Application programming interfaces, more commonly referred to as APIs, are a foundational building block for nearly all types of modern software development.
APIs enable developers to connect different services and sources of information in a programmatic approach inside of an application. They are available from nearly every type of data source imaginable and are used as modular components in software applications and services.
"In our trends blog for 2022, I emphasized how if software is eating the world, then APIs are the teeth," Steve Rodda, CEO of Stoplight, told ITPro Today. "APIs are now prolific and widespread across every industry, sector, and location in the world."
API Usage by the Numbers in 2022
According to MuleSoft's 2022 Connectivity Benchmark Report, the vast majority of organizations (98%) now use public and/or private APIs, up from 96% a year ago. More than a quarter of business leaders (26%) are making an API strategy an imperative — almost double the figure from 12 months ago.
"Today, people expect seamless digital experiences that meet them where they are, no matter the interaction," Prashant Choudhary, field CTO of the Digital Transformation Office at MuleSoft, told ITPro Today. "Delivering these connected experiences hinges on companies' ability to connect apps and data, and APIs are critical to this."
The RapidAPI 2022 The State of Enterprise APIs report found strong trends for adoption. In fact in 2022, 68.4% of all developers are expecting to use even more APIs than prior years, according to the survey.
"One of the biggest surprises in the enterprise survey was that almost 98% of those surveyed are either building an API strategy for digital transformation or have one in place, yet many struggle to use their APIs effectively," Iddo Gino, founder and CEO of RapidAPI, told ITPro Today. "The data shows what we've heard consistently from our customers — that their existing set of API tooling isn't built for the scale and breadth of APIs that companies are currently building."
There is still a perception that APIs only support a RESTful request-response pattern, according to MuleSoft's Choudhary. However, the modern API also supports other models, like gRPC, GraphQL, and EDA (event-driven architecture), he added.
"This increases the versatility of APIs and gives the enterprise architects to choose the right pattern, relevant to their architecture," Choudhary said.
Challenges to API Adoption for Modern Software Development
Despite all the benefits APIs bring to organizations and developers, there are challenges that must be addressed.
According to the MuleSoft Top 7 Digital Transformation Trends Shaping 2022 report, 73% of business and IT leaders caution that specific security and governance concerns have increased as their systems have become more integrated, with unified governance of APIs being a big challenge.
Many companies also worry that by making APIs available publicly, they are giving away digital resources and capabilities to anyone who happens to find them online, said Kin Lane, chief evangelist at Postman. However, the opposite is actually true when developers apply modern platform approaches to producing APIs, he said.
The Postman 2021 State of the API Report posed a question about the biggest obstacles to producing APIs, Lane said. Of the 28,000 respondents from around the world, 45% said the biggest challenge was lack of time, with one-third stating it takes one week to one month to conceive, implement, test, and deliver an API to a production environment. Complexity of APIs and lack of knowledge were the next two most common challenges for executing on APIs.
"This shows there is a need as an industry to lower the barrier of entry for working with APIs by providing tools and resources for people to learn," Lane said.
Best Practices for API Management
There are a number of key best practices that software developers and the organizations that employ them should follow to gain the best possible benefit.
Take a design-first approach. It's imperative to take a design-first approach to APIs, according to Stoplight's Rodda.
In an API design-first development process, API architects begin by writing a specification and engaging all stakeholders in the process from its inception, Rodda said. The result of a design-first process is an API product that is comprehensive, consistent, and understandable by both collaborators and machines.
Design-first means that developers describe every API in a way that both humans and computers can understand, all before a line of code is written, he said. "You wouldn't build a house without a set of plans for the design, and the same case can be said for your API development," Rodda said.
Treat APIs as a product. It's also important to treat APIs as a product, according to MuleSoft's Choudhary. Developers shouldn't expose APIs if they don't know what the capabilities are and if they don't take the time to design the API for consumers, he said. To drive successful API programs, the APIs need to have clear and measurable business value, he added.
"Not all APIs are created equal," Choudhary said. "There are different considerations based on who the consumer of your API is going to be, whether they are an internal consumer, a partner, or somebody completely external to your organization."
Manage APIs with integrated tooling. Organizations need to have a centralized place to discover and connect to APIs, according to RapidAPI's Gino. A single consolidation layer is needed to find, connect, and manage the hundreds of APIs that an organization is likely already using, he said.
Gino also suggests that organizations use an integrated set of tooling, including API design tools, testing, and monitoring that are built with the developer in mind — creating a seamless developer experience across the entire development lifecycle.
According to Postman's Lin, what is very clear is that in 2022 and beyond, APIs need to be managed as part of a software development team's overall strategy.
"The use of APIs has skyrocketed in recent years, but in 2022 and moving forward, the biggest change we'll see is a shift from an ad hoc approach to delivering APIs to support applications of different types to an API-first world," Lane said. "This shift coincides with a rise in API-first strategies: a development model in which applications are conceptualized and built as an interconnection of internal and external services through APIs."