Key Takeaways from RapidAPI’s 2020 Developer Survey

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There’s no denying that APIs have exploded in popularity over the past year. Microservices form the backbone of our digital world, and APIs connect users — from the coffee shop to the (home) office — to essential functionality.

There’s much more nuance to that story, however. RapidAPI has annually sought to uncover deeper trends in the programming realm. What’s caused this latest uptick, and how are business priorities changing in lockstep?

The 2020–2021 Developer Survey Report thus offers us some key background information. Let’s jump in and provide some added context behind why these changes are happening.

Methodologies and Demographics

While the total number of participants isn’t divulged this time around, previous Developer Surveys have garnered upwards of 2,000 responses. We can probably expect similar participation here — as RapidAPI nearly copied last year’s procedures while keeping the survey open for one month.

Here are some fast facts:

  • Over 40% of respondents identified as professional developers (vs. over 50% last year)
  • Respondents hailed from a more-diverse collective of over 120 countries
  • While nearly 10% of participants were executives, fewer engineering managers turned out this time around (8% vs. 14% last year)

Coding experience actually remained roughly unchanged. Half of respondents claimed to have under five years of experience, while the other half claimed over five years.

Notably, RapidAPI maintained an open survey. Any developer or adjacent professional in the application space could partake— regardless of tooling allegiances. That inclusiveness led to a number of students, hobbyists, and other professionals to utilize their voices.

Additionally, we absolutely expect respondents to change yearly. This isn’t just reflected in the demographic breakdown but in the results themselves. The influx of new professionals and enthusiasts skews the findings from each study. What exactly is that data telling us?

APIs Have Become More Essential

Development has become a top priority for many teams. RapidAPI’s survey data reveals that 61.3% of respondents used more APIs in 2020 vs. 2019. That buy-in is impressive. Interestingly, there are two sides to the coin on this positive development. In the survey prior, 67% expected to harness APIs more than they’d been.

Those figures don’t match, but why? We touched on the fact that respondents change annually — some participatory overlap is expected, though not completely. Technology is also a massive source of optimism for those who wield it. While aspirations are high, they’re often tempered in the faces of budgetary concerns and learning curves. That discrepancy isn’t large by any means, but is curious nonetheless.

Additionally, 26.2% of respondents stayed the course throughout 2020—using roughly the same number of APIs as the year prior. Not even a tenth claimed to have used fewer APIs in 2020.

A reduction in API quantity doesn’t necessarily reflect waning enthusiasm, however. Some teams opt to consolidate their API portfolio simply because richer alternatives emerge. The same goes for services. If a company terminates a service or deprecates internal tools, any associated APIs become useless.

Professionals are already looking forward to this year. Seventy-one percent plan to use more APIs in 2021 and 21% expect stagnation. Just 3.2% anticipate a dip in API usage.

Economic Advantages

There’s plenty of money yet to be made in SaaS. Companies are realizing this — whether they provide private (paid) API access, or freemium public API access. Consider a mainstay like PayPal. The Payments API is free to integrate yet generates heaps of money for PayPal. Merchants pay fees for each commercial transaction. Additionally, peer-to-peer payments are subject to fee structures. These profits add up quickly, and the company benefits immensely from the growth of its user base.

Accordingly, professionals in telecom, healthcare, professional services, finance, and other industries want a piece of their respective pies. Fifty-eight percent of executives said that joining the API economy was a primary goal.

Decision-makers know that integrating their services with others — and keeping customers engaged — is a profitable pathway. 89% of telecom executives, 75% of healthcare executives, and 62% of those in financial services feel the same way. Taking charge in the API realm is another competitive advantage for modern organizations.

Technology Trends and Approaches

API technologies became more diverse in the past year. While REST continues to dominate, with about 63% of respondents using REST in production, newer alternatives are gaining ground.

Serverless, function-as-a-service (FaaS) approaches gained popularity —as more teams make the cloud transition and younger startups shy away from infrastructure costs. On-premises solutions aren’t dead. However, launching managed services has become much more viable thanks to AWS Lambda and Fargate. Azure App Service has also streamlined the creation of APIs for web and mobile platforms.

WebSockets and gRPC have also surged. The former offers favorable security protections for consumers and API providers — while slashing latency and reducing data usage. The latter is much faster than REST, since it defaults to HTTP/2 instead of HTTP/1.1. gRPC makes it easy to bi-directionally send application data more efficiently, thanks to binary data packaging. This provides a sizable performance boost for time-sensitive applications.

Have other technologies enjoyed massive adoption increases? AsyncAPI and GraphQL have nearly quadrupled and doubled in popularity, respectively. RapidAPI expects these trends to endure throughout 2021 and onward.

Finally, while some things have changed, others remain the same. JavaScript retains its crown as the top programming language worldwide; approximately 70% of those surveyed leverage it. Languages like Python, Java, PHP, and C# lag immediately behind. Only Python has grown (slightly) less popular in 2020.

Organizational Trends

We know that larger companies often maintain more complex arrays of services and tools. They also house more teams. These realities mean that those businesses must build more bridges between applications and form more connections with users — both internal and external.

Consequently, RapidAPI discovered that large companies leverage upwards of 51 to 250 APIs. A staggering 40% of the largest organizations surveyed use over 250 APIs. Smaller companies with fewer products (and dollars) have fewer needs.

Which types of APIs take precedence?

  • 75.3% of developers are building internal APIs
  • 47% are building external APIs
  • 34.6% are building partner APIs

Teams are still favoring internal users. However, greater participation in the API economy necessitates a stronger focus on external and partner APIs moving forward. Startups are more apt to sell services (proportionally by API volume) than their enterprise counterparts, as internal needs take a backseat to marketing and sales.

Galvanized Interests in Testing and Security

Nearly 95% of developers state that security is a chief concern, while 92.3% plan to thoroughly test their APIs before production. These elements typically go hand-in-hand. For example, one cannot create a secure API without uncovering and patching code bugs.

Because APIs are integral to retrieving and sending data, they must be hardened against outside threats. Teams following the shift-left philosophy know that earlier bug detection is cheaper, as it reduces blast radii while limiting user data exposure. So, how do they do it?

RapidAPI’s survey says that over 43% of developers rely on testing tools. Meanwhile, 37% choose to write their own tests alongside their own code. Fifteen percent are committed to using a tool in the future — as it’s normally easier, faster, and involves automation. Thankfully, only 1.5% of developers aren’t familiar with testing.

Dedication to Development is Strong

API creation remains a labor of love and commitment. Fifty-eight percent of professional developers dedicate 10 or more weekly hours to API development. Nearly 30% spend over 20 weekly hours, and 11.2% spend all of their time on APIs. It may stand to reason that employees within larger organizations are exposed to numerous API projects — dragging these figures upward.

The API Landscape is Expanding

With companies pouring more investment into APIs, and individuals embracing new technologies, it appears that API creation will continue becoming a mainstay. There’s plenty of enthusiasm. That excitement is trickling down from the top — as decision-makers grow increasingly attuned to the benefits of API development.

Note that respondents could have multiple responses to survey questions. Though something like testing prevalence is pretty cut and dry, developers working on internal APIs can also work simultaneously on external APIs (to name an example). Professionals harness multiple technologies and wear many hats.

RapidAPI plans to gauge the API landscape moving forward. We can expect another collection of insights once 2021 has concluded. For now, however, happy programming!