An API (Application Programming Interface) enables two software or apps to communicate or talk to each other. Developers worldwide utilize APIs to accelerate app development using existing data and functionality. For instance, many developers utilize the Facebook Graph API to access specific data and functionality from the Facebook Platform. Similarly, a weather app uses a weather API to quickly retrieve accurate live, historical, and future weather data and display it on the app for users. Due to the value that APIs provide in web/software development, the use of APIs has increased dramatically in recent years. As a result, API development is on the rise to meet consumers’ demands.
Many APIs, however, end up not working correctly due to mistakes made by developers during their development. For this reason, it’s recommended that API developers implement certain best practices to avoid complications and problems after API development.
This article will discuss the best practices for developing a REST API and how they can help with efficient API development.
Table of Contents
What Does API Development Mean?
API development means building an application programming interface that acts as a middleman between two apps or software, enabling them to talk to each other and exchange data. Developers usually use either SOAP or REST to build various APIs. SOAP is a protocol, whereas REST is an architectural style. Back in the day, SOAP was widely used for API development. However, most developers today prefer REST due to its ease of use, support for various data formats, simplicity, ease of learning, and ease of integration.
A REST API example is weatherstack, a weather API that offers accurate real-time, historical, and future weather data. Thousands of weather apps use the API to fetch weather data quickly. The weatherstack API uses highly-reliable data sources to ensure the data is accurate and consistent.
You can find and try features of more REST APIs on the APILayer marketplace.
What Are The Best Practices For Developing An Efficient REST API?
By implementing API development best practices, developers can ensure they build high-performance APIs that work efficiently in any app.
Here are the best practices for building a REST API:
Using The Right HTTP Methods
Using the correct HTTP methods is essential for developing a properly working API. REST APIs typically support four basic CRUD operations:
GET: The GET HTTP method retrieves data or resources specified in the API’s URI. This request consists of a header; it doesn’t have a body. Below is an example GET request:
curl –XGET ‘https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com/todos/1’
POST: Using the POST HTTP method, developers can create new resources on the server where the request is sent. In other words, developers use this method for resource allocation. In addition to a header, a POST request also consists of a body because we send data during the process. Here is an example POST request:
curl –X POST https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com/posts \
PUT: Developers use the PUT HTTP method to update a resource or create a new resource. This method is similar to POST and involves sending data to the API. However