Managing Software Development workflows with an API Toolchain

Software Coding

Abhinav Postman


By Abhinav Asthana, CEO & Co-founder, Postman

An API toolchain manages the key phases in an API development workflow, which are design, mocking, testing, documentation, and monitoring. An API toolchain can provide centralized visibility into all the APIs in use within an organization, and helps document every relevant factor including: workflows, data sources, functions, dependencies, applications, services, and so on.

Developers automate repetitive tasks across the development lifecycle—from pre-production and deployment to production monitoring.

Growth of APIs
Many factors have contributed to the growth of APIs: speed of operations, growth aspirations, and Internet-led global connectivity. At a micro-level, technologies of digital transformation—social, mobile, analytics, cloud, and the Internet of Things(IoT)—provide a substantive boost to adoption of APIs by organizations of all sizes.

Banking and financial services, telecommunications, IT, e-commerce, consumer-focused businesses, and many more sectors are aggressively investing in APIs.

ProgrammableWeb reports, for the first quarter of 2017, more than 17,000 APIs from around the world are available in its directory. Since 2014, about 2,000 APIs have been added in its API directory every year, on average.

Forrester Research reports, nearly 40% of US enterprises will adopt API management solutions and the total US API management spending will reach $670 million by 2020. The research firm predicts that between 2015-2020, US companies would spend about $3 billion on API management.

Advantages of API development
To be effective in working with APIs, companies need to adopt an API-specific development workflow. In the past, enterprise software had its own protocol, data format, and ways of data management. There would also be a marginal visibility into the exact functioning of a software hosted on an enterprise server. However, APIs use commonly available Internet protocols, such as TCP and HTTP.

Compact and flexible text based formats like JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) bring the advantages of open architecture of the Web to the enterprise.As a result, APIs reduce an organization’s dependence on proprietary formats and make every application feature, or service, easily accessible to users in a plug-in, plug-out fashion.

The advantages for using APIs include: modular components, separate and parallel development, and reusability.

Modular components
Traditionally enterprise applications were massive and rigid. As the code base grew, it overloaded server resources and adversely affected system performance. As a result, making changes to the existing code was cumbersome and costly. A minor module failure could bring the entire application to a halt.

APIs encourage workflows with modular development of small components—such as individual features or services. These individual services can function independently, while seamlessly communicating with each other and with other pieces of software using APIs. The development environment becomes flexible, augmentable, and agile.

Stand-alone services and parallel development
Stand-alone services with parallel, modular development reduces the overall project execution time. Even development of individual components gains speed with uninterrupted work focus—developers worry less about dependencies. Similarly, testing can be modular. Functional and tested services can go live well before the entire project is over.

With APIs, the front-end user interfaces can be designed independently. UX developers and designers can complete and test their work without waiting for the back-end development to be ready. A combined result of such parallel development is rapid product roll-out, improving the overall speed of operations for the organization.

Traditionally, software development began with business requirements, application design, and at times, the interface considerations. The back-end systems were factored in at a later stage.

In API led development, developers identify which data sources to access from the API to develop reusable sets of code. Developers can use these sets multiple times to access the same data, which eliminates the need to recreate server-side code for every application development project.

Stages of an API workflow
Let’s briefly explore the stages of a complete API workflow.

Developers often use an iterative design model for software development. Iterative development requires developers to design, develop, and test applications in repeated cycles. In each cycle, a developer can modify the application design, add new features, and resolve errors.

Developers create a simulation (or mock) of an API component to test whether it will work or not before actual development. They can also mock a particular service to troubleshoot any problems. The mocked service can still work as part of the whole to ensure project continuity, while developers can work on the detected issues in the background.

An API toolchain tests each modular component in two ways: manual tests for single or isolated requests, or automated tests for collections of requests.

Third party developers use public APIs to create new applications. Developers appreciate APIs with good documentation that gets them up to speed quickly. Companies benefit from third party application development because it extends the functionality of their products in ways they might not have anticipated and gives their products greater exposure.

Within a large company, developers may use private APIs for in-house development. They also need good documentation that gets them up to speed quickly. In addition, their colleagues elsewhere in the company may also rely on good documentation. For example, a project manager needs to know where all the existing APIs are and exactly what each of them does.

Developers use API monitoring to track the status, behavior, and response time of API endpoints. Monitoring complements iterative development. It enables developers to see issues or potential issues during each development cycle. As a result, developers have a better chance to ensure uninterrupted availability.

Once development is complete, robust monitoring allows a development team to ensure the ongoing integrity of software that depends on APIs. With regular, scheduled monitoring, you’ll know first if an API your app depends on is slow or failing, or has simply changed behavior.

Timely completion is one of the top challenges of every large-scale IT implementation. Besides the sheer magnitude of the project, the new system must also talk to all the existing systems—internal as well as external—without glitches. The best-of-breed API toolchain solutions can come handy in such scenarios. With quick, accurate and smooth integration of APIs, organizations can achieve their preset objective of rapid rollout of enterprise-wide implementations.

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