The Top 4 Challenges With API Development and How To Overcome Them

Nearly every logical software function you can imagine has already been written. A software developer would only build an entire application from scratch if it's simply too expensive or difficult to integrate existing libraries (or they are coding purists).

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) make programming more modular. They allow organizations to cut development time and costs by providing access to external features, software services, and resources. However, as convenient as they are, APIs can present challenges for those who develop and integrate them. The following guide will examine these challenges and provide suggestions for overcoming them.

How Is API Development Different From Application Development?

It's only reasonable to assume that application development challenges are similar, if not identical, to those of API development. It's all programming and coding, right? True — however, there is a big difference in how APIs and applications are employed.

Software programs are intended for human users and usually have an accompanying user interface. APIs typically do not. They are pieces of code that plug into more realized software applications and run in the background. Thus, although there is some overlap, the programming requirements are often different.

It may seem more challenging to write a software application than to create an API, but it depends. Many software applications are ultimately just a collection of libraries and APIs married by custom front-end code.

This is where we can clearly see the differences in the challenges between API and general application development. For instance, modern software applications require that developers dedicate considerable attention and effort to the user experience aspect. While API developers should contemplate UX in developer terms, it isn't as important or complex.

But this is only one aspect of API development. The rest of this guide will dedicate itself to illustrating the key challenges of API development and how you can overcome them.

1. Subpar Documentation

One of the biggest API integration challenges that software developers cite is insufficient documentation, whether incomplete or overly complex and esoteric. While it isn't a complete deal breaker for web APIs with simple calls, it can be frustrating for more complex libraries. The API's library and class structures may seem intuitive to its author (thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect), but it may not be the case for the external developer who has to use or integrate it.

Again, APIs are there to make the coding experience easier and to eliminate redundancy (in addition to providing a gateway layer). Poorly documented and annotated code defeats this purpose and forces developers to play around and glean what they can from whatever visible code they have.

The Solution

API developers should put as much effort into documenting the code as they put into writing it. Your documentation should include an API specification guide, tutorials (as part of a QuickStart guide), and code snippets. We suggest that you get your documentation reviewed by a third party who is unfamiliar with your software or API. There are many great examples of excellent API documentation that developers can use for their products.

2. Testing

There are a set of expectations that web (REST, SOAP, RPC) APIs must meet. They need to undergo comprehensive testing to ensure that they meet these standards. Testing must determine that APIs are functional, reliable, and secure.

Generally, this testing is done by requesting one or more API endpoints, then comparing responses against a list of expected results. There are also various other API tests, ranging from general to specific analysis.

What makes API testing so challenging is that it's difficult to test all use cases and combinations of parameters and data values. API testing may seem easier than evaluating an entire desktop or web application, but developers must ensure that their APIs can handle large loads and maintain security.

The Solution

Developers must implement thorough testing protocols to ensure that APIs meet standards. There are several tests developers and QA testers can run, including:

  • Validation testing: Focuses on the API's behavior and efficiency.
  • Functional testing: Ensures the API performs as it should.
  • Load testing: Measures the number of calls the API can manage.
  • Reliability testing: Ensures the API makes the right connections and produces consistent results.
  • Security testing: Assesses the API's encryption and access controls.
  • Penetration testing: Analyzes attack vectors from outside perspectives.
  • Fuzz testing: Forcibly inputs massive amounts of data to create a crash or overflow. This method may also be considered a subtype of reliability and load testing.

Developers must employ a combination of the above techniques (if not all) to ensure that connections between platforms remain reliable, safe, and scalable in the long run. Of course, the depth and complexity of your API tests will hinge on the scope of your API, so you must carefully plan and write your API tests. Additionally, you must ensure that you test your API against your documentation.

3. Securing Funding

Most API developers aim to deliver secure and functional APIs as fast as possible while ensuring that their user base (mainly app developers) has quick and easy access. But this can only be achieved through fluid approval processes, relating both to the API releases and requests triggered by customers.

Most businesses aren't always equipped to make fast decisions. We have seen situations where API developers have waited for weeks (sometimes months) before getting new API releases or requests approved. Organizations should avoid a situation like this.

The key reason for stagnated API approval processes is that businesses often do not understand the value of APIs, making it more difficult for developers to secure funding for their projects. For instance, medical businesses collaborating with developers to create patient-communication software may understand the value of the graphical elements and the business side.

However, they may not understand the abstract concepts of APIs and why you need to pay an additional fee to use them. A recent study found that dental offices that switched to direct patient communication software had 80% of patients on average paying within twenty-four hours. This wouldn't have been possible without effective and functional APIs making the software easy to navigate and use.

The Solution

To overcome this challenge, you must illustrate to leadership how APIs align with the overall business objectives. Developers must define and implement project KPIs directly linked to the client's plans and goals. You must measure the KPIs and share them with business executives regularly to highlight the benefits of using APIs.

4. Low Adoption

It isn't always easy to prove the importance of APIs. Despite their immense potential for reusability and extensibility, it's easier to market a fully realized piece of software than it is an API. For example, although blockchain APIs can help eCommerce stores increase sales by offering an additional payment method, most business owners opt for third-party payment processors to accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies because it's easier to set up and then ensure that any crypto payments they receive are securely stored via the use of digital wallets.

Convincing app developers to use your API can be quite challenging, so it is something that should be considered during API development. Your API project can only help you achieve business objectives if it is used.

The Solution

As you design and develop your API, you must ensure that it addresses crucial problems that app developers face. You can only achieve this feat by placing the demands of the app developers first over internal requirements. It can be tricky to maintain, but you must establish a good rapport with your user base. This involves gathering feedback and prioritizing updates based on this feedback.

Additionally, you must ensure that you provide the APIs in an easy-to-consume and consistent format, which will ensure that they are discoverable and testable. Again, you must provide sufficient documentation to the app developers.

Conclusion

Although they are essentially the muscle fibers of the internet, it is often difficult to convince businesses of the value of APIs. The key takeaway here is that API developers must be more mindful of the business value of their projects. Moreover, they must make their products as functional and accessible for application developers as possible. This means trolling for feedback, researching the latest standards, and ensuring that key business figures understand the usefulness of your project.

If you cover the core basics, you can overcome any challenge related to API development.