In their 2020 State of the API Report, Postman surveyed over 13,500 developers, testers, executives, and others to get a beat on the industry’s most significant developments. Follow along to learn more about key challenges — and trends — that define how APIs are continually evolving.

The Postman State of the API Report TLDR

For those craving the meat and potatoes of Postman’s report, look no further. There are many in-depth findings worthy of attention within the State of the API Report. However, Postman has summarized their primary takeaways as follows:

  • Investment in APIs remains unwavering: In fact, the vast majority of respondents expect stable or increased resource investment in APIs in the coming year. These forecasts have been made despite the global economic downturn.
  • APIs have played a crucial productive role amidst the pandemic: 30.6% of those surveyed said APIs aided corporate responses to COVID, boosting communication, customer relations, and remote work opportunities while enabling smoother compliance to changing government regulations.
  • Digital transformations rely on APIs: 84.5% state that APIs help lead the charge in these transitions, paving the way for remote collaboration and modernization.
  • API-first makes progress: Additionally, most participants believe they’re making decent progress (5 out of 10 or better) at fostering an API-first growth strategy.

The outlook on APIs has also become much more positive as time has passed, due to maturity in the space. On API design trends, 93.4% of all respondents harness REST APIs — making REST the predominant API architecture by a landslide. Interestingly, partner and external APIs edge out internal APIs in expressed reliability.

Reliability, security, performance, and documentation have roughly equal importance in the API integration process. Pricing was the least important. The biggest barrier to API production, however, continues to be the hefty time investment needed.

Those are the quick facts, but let’s dive a little deeper.

Defining API-First Processes and Trends

Postman acknowledges that while “API-first” strategies have grown more popular, there is still no standardized definition for the term. The survey thus asked, “What does API-first mean to you” to uncover a common thread. We now know that 87% of respondents are familiar with the term. Awareness is growing, but how does understanding vary amongst industry leaders?

The largest share of survey takers believes design and definition are top priorities when going API-first. Image courtesy of Postman.

39.2% of respondents believe design and definitions are staples of an API-first strategy. API development, as a precursor to application development or integration, was a close second at 33.5%. API proliferation has been inherently tied to best practices and ironing out technical glitches.

While these APIs may be offered externally to paying users, data suggests that APIs * aren’t necessarily* cornerstones of enterprise profit generation. This is partially supported by SmartBear’s own findings — sharing that 72% of companies develop a balance of internal and external offerings, while 21% are only developing internal APIs. Indeed, Postman has found that more APIs are internal this year compared to last year. They’re a means to a digitalized end while supercharging productivity and modernization.

Common API Users and Industries

Developers still reign supreme as the chief users of APIs, with full-stack developers topping both their backend and frontend counterparts. Roughly half of all respondents considered themselves developers of some sort. Those in the other half hold diverse roles — from the C-suite to the classroom.

Over three-quarters of respondents claimed to hold roles under the engineering-and-development umbrella. A significant portion of survey takers were in DevOps/APIOps, quality assurance and testing, and technical or customer support. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 41.7% of respondents work in the tech industry, followed by business-and-IT services at 19.3%.

Banking, finance, and healthcare follow with somewhat similar popularity. Postman says that the order of these results hasn’t changed from last year.

Technology claims the top spot this year, whereas the gaming sector’s sphere (new for 2020) is conversely minuscule. Image courtesy of Postman.

Experience, Leadership, and Teams

Interestingly, 74% of respondents have 0 to 5 years of experience with API development. The API industry is still maturing, and many professionals still haven’t had heavy exposure to these technologies. Consequently, those with over six years of API experience — 26% of those surveyed — are likelier to be API-first trailblazers. These professionals simply have more experience with API development and are better poised to put these technologies first.

Lastly, the largest share of professionals (36%) are on teams with 6 to 10 people. The average number of team members per this survey is 12.97, and the median number is 7. This suggests that larger teams are skewing these results, even though they’re not as common.

Quick Facts on Time and Quantity

How are professionals allocating their time to APIs, and just how many APIs are being created? These numbers vary widely by individual and organization. Postman asked respondents how much time they spend working with APIs — the largest portion (39.4%) spends fewer than ten weekly hours with APIs. Meanwhile, 36% spend between 10 and 20 hours, while the smallest portion (24.6%) spends over 20 hours with them.

These efforts are primarily focused on coding, programming, testing, and debugging. Additionally, there’s a small disconnect between expectations and reality. For example, developers say they should spend less time debugging and more time automating.

Who uses and creates what? Interestingly, individuals consume more APIs than they contribute to themselves. API leaders have tended to work for companies that have produced over 1,000 APIs in the past year. Contrastingly, a serious chunk of companies (46.9%) produced 50 or fewer APIs in that same period.

Transparency Troubles

There’s also a visibility issue on the company side. 26.5% of respondents don’t know how many APIs their organization created, while 33.7% didn’t know how many their organization consumed. This suggests that teams across the organizations are siloed and that teams consume specialized APIs.

There’s an air of mystery surrounding API development. It’s possible that these technologies haven’t yet grown “important” or familiar enough to be mainstream talking points. This may be compounded by the fact that API development isn’t closely tied to business requirements — per this survey.

Production, Consumption, and Design

We’ve mentioned the importance of internal APIs to organizations — both as productivity tools and proofs of concept. Keeping with this trend, 70% of respondents state that integration with internal applications, systems, and programs has driven API production forward. Enhancement of existing applications (internal or external) or capabilities is another, at 61%. Bolstering the customer experience via products and other offerings is a close third.

Consumption trends are similar, though integration with external applications take precedence over internal integration. What are some barriers to consumption? 54.3% of respondents say that lackluster documentation is particularly problematic. Accordingly, 64.3% opine that documentation ranges from “not well documented” to “documentation is OK.” That’s not a ringing endorsement. API developers realize that they’re somewhat dropping the ball, as are external companies through which they consume essential APIs. Lack of knowledge, complexity, and lack of time are notable obstacles.

API design considerations vary and occur at different stages. Here’s what Postman found:

  • Design is considered early (though not necessarily first) by a whopping 55.5% of respondents prior to development.
  • Design is rarely the final consideration in the development process, suggesting that sound API creation relies heavily on structure and definitions.
  • Accordingly, API-first leaders incorporate design earlier on than their counterparts.

Assessing the Future of APIs

It appears that industry stalwarts aren’t abdicating their thrones anytime soon. JSON, Swagger, and OpenAPI continue to reign supreme as specifications. The accelerated switch from monolithic approaches to microservices has continued unabated. Kubernetes, containers, and serverless architectures are leading the way—while Kubernetes has jumped one spot in enthusiasm rankings.

API investment will grow in the coming years. The technology is ubiquitous, more mature, and more capable than it’s ever been. Furthermore, 45.7% of organizations claim they’ll spend more time and resources on APIs—signaling increased confidence in the technology, while perhaps acknowledging that these interfaces play some role in remaining market competitive.

You can read Postman’s report in its entirety here.

Tyler Charboneau

Tyler is self-proclaimed nerd who loves crafting content centered on software and consumer technology. He enjoys tackling new challenges with a strong cup of coffee and a nose for research.