Insights from the Smartbear State of Software Quality 2023

10 Insights From The State of Software Quality 2023 Report

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2023 has been a particularly tumultuous year for tech as the world continues to find a new equilibrium following the complete virtualization of everything during the pandemic. Many companies, products, and services have not lived up to their hype, causing an alarming amount of bankruptcies, mergers and acquisitions, and even, in some instances, arrests.

Following the API industry can cause a bit of whiplash at the calmest of times, with new products constantly hitting the market at breakneck speed. It’s particularly hard to keep it all straight during such tumultuous times. This makes SmartBear’s State of Software Quality survey even more useful than ever.

Every year since 2016, except for a brief pause last year, SmartBear has released an exhaustive investigation into the current state of the API industry, surveying over 1,000 companies to find out what they’re working on, how they’re working on it, what they’re worried about, and where they see the industry headed. It’s an invaluable resource for checking the pulse of the API industry and predicting which way it might be heading in the coming year.

We’ve poured over the report to pull out some of the key findings to give you some idea of the current state of the API industry. These ten takeaways also offer hints about where the space might be headed in the coming year.

1. Testing Is Becoming More Important

APIs have come into their own as a product and a service. Companies are less willing to release questionable APIs into the world, as it reflects poorly on the producer. Untested APIs are also a security risk for producers and consumers alike. In light of this, API testing has become one of the most pressing concerns for API developers.

Just 15% of companies report not taking testing seriously. 56% of large organizations have a formal API testing protocol in place. Postman is the most popular environment for API testing by a large margin, at 80%, with SoapUI and cURL taking the second and third positions at 47% and 28%, respectively.

2. Events and Messaging Are Growing

Traditional web APIs remain the most popular format for APIs, at 88%, but events and messaging is growing rapidly, as is mobile. API consumers want support for backend system integration, too, and support for automation. The demand for IoT support is falling slightly, with only 11% requesting its inclusion.

Some of these demands are likely driven by the rise in microservices using multiple APIs and organizations adopting a blend of protocols. It will be interesting to see how the shifting microservices landscape will impact these demands in the coming year.

3. Documentation Is Important

Currently, 90% of organizations have documentation in place. 60% report having strong documentation in place to help ensure their APIs are secure. For API documentation to be useful and effective, it must be stable, up-to-date, accessible, and validated. It should also be included with the API to make onboarding easy, efficient, and effective.

Offering examples is the most popular aspect of API documentation, at 66%. 59% prefer the ability to deliver info about status and errors, while 55% prioritize details about authentication. 50% appreciate a space to lay out what parameters an API works with, while 49% value the specifics of acceptable HTTP requests

The ability to work collaboratively on API documentation is especially important for API developers. 36% prefer working with an interactive environment like SwaggerHub Integration with ReadMe as the second choice, 26%, and API management solutions like Apigee or Mulesoft as number three, 23%.

4. API Security and Standardization Remain Issues

51% report that API standardization is their top issue, and 40% report API security is their main problem. The concerns around API standardization have fallen considerably since 2019, however, suggesting that API developers are growing more comfortable in that area.

Anxieties around API security, however, remain stubbornly persistent and have even risen a bit since 2020. As evidenced by these eight examples of recent API breaches, API security is clearly an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed.

5. Execution Gaps Are Common

There’s still a gap between user expectations and what API producers deliver. For API consumers, service reliability is the most important aspect of API experience, with 45% reporting ‘Service reliability/Uptime reliability’ as what they look for most in the APIs they consume. Responsiveness and performance are a close second, at 44%, with easy-to-maintain code coming in at a distant third, at 34%.

Focusing on developer experience is essential as it can have permanent outcomes. 38% of API consumers report being willing to permanently switch API providers if they experience problems or unmet expectations.

It’s also important to be proactive, as they won’t always report their problems to your development team. 55% report alerting a different person in your organization other than the API development team. This means keeping an active communication channel between your API development team and the rest of the organization is essential.

6. Microservices Are Driving API Growth

62% report that microservices are the main impetus driving API growth in their companies. This has implications on everything from the concerns around API security to how quickly products are able to get to market.

Despite the widespread usage of microservices, organizations still don’t quite know what to do with them. A lack of mature IT and infrastructure is the #1 barrier to microservice adoption, which has been growing since 2019. Lack of budget is another common problem, as is a lack of preparedness on the business end.

Microservices have been losing some of their shine now that the marketing frenzy has been calming down. There’s been a recent shift in perspective that microservices aren’t always the best tool for the job, especially when you’re working within one team. It will be interesting to see how this shift in perspective will impact API production in the next 12 months.

7. AI Is Driving API Growth

Along with microservices, new developments in AI are inspiring new API growth and adoption, according to 38% of respondents. Open banking and FinTech also remain forces to be reckoned with, according to 19% of developers, and the demand for robotic process automation is holding steady at around 19%. So are virtual and augmented reality, which have increased a bit since 2019 and 2020. The thirst for the metaverse is still there, obviously, in some capacity.

8. QA Engineers Are Top API Users

In the report, SmartBear published a detailed breakdown of the roles of API producers. The majority come as little surprise, with 19% belonging to QA Engineer/Automation teams and 14% belonging to architects. Full-stack developers still use the most APIs among full-time developers, which was also the case in 2021.

The bottom end holds some surprises, though. 4% of respondents are product managers, while 3% are IT analysts and business analysts. Clearly, APIs aren’t just being made or consumed by full-stack developers and DevOps teams any longer.

9. Mid-to-Large-Sized Organizations Are Using APIs

The size of organizations that are producing and consuming APIs is shifting in some unexpected ways. The largest growth is in companies with over 10,000 employees, at 19%. Surprisingly, SmartBear reported a 5% decrease in API adoption in companies with less than 25 employees, year after year.

10. Integration With Existing Tools Is the #1 Driver for API Development

Integration with existing tools is the number one cause for API development, at 69%, as it has been for the last several years. Making APIs easier to use and implement is also a high priority, at 67% and 64%, respectively. There’s been a massive surge in demand for different types of APIs in the last few years, as well, which could be a major opportunity for API developers.