Chances are when integrating a certain service through its API; you found yourself wondering: “What were the designers even thinking?” Every dev know, no matter the experience level that allowing a project to slip right out of your hands and letting it devolve into spaghetti coded is pretty easy.
Just like web and mobile apps, APIs are also prone to resulting in a rather tangled web. However, things don’t have to turn out that way. With just a little bit of preparation and careful planning, you and your team will be able to design a fantastic API that other developers will actually like using and that you’ll enjoy designing. Here are three golden rules that you should follow if you want to design a good API.
Rules of Successful API Design #1: Start Your Documentation as Soon as Possible
No matter how boring this may sound, we have to start with documentation. Devs tend to hate dealing with documentation but you what they hate even more? Trying to implement an API without having the right documentation that explains the process properly, that’s what.
API documentation is vital to your project, and you need to get it right. If you present the documentation properly, devs across the world will gladly use your API, and you’ll be able to grow a huge user base in a matter of months.
So what do you need to write good documentation? Besides a lot of time, patience, and willpower, you don’t need anything else. Just make sure that you start working on your documentation before you even write down a line of code if you want to document everything properly.
And if you want to create documentation directly from the source code and save a lot of time for both you and your colleagues, you should find a practical PHP documentation generator to make things even easier.
Rules of Successful API Design #2: Always Keep a Certain Level of Flexibility
You know what GIGO is, right? Well, if you don’t, it’s an old programmers’ mantra that stands for “Garbage In – Garbage Out.” When applied to API design, it dictates a rigid approach to request validation. That sounds pretty simple and useful – not a lot of mess, not a lot of problems.
However, if you want to use approach, you need to balance things out. Anticipating every way the users will want to implement your API is practically impossible. Since every platform isn’t all that consistent, it’s always good to have a certain level of flexibility in regards to your input/output constraints.
For instance, some APIs support some output formats – such as YAML, JSON, and XHTML. – However, they only support specifying these formats in the URL. If you want to keep a level of flexibility, you should also read/recognize an HTTP header or even support a query-string variable, etc.
Rules of Successful API Design #3: Don’t Forget About Your API Security
When you’re building a web service, security is probably at the top of the list of your priorities. However, most developers make security pretty hard to use. You should avoid making this mistake by offering examples of how to authorize and authenticate when accessing the API itself.
You’ll agree that this process shouldn’t be overly complicated and the end-user shouldn’t spend countless hours working on it. That’s why you should make one of your goals to make sure the end-users don’t have to write any security code or that it should only take a few minutes to do it.
You can do this by using a token-based authentication system in which the user is assigned a random hash, which allows them to reset it if anything happens at any point in time. And try to pick a secure token and not a short identifying number.
In this case, finding something irreversible is the best thing to do. So for instance, you generate an SHA token during the design process and store it in your APIs database. You can also use SSL and OAuth 2 protocols. They are easy to implement on the server side, and they are available for most languages.
The Bottom Line on API Design
When an API is difficult to use – whether it’s a problem with the design, unresolved bugs, or lack of documentation – people will probably drop it immediately. You should make sure that your API is well-designed, appropriately documented, and overall easy to use and it will definitely be widely adopted sooner than later.
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