integrating existing components and improving the software delivery and development processes.

With an API-first approach, you are sure to optimize your total development time and achieve agility even where the APIs fail to cover all the system’s features. When you generate an initial API for an APP, you also speed up the initial iterations in the interface development process. Once you have defined the initial API, you can better enhance and expand it while adding new features. In addition, such an intuitive interface allows working with multiple data sources.

Consistency

We live in a multi-screen world that expects developers to deliver applications that perform consistently across all platforms and devices. You achieve this by building a single app on top of an API layer to serve multiple applications hosted on different platforms.

While this is not usually a straightforward process, using an API-first strategy makes it a lot easier. An app built this way delivers efficiency with high-end cross-compatibility. In addition, the process of updating and maintaining apps across all platforms, whether web-based or native on mobile and non-mobile platforms, becomes more manageable.

Future-proofing the product

By now, you already know that APIs are adaptable and reusable. This is important when upgrading the API with new features and services. You do not need to restructure the entire product, thus retaining the original functionality, accommodating future demands and innovations, and reducing the risk of failure.

Highly available, fault-tolerant systems

Microservices architectures are familiar to developers. However, they provide a different software development approach with integration technologies, API management, and deployment technologies. This enables developers to create highly available, fault-tolerant systems.

With API first, it is easier to carry out orchestration strategies, including load-balancing incoming requests, achieving redundancy of crucial elements, and automating the deployment of microservices. In addition, system redundancy and fail-safes such as circuit breaker design patterns ensure the continuation of system operations when a microservice fails.

Why do developers need an API-first approach?

More and more developers are joining their peers in applying an API-first approach to other use cases beyond building products. For example, they are using an API-first approach to automate processes. An API-first approach brings value to developers in the following ways.

  • Allows development teams to work in parallel: With an API-first approach, you can establish a contract. For example, you can create a contract between services followed by teams across the organization to work on different phases of the API concurrently. So, developers can move on to the next API without necessarily waiting for update releases of an API. Also, they can test API dependencies and mock APIs (before deploying them) subject to the established API description documents.
  • Ensures good developer experiences: Developers are the primary consumers of APIs. Their experience is, therefore, of significant influence on the success of an API. In addition, the learning curve for API first approach is less steep because this strategy allows code reuse. This is important to creating a positive experience among the developers using APIs.
  • Reduces development effort: Imagine building a new API and writing code from scratch for every project. This would cost you time and other resources. API-first approach allows you to reuse code and API on different projects, so you do not start from scratch.

Why API is relevant to automation

Cloud providers allow the usage of APIs to automate processes in the cloud. However, automating without APIs is challenging, and increasing efficiency and maintaining consistent processes may not be possible. If you opt for manual processes, you should also know that you cannot similarly repeat processes.

Testers and developers often run things more than twice. They use an API-first strategy to automate every process in the application development lifecycle and achieve consistency. DevOps uses this approach to achieve frequent releases.

Competition in the app development industry is fierce, and only those that develop apps quickly survive. Therefore, the speed to market is of significant consideration. API-first approach allows you to add new technologies and service offerings to applications without re-architecting the entire site.

Conclusion

Application development guided by API-first strategy is increasingly gaining popularity in the modern business environment. This is partly because of the multiple benefits that the approach brings to developers and the app development process as a whole. For example, developers can automate every stage of the app development lifecycle and achieve consistency. This is significant as more software gets distributed and organizations move to the cloud.


Peer Review Contributions by: Onesmus Mbaabu