The Importance of Standardized API Design

  May 26, 2017

Consistency in the API design space is a topic that’s being widely discussed. Standardized API design is the next important consideration organizations would need to have in their journey in making APIs that are easy to maintain, adopt and consume. That said, organizations don’t invest enough time in standardizing the way APIs are designed within their organization, partly because they don’t realize the value of doing so. In this article, I want to discuss what it means to have a consistent organizational style in the design of APIs, and what are the benefits it can offer.

What is Standardization in API Design?

API design is the creation of an effective interface that allows you to better maintain and implement the API, while enabling consumers to easily use this API.

Consistent API design is standardizing the design, across all APIs, and the resources they expose, within an organization or team. It is a common blueprint for developers, architects and technical writers to follow, to ensure a consistent “voice”, brand and experience in the API consumption. Organizations standardize design using Style Guidelines that aim to ensure consistency in the way APIs are designed and implemented. Some popular style guidelines are shared below –

  1. Microsoft REST API Guidelines
  2. Google API Design Guide
  3. PayPal API Style Guide

Kin Lane (@apievangelist) has a good post listing some popular style guides. Arnaud Lauret (@apihandyman) also maintains the API Stylebook website, a great resource for discovering publicly available API style guides.

But Why Standardize?

Take the analogy of a real estate development company. When the architects are designing all the elements of the floors in a building, they ensure that the rooms, doors, columns, windows etc. in these floors follow a certain pattern. This doesn’t just help the construction team build better, but also makes the experience of residing and moving around the building pleasant and enjoyable.

The same can be thought of your APIs. If your organization is the real estate company, then your APIs are the floors, with the resources, parameters and responses being the various elements within the floor. Let’s dive into understanding the need for consistency in the API design phase.

Ensures Great Developer Experience

There’s no point in having great, functioning APIs if no one uses them. Your APIs are like any other products, representing your company’s services, value propositions and values to your end consumers. An important distinction between the average consumer and an API consumer is their level of technical sophistication.

The API’s consumer is a developer or engineer, someone who wants to use your APIs to build better applications. Your APIs are mission critical to them, and they will be active critiques of how usable and workable your APIs are. Consistent design across an organization’s APIs ensures the smoothest possible experience for developers using your platform.

Standardization in design makes APIs feel familiar. It minimizes the learning curve as developers start to use your various resources in the same API or across multiple ones. Consistent, good design makes using your APIs easy and intuitive, and indicates to end consumers that you’re respectful of their time and needs, all of which go a long way in improving your relationship with your technical audience.

Saves Time and Money in Implementation

Design standards are meant to be a set of design recommendations and best practices for use across all APIs within a company. These standards don’t just help architects iterate on the API’s design quickly, it also makes implementation faster.

An important reason to design APIs is to ensure faster code. Design is created to be handed off. Consistently designed APIs ensures the implementation team, be it developers, devOps or testers, can work better on creating a functioning API.

Creating clean, easy to understand and relatable design standards ensures every stakeholder within the team knows what to do with the API. When there’s consistent design, there’s no misconception on what these API are supposed to do, what different nomenclature might mean and how to interpret various protocols.

Improves Sustainability of the API Program

A company’s investment in APIs is a long-term endeavor. Design standards don’t just improve implementation of APIs, but also dictate how APIs are updated, or how new APIs are developed.

Once design guidelines are set, it’s easier to build off them and allow teams to develop APIs, allowing organizations to scale their design and development process. It also helps in avoiding any long-term issues in maintenance and consumption. Multiple teams building different services can be tricky.

Since the design defines how clients and services interact, having differences in designs leads to confusion and overhead during the development phase of your services. These inconsistencies only multiple, and their effects will amplify across the API lifecycle. For example, an API with inconsistent nomenclature in resources may have a different naming style in the controllers during implementation, may cause confusion when writing test cases against this resource, and eventually lead to a negative experience when consuming the API’s resource.  

How SwaggerHub Helps

The product team at SwaggerHub hopes to ensure teams have a hassle-free experience standardizing the design process. The following are some of the feature that allow organizations to maintain consistency to better maintain API and improve their adoption -

  • Style Validator: Use Style Validator to check if your Swagger specification matches certain description standards. For example, your company’s guidelines may require that all the properties have examples specified. Style Validator helps you automate such checks. When creating a Style Validator integration, you specify the checks to perform. When you run Style Validator, it checks your Swagger specification according to these checks and notifies you about issues, if any.Learn more.
  • Domains: Domains are reusable components that can be shared between multiple APIs and other domains. A domain can contain the following components: definitions, path items, parameters, responses. Users can create and version Domains, and then define the reusable components that can be stored inside them. The components can be referenced from other APIs or Domains, either by the user or the collaborators on the API.Learn more.

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