10 Steps to Catalog Your Growing API Inventory Posted in Strategy Vyom Srivastava August 9, 2023 In a recent article, we discussed the reasons why you should catalog your APIs. Now that we know why cataloging APIs is critical, you may be wondering where to start. Well, cataloging an API inventory requires a number of steps, like categorization, identification, and discoverability. So, what steps can organizations take to catalog their growing number of APIs? Here are ten steps to consider as you audit your API inventory. Step 1: Identify APIs When cataloging your APIs, you’ll need to identify which ones are internal, external, or third-party. Internal APIs are the ones that are created by your own company, while external APIs are those developed by external organizations. Third-party providers are companies that provide APIs that can be integrated into your system. Internal APIs: Internal APIs are the ones developed by your own company and are used to support specific internal processes. These APIs may be either private (in-house) or public (for external users). They can help automate tasks such as database access, payment processing, or other similar functions. It is important to identify the different types of internal APIs you have to keep track of them. External APIs: External APIs are the ones created by third-party providers for integration into your system. These APIs may be free or require a fee and can help with tasks such as analytics, e-commerce, or social media integrations. This includes any public APIs as well as partner APIs. By identifying the different types of APIs you have, your inventory can distinguish between internal and external APIs. This will help you keep track of the different APIs and ensure that they are all up-to-date and properly maintained. Step 2: Document API Details Accurately capturing API details is essential to maintain a well-structured API catalog. A good API catalog should capture the following essential information: API name and description: The API name should provide a clear and easy-to-understand overview of the API’s purpose and capabilities. The API description should give a more in-depth look into the API’s features and uses. Versioning and endpoint URLs: Capturing the versioning and endpoint URLs for the API will ensure users have the most up-to-date information available. This will make it so changes are tracked and that any bugs or issues are identified quickly. Authentication methods and data formats: Authentication methods and data formats should be clearly defined in the API documentation. This will help to ensure that users can use the API securely, as well as ensure that data is communicated and stored in an appropriate format. In addition to capturing essential information, links to additional documentation and specifications can provide a comprehensive view of an API. This could include usage limitations, rate limits, performance metrics, and error-handling procedures. This can help developers to understand how an API is structured and how best to utilize it. Documentation may also include code snippets or other resources useful when developing applications with the API. Step 3: Categorize APIs Organizing your APIs into groups is a great way to simplify their use and quickly find what you need when building applications or services. One way to do this is to group APIs based on their functionality or purpose. By creating distinct categories or tags for each of your APIs, you will be able to easily differentiate between different functionalities. Grouping based on functionality or purpose: When categorizing your APIs, consider grouping them according to their intended use. For example, if you have several authentication APIs, these should all be grouped together in the same category. Likewise, any APIs related to payment processing should be in a separate category. This will make it easier for developers to quickly find the API they are looking for and ensure that no APIs are overlooked. Creating categories or tags for an easy organization: Besides grouping your APIs by functionality or purpose, creating distinct categories or tags for each of your APIs is also helpful. This will allow you to easily filter and search through your catalog. It is also beneficial to provide a brief description of each API so that users can quickly understand what it does and how it can be used. Organizing your APIs into clear categories and tags will save time in the long run and ensure your services are being properly utilized. Grouping based on API design: Some backends can include multiple API designs like gRPC, REST, SOAP or even GraphQL. So, tagging APIs based on the design style can keep things organized by technology type. Step 4: Define API Metadata When organizing an API inventory, defining the metadata associated with each API is important. Metadata describes various aspects of an API and can help understand its purpose and how it can be used. The following items are examples of metadata that can be included for each API: Owner and contact information: It is important to include contact information for the owner of the API. This may include their name, email address, or phone number so that you can reach out to them should there be any questions or issues. Relevant teams or departments: When cataloging APIs, it is important to include any teams or departments involved in using or managing the API. This includes developers, QA teams, support staff, and other stakeholders interested in the API. Associated projects and usage guidelines: It is also helpful to include information about any associated projects that use the API and any usage guidelines that should be followed. This allows teams to understand how the API should be used and which projects it supports. Including this information in the catalog can help ensure that all teams are on the same page when it comes to using and managing the API. Having a comprehensive set of metadata associated with each API can make it easier to track what APIs are available and how they are used. Additionally, it allows for better collaboration across teams and departments, ensuring that everyone understands the purpose of each API and how to properly use it. Step 5: Document API Dependencies It’s important to consider dependencies when cataloging your API inventory. In this context, a dependency is a connection between two or more APIs or services. When documenting the dependencies of an API, you’ll want to capture both the interconnections and any related impacts. Capturing interconnections with other APIs or services is the first step to properly documenting API dependencies. Make sure to note which APIs depend on each other and how they connect. This can help you identify which APIs may be affected when making changes or updating one of the connected APIs. Understanding the impact of dependencies is just as crucial as knowing which APIs are connected. Take into account what could happen if one of the dependent APIs is changed or removed. Will this affect other APIs and services? Are there any risks associated with changes in the dependent APIs? Answering these questions and understanding any potential risks can help you make more informed decisions when managing your API inventory. Step 6: Include API Documentation Having an organized API catalog is not only helpful for tracking the APIs you use and building out a comprehensive inventory, but it can also help streamline the development process. An important aspect of this is making sure that the necessary documentation and reference material are available to those who will be using the APIs. This can include anything from linking or referencing API reference guides to providing tutorials, sample code, and usage examples. API reference guides provide technical details about the APIs, such as the methods, parameters, and responses. Having this material easily accessible can save developers time when trying to troubleshoot or understand how the API works. Reference