Are you dabbling with coding? That's all you need to create your first API! Learn how to build an API from scratch with this easy beginner's guide.
According to the ProgrammableWeb API directory, the API market has ballooned to over 17,000 APIs. More and more businesses and individuals are catching on to the benefits and possibilities of APIs.
Whether you’re a coding newbie or an experienced engineer, it’s likely that you’re familiar with what an API is. Just how well-versed you are in APIs probably depends on whether you know how to build an API.
If you’re thinking of taking the plunge to become a true API aficionado, read this guide to pick up tips on what goes into building an API from scratch.
What is an API?
API stands for application programming interface. If we break that down by each component part, it would look something like this:
- Application: In programming, this is computer software that has a specific use for an end user, or the person interacting with it. You may have an application on your smartphone that checks the weather or allows you to play a game.
- Programming: This has to do with the act of writing computer programs. Programs are sets of directions that tell a computer to perform certain tasks. In order for a game app to function on your phone, it needs the proper instructions to allow it to function the way it’s supposed to.
- Interface: In the language of computers, this is the act of connecting a computer with another device, software, or even with human users through a specific sort of meeting place. When we think of smartphone apps, it’s the way that the app looks, the buttons, and how we achieve certain actions when we’re using it.
APIs are like access keys that allow information to be shared from one software or application to another. Think of the Google Maps or YouTube APIs. These are common examples you’ve probably seen integrated into countless places.
Or let’s say you use an app for booking hotels or flights. That app scours the web to find and bring you the results based on your search criteria. And the way that information ends up in your hands is because that app interacts with various hotel and airline websites’ APIs.
APIs seem to be good for business, and pretty much touch everything we do in the modern digital world.
Choose the Kind of API You Want to Build
When creating an API, one of the first things you should decide is what data you want to grab and what you want to achieve with your API. Who is it going to serve?
Once you know your objective, that will also help you decide the kind of API you want to set up. Here are a few common choices.
- Web APIs: These are the most common type of API, also referred to as Web Service APIs. These APIs are open and public, which means everyone can access them. Web APIs can allow you to do everything from grabbing social media updates, processing payments, or checking the weather forecast.
- System APIs: These APIs are like Web APIs but hold some specific operating system information. For example, if you have an app that allows you to access it using the fingerprint code your smartphone stores.
- Private APIs: Unlike Web APIs, these APIs are used for internal use in a business. An example might be a company that develops an app for interacting with customers. Only the customers and internal employees are able to use this interface, and that’s the point.
Consider the Design/Architectural Style
In addition to figuring out the basic type of API you want to design, you should give thought to the architectural style.
For example, Web APIs are often also REST or RESTful APIs, which is a type of API design using HTTP requests. That means applications need the internet to be able to communicate with each other. The Twitter and Facebook APIs are RESTful APIs. JSON is a common output format for these kinds of APIs.
You may find that sticking with the language you know best could also impact what kind of API and design you end up choosing.
Devise a Blueprint or Building Plan
After those big decisions have been made, it’s time to figure out how to go about actually building an API.
You’ll want to lay out how it will be developed, how it will interact with other languages, how customers or clients will use it, what the user interface will look like, etc.
Critical steps may include:
- Decide how it will look
- Create prototypes
- Write an API description
- Gathering mock data for testing
- Set up a server
Whether you’re building a Web API or not, documentation is critical to its success. It’s important to create standards and clear directions with documentation.
Think of your API documentation as a sort of style guide and instruction manual for your API. Anyone who reviews it will know exactly what they can get from your API and how to achieve it.
Here are some important consideration for your API documentation:
- Make sure it’s structured well: No one wants to read a jumbled mess of code, especially developers. And even if you’re a new developer yourself, make sure you’re sensitive to fellow first-timers by making everything as clean and accessible as possible.
- Be clear about everything: Developers will look to your API to understand what every parameter, method, and response entails. Be thorough.
- Detail examples: Examples are a huge part of your documentation. Include several example requests and responses. And provide an example in more than one language if applicable.
- Delve into error and warning messages: If you encounter something that needs to be fixed, make sure you detail it in your documentation.
Remember, this is a kind of living, breathing thing. Be mindful that you’ll probably need to come back to it throughout the development of your API.
Test and Develop
Once you’ve hammered out these details, it’s time to start implementing your design, testing it, developing it, and repeating.
You’ll probably have multiple tools and methods for these phases. And this could depend on who you’re working with, what language your developing in, whether you’re serving an API to a client, and the kind of API you’re creating.
Maybe you use a specific text editor for coding and a separate one for testing. And maybe you’ll need another tool for mocking up responses to specific requests.
Whatever you use, testing is crucial before you release your API into the wild.
How to Build an API on an All-in-one Platform
There are all-in-one tools to help you do everything you need to develop your API. An API integration platform is a software solution that helps you manage all aspects of API development in one place.
It can offer API design templates, testing solutions, deployment features, and security measures.
A platform like this could not only help you build an API more quickly the first time, but it could also help you create future APIs faster and much more simply.
If you’ve been wondering how to build an API or all the moving parts of doing that, we hope this inspires you to go for it yourself.
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