APIs drive literally everything that makes modern life as wonderland as it is, empowering developers with the ability to focus more deeply on the problems that really matter. However, the traditional software development lifecycle is focused almost exclusively on feature delivery. API management, if it is considered at all, can too easily fall into the “refactor” or “rewrite” bucket for a development organization, leading to rushed designs and poor architectural decisions.
As it is hard to tie API maintenance and development to concrete improvements in either engineering velocity or improved customer experience, these tasks are rarely given the attention they need to succeed.
In this article, we’re going to explore incorporating your API as a first-class citizen into your software development lifecycle and explain how this can help drive developer adhesion by making your API more usable and adoptable.
What is Full Lifecycle API Management
Gartner defines full lifecycle API management as “support[ing] the planning, design, implementation, testing, publication, operation, consumption, versioning, and retirement of an API.” By devoting effort to each of these activities, with a specific focus on the API, you can build an environment where your APIs are treated as a core part of your application, rather than an afterthought.
The API lifecycle, again according to Gartner, has four distinct phases:
Planning and Initial Design: This phase focuses on what the API will look like. What will the routes consist of, what are the general payload requirements, how will objects be returned, which HTTP verbs should be used—all of these are critical elements to building a solid, versionable API.
Implementation and Testing: This phase is focused on implementing and deploying the API and testing against the decisions made in the planning phase. This can also include iterative changes to the API planning decisions, depending on the specific development methodology being used.
Deploy and Run: This phase is focused on establishing the production environment for the API and making it available for general use. This can happen concurrently with the implementation and testing phase, with as much overlap as needed to ensure development agility.
Versioning and Retirements: Once the API has shipped, you will need a strategy to manage improvements and rewrites of the API, making sure that your developers don’t have to make significant changes with each new code change. With proper versioning and plans for retirement, you can ensure your API is always in the best possible shape.
The key is to focus on creating patterns that allow for coherent API creation and management across multiple teams. While the above four steps would be ideal in a world where you can have a team dedicated to API development, more often than not, the API is a side effect of the efforts by developers working on multiple teams, requiring coordination and planning that is often more involved than typical feature development. This in turn means that proper API management can potentially be more expensive at first glance due to the increased involvement of developers on these multiple teams.
To address this problem, you’ll need to look at setting standards and security policies—best practices, testing requirements, and other guidelines you can use to guide the development of your API. However, this is only a stopgap. Proper API management is the key to executing quickly and effectively.
Every modern company needs to have full lifecycle API management if they hope to have a development team that can operate effectively and efficiently.
APIs as a Product
Most SDLCs focus on feature output, as those deliver the most immediate value for the company. Refactoring and internal technical improvements are often given a lower priority due to their more tenuous connection to the company’s value proposition. At the same time, API users depend upon a comprehensible and coherent API, which requires dedicated thought and effort to implement. Full lifecycle API management allows you to retain existing API users by providing both forward and backward compatibility, allowing you to grow your offering without alienating your loyal user base.
The API-First approach (as defined by Swagger here) focuses on building the API as the primary deliverable of your tech stack, focusing on the consistency, adoptability, observability, and maintainability of your API as core metrics used to judge the API’s success. With a focus on the API as a first-class citizen in the SDLC, you can empower all of your developers to move more quickly.
The Challenges of API Management
Rapidly evolving software has many moving parts that interconnect and change frequently. Modern distributed architectures, which are often based around microservices, cause the complexity of the API to grow almost exponentially as communications between the services become increasingly intricate. The greater the rate of change, the harder it becomes to understand and manage the software product as a whole.
Drifting occurs over the lifecycle of the project, as the solutions you implement deviate in minor ways from product specifications that may be too vague. In this type of environment, documentation of the API and its current behavior can be challenging to maintain, particularly in a high-pressure delivery situation.
For engineering organizations, there are numerous critical efforts impacted as the API grows.
1. Developing in an ever-changing environment makes it hard to achieve maximum efficiency, reducing the rate of feature delivery.
2. Translating production behavior into actionable insights is also increasingly challenging due to the growth in complexity, making it hard to create a feedback loop that allows you to improve the user experience.
3. Additionally, managing projects that span multiple teams introduces complexity into the development and design phase of the project, increasing time to delivery.
These multiple problems can seem to have no clear solution in organizations already starved for resources.
Focusing on the User and Understanding Impact
The growth of an application introduces new types of users—not just end users, but internal users, auditors, administrators, and others as needed. With each new change, you may improve the situation for some of your users while making things more challenging for others. A new UI with a new API may make many end users very happy, but anyone with a third-party integration to your application may not be so pleased when they have to rewrite their connection code.
Each new API release has an impact on all user classes, whether this is through adjusted behavior or modified standards. Understanding how these changes impact your users is critical to determining efficient and effective ways to grow your API and enable your developers to execute.
Building a SDLC That Can Support API Management
You need a dedicated effort to effectively build an API that is extensible, efficient, and reusable. Thus, you must deliberately include these API management activities in the SDLC in order to specify and build the API as your product grows.
Despite the perceived higher effort required, this management approach actually reduces costs for research and development, allowing your developers to be more efficient and create more value quickly.
Reliability and quality are also enhanced when API management is incorporated into the SDLC. Creating a consistent API development lifecycle and standardizing service interactions make development with these tools more predictable. Additionally, with proper observability built into the API, your team can react more quickly to issues as they arise, reducing the mean time to resolution for failures when they occur. By focusing on data movement and understanding API behavior patterns, you can model API usage and develop new endpoints that mesh seamlessly with your existing API. With such a model, you can update and change your APIs with confidence, per a proper process built into your SDLC and with the right guardrails to protect you from potential faults.
Tying It All Together
Simply put, it’s not enough to write off your API as an “engineering thing” with no value to the organization. Changes to an API have a real impact on user experience, whether those users are end users seeing a new feature or developers working to tie your application’s services together into a responsive and performant whole.
To achieve real impact, you need to build API management into your software development lifecycle. By focusing on the API, you can build a model of its behavior, providing the ultimate foundation for managing your API as it advances through the SDLC.
Seekret is the first API observability platform for developers that makes APIs easier to understand, manage, and maintain.
At Seekret, we’re working to create consistent APIs in today’s software sprawl. Our observability and lifecycle management tools allow you to stay ahead of your APIs as they grow, keeping breaking changes from becoming a problem in the first place.
If you’re looking to do the same, join our beta program!