How to Design a Successful API Strategy (and Why You Need One) Posted in Strategy J Simpson April 6, 2023 “Just winging it” is a terrible idea for building an API. A half-hazard API approach is a recipe for out-of-control endpoints, unspecified permissions, and downstream problems when your API inevitably breaks. We don’t rush into other programming projects or business ideas without some forethought and planning. Why should building an API be any different? A solid strategy will help you avoid many pitfalls when creating and launching your API, as it will help you think through potential issues before they happen. We’ve put together some tips and best practices to consider when designing your API strategy to help make your API as successful, useful, and profitable as possible. Best Practices For Designing a Successful API Strategy Decide On Your Goals The first step in any project should always be thinking about what you’re hoping to achieve. Your intended goals are going to impact every stage of your API strategy. If your goal is to increase revenue, for instance, you’ll want to plan for that from the start. Offering some form of freemium tier so users can try out your API is a very common method for monetizing APIs. You’ll need to keep track of how many calls have been made from a particular user ID, in that case, which you’ll need to implement in the code. On the other hand, if your goal is to drive awareness and increase name recognition, you may choose to implement the API much differently. This could involve a more open interface with less rate limiting or segmentation. These are just a few ways that different goals can significantly impact your API, even at the code level. Implement An API Lifecycle Management Strategy Nothing lasts forever. Do you have a plan in place for when you inevitably version your API? Do you have a strategy for beta testing or offering a free tier for the first 90 days to help boost API adoption? It’s best to think of these things way ahead of time. Planning for evolution well ahead of time will help prevent any disruption to your existing customers or prevent any unnecessary breakage. Thinking ahead of the curve is one of the main points of implementing an API design strategy. Maintain an API Catalog It’s important to keep track of your APIs, especially when there are often so many. It can be challenging to keep mental track of what APIs exist and who is consuming them. This can lead to breakage if an API gets deprecated or modified if you’re not using an API catalog. Maintaining an API catalog helps you know exactly what APIs your organization has developed and any third-party APIs you might be using. Even better, API catalogs are often organized by type, so you won’t have to dig around to find an API for a particular application. Follow An API Specification It’s a good practice to follow some sort of API specification. Using an existing API spec means your API can be consumed by absolutely anybody, anywhere, at any time. Even better, it’ll be able to be understood, as the API consumer’s software will know how to interpret what it’s looking at. Best of all, using an API specification means you can automate API documentation generation, which means readers will know how to read and understand your API documentation. Decide On Your Stack Before beginning to develop your API in earnest, you should consider what tools and software to use. You should do this for each stage of your API development, weighing the pros and cons of each tool to help make sure you pick the right one. You’ll want to think about which API gateway to adopt, for instance. You’ll also want to consider which testing environment you’ll use ahead of time. API documentation and API analytics are two other areas where tooling can help greatly. Thinking about your stack beforehand reduces the risk of switching tools mid-project. It also means you can make sure ahead of time that your development team has what they need before beginning the project. Consider Your Limitations As part of the API development process, consider what sort of limitations to implement. This will help you to prevent service outages in case of traffic spikes. It’ll also prevent you from being bankrupted if you’re using any services that charge per call. You’ll want to implement a strategy for rate limiting and throttling, for starters. Your API design strategy should also prepare for scalability, as well. For example, you could put a cloud or container-based solution in place for when you need additional capability. This will help prevent service outages and get you one step closer to the five 9s. Decide On An Infrastructure It’s best to decide on your API’s infrastructure before you begin, as it’ll be almost entirely dictated by the code. API infrastructure handles everything from identity management to data flows. Deciding on how you’ll address these questions ahead of time will make your job coding infinitely easier, as you’ll be able to dictate how data is routed and consumed. You’ll also be able to decide early on how you want to go about authorization, choosing between tokens or some other authorization solution. Thinking about your infrastructure will also help you understand how your API will integrate with the rest of your environment. Data flows can determine how your data is shared between APIs, for example. Do A Test Launch Finally, it’s a good idea to do a practice run before your API goes live. No matter how thorough you are during the preparation phase, things can sneak past even the most seasoned developer. Doing a test launch on your API and gathering feedback can help you catch errors and inconsistencies before your API hits the market. Final Thoughts On API Design Strategy APIs can be vast, sprawling, dense, and complicated creations. It’s very easy for them to spin out of control if you’re not careful. At worst, your API might become unusable. At best, your API won’t be as efficient as it could be. Your API is how you and your organization interact with the world at large, both literally and metaphorically. Errors and failures broadcast the wrong message, leaving your users with a negative connotation instead of the brand recognition you’re hoping to evoke. Having an effective API design strategy in place beforehand helps you be as prepared as possible.