guides are typically provided by the API provider or can be easily generated with a tool like Swagger. Tutorials and sample code provide step-by-step instructions on how to use the API and show some common use cases. These types of materials help to reduce the learning curve of an API and make it easier for developers to quickly understand how to use it. Providing sample code in multiple languages is especially beneficial for developers who may not be familiar with all of the coding languages available. By including these materials with your API catalog, developers can find all the information they need in one place, streamlining the development process and ensuring that APIs are used correctly and efficiently. Step 7: Add Versioning Information Versioning is an integral part of cataloging APIs as it allows for tracking changes over time. It’s also essential for maintaining compatibility between API implementations and associated documentation. With API versioning, developers can ensure that new calls don’t break existing integrations. When creating an API catalog, you should include version information for all APIs included. This will make it easier to understand which versions are available and when changes were made. Additionally, versioning will allow for backward compatibility so that older API calls continue to work with new API versions. To properly document API versions, you should include the following details: Version numbers: Document the version numbers for each API. Release dates: Make sure to include when the versions were released. Changes: Highlight any changes between each version. Deprecated versions: Keep track of any deprecated versions and make sure to note why they were deprecated. By adding versioning information to your API catalog, you’ll be able to easily track and maintain your inventory of APIs. This will help keep your integrations running smoothly and ensure that developers have access to up-to-date information about APIs. Step 8: Keep the Catalog Up to Date Regular reviewing and updating are essential for maintaining a catalog of APIs. This helps ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date and that the API inventory is up to par with current standards. To do this, it’s good to conduct periodic reviews of the catalog to ensure that any changes made to the API inventory are reflected in the catalog. This might include changes to existing APIs or the addition of new APIs. When APIs are modified or added, it is important to update the catalog accordingly. This includes ensuring all information, including metadata, documentation, dependencies, versioning, and more, are updated as needed. Additionally, if APIs are retired or removed from the inventory, they should also be removed from the catalog. This will help ensure users have access to the latest information. Step 9: Ensure Discoverability To ensure that your API catalog is easily navigable and discoverable by your users, there are a few steps you can take. Implementing a search feature in the catalog is a great way to make it easier for users to locate and find the API they’re looking for. Furthermore, you should strive to facilitate easy API discovery based on criteria such as use cases, data sources, or technologies associated with the API. You can also label each API with relevant tags or categories, making it easier for users to search for APIs based on specific criteria. Finally, it’s important to include detailed documentation along with each API in your catalog, ensuring that all of the necessary information is readily available when needed. These methods allow the catalog to be better organized and easily navigated. Step 10: Sharing and Collaborating It is important to ensure that your API catalog is accessible and can be used by relevant stakeholders. This helps to ensure that everyone involved in the API development process has the information they need to do their job. It also makes it easier for stakeholders to collaborate and offer feedback on APIs. To facilitate collaboration, you may want to provide access to a version control system, such as Git, for API developers and other stakeholders. This makes it easier for teams to coordinate changes and for API users to view changes made to existing APIs. In addition, providing access to a project management system, such as JIRA, can help track tasks and ensure that projects stay on schedule. Finally, providing a forum or chatroom can help facilitate communication and collaboration between stakeholders. By ensuring that all relevant stakeholders have access to the API catalog and can share their feedback and collaborate on changes, you can help ensure that APIs are well-documented, up-to-date, and meet the needs of all stakeholders. Methods To Implement A Catalog Now that you understand the importance of cataloging your growing API inventory, you might wonder how to create and maintain a catalog. Here are a few methods to consider: Service Registry: A service registry is a central database of service metadata that allows service consumers to locate and connect to services. This approach can be applied to APIs as well. By using a service registry like Consul or Etcd, organizations can register their APIs and provide information such as documentation, versions, and endpoints. Service registries can also provide load balancing and other runtime features. API Gateways: API gateways are another popular method for API cataloging. These gateways act as intermediaries between the API consumer and provider, and they often come equipped with API discovery, documentation, and governance features. Popular API gateway solutions include Kong, Tyk, and Amazon API Gateway. API Management Platform: If you have a large and complex API inventory, an API management platform can help you organize and govern your APIs more effectively. These platforms provide features like automated documentation, versioning, testing, monitoring, and security. Some popular API management platforms include Apigee, Kong, Postman, and Azure API Management. Custom Solution: Depending on your needs, you may opt to build a custom solution to manage your API catalog. This could involve using a database or a custom-built web application to store and display your API details. While this approach requires more upfront investment, it can provide a tailored solution that meets your specific requirements. API Documentation Tools: API documentation tools like Swagger and RAML offer functionality for creating API documentation and specifications. By using these tools, organizations can ensure that their APIs are well-documented and easily discoverable by potential consumers. Additionally, API documentation tools often come equipped with API versioning and metadata features. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to regularly review and update your API catalog to ensure it remains accurate and useful. And don’t forget to involve your development team, product owners, and other stakeholders in the process to ensure buy-in and collaboration. Final Words In today’s rapidly evolving technology landscape, APIs have become integral to many IT organizations’ architecture. However, only a small fraction of them have a systematic and comprehensive approach to cataloging their APIs. By creating an organized API catalog, you can unlock numerous benefits, such as easy discoverability, seamless collaboration, and better management of API dependencies. It is helpful to maintain an up-to-date catalog that includes detailed documentation and versioning information. This will make it easier for internal stakeholders to locate the API they need and attract external developers to integrate with your platform. With the help of various methods and tools, you can establish a robust API cataloging process that aligns with your organizational goals. Don’t let your growing API inventory overwhelm you! Start cataloging today and make your API landscape more efficient, streamlined, and user-friendly.