How to Build Winning APIs

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Great API design is one of the leading factors carrying technology companies forward.

This is because practicing great API design can:

  • Improve the usability of your API
  • Make your product significantly easier for developers and end-users to adopt
  • Help your company rapidly achieve business goals
  • Secure your future as a programmer

But, to build high-quality APIs, you’ll definitely want to keep these 5 tips for designing great APIs in mind... For more helpful programming career tips, news and job listings make sure you subscribe to codeslaw, here.

Tip 1. Think long-term

Programmers often have to develop APIs by a deadline. And, this can easily put you under some intense pressure, and possibly even cause you to think shortsightedly.

However, if you have the opportunity to think long-term about API design, then you should absolutely seize on the opportunity to do so.

Thinking long-term about API design enables you to develop under the presumption of explosive user growth, future market demands, different methodologies, new architectures, and other changing variables.

Yes, thinking long-term about API design might increase the amount of time and cash that you spend on API development up-front. But over time, you’ll almost certainly recoup your investment, and end up with a more marketable and successful product.

Tip 2. Keep it consistent

There’s a reason why so many users typically complain immediately after a piece of software undergoes a major update.

This usually happens because people love consistency, and dislike abrupt changes which require adaptation.

In fact, most people are biologically driven to exert the least amount of effort that’s required to get by!

This is called the principle of least effort.

The principle of least effort is an amazing concept to apply to your API design, because it will absolutely force you to keep your API consistent, simple, and extremely easy for developers to use.

Remember that people will almost always stray towards the path of least resistance (unless consciously decided otherwise). So, this gives you an excellent opportunity to clarify your calls, keep your documentation concise, and maintain hardcore consistency across your entire API.

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Tip 3. Clear documentation is crucial

While it’s rare to find a programmer who actually enjoys writing documentation, the reality is that good documentation is unbelievably important for the Developer Experience (DX).

If you’ve ever tried to use an undocumented API, then you’ll immediately empathize with this point.

Plus, your API’s documentation is also likely to be one of the very first things that other developers see (even before using your API). So, clear documentation is a crucial factor in the design of your API.

To write clear, concise documentation, you’ll first want to nail down the easiest aspects - like documenting the API methods (example requests, responses, with descriptions of elements). You might even use software tools to facilitate this task.

Additionally, you’ll also want to include usage examples and tutorials in your documentation. This is what sets genuinely helpful documentation apart from the rest of the herd.

Tip 4. Support API uptime

Surprisingly, some developers overlook the importance of API uptime. But, this is a critical component of API design for you to consider.

Because if someone can’t access your API for one reason or another, this renders your API (and your company) practically dead in the eyes of the user.

So, the reality is that your users expect near-perfect, 100% API uptime.

Of course, it’s perfectly OK to occasionally have your API down for routine maintenance, or scheduled downtime.

But, you should still make it a point to track your API’s analytics, and ensure that you always remain as close as possible to that 100% API uptime data point..

Tip 5. Prioritize ease of adoption

Ease of adoption is quite possibly the most important API design tip to consider, because ease of adoption is a necessary precursor to massive API growth and success.

In other words, in order for your company’s product to succeed, its API absolutely needs to have the “ease of adoption” quality built in.

But, how exactly do you make your API easy to adopt?

Well, here are some quick guidelines to get you started:

  • Make sure that new users of your API can get up and running within 15 minutes
  • Have multiple people implement and test your API to ensure that it works every time
  • Use technologies with your API that have already been widely accepted and implemented
  • Streamline any sign up process that you may have
  • Provide amazing support

While there are many other qualities that you can focus on to make your API easy to adopt, these quick guidelines should get your API into the hands of developers with as little friction as possible.

Overall, by following the 5 tips listed in this article, you will put you and your team in a position to build great APIs.

To recap, here are the 5 tips you should keep in mind when designing APIs:

  • Think long-term
  • Keep it consistent
  • Clear documentation is crucial
  • Support API uptime
  • Prioritize ease of adoption

APIs are an amazing way to spread helpful technology and advance society. And now, you’re ready to play your part in launching APIs the right way.


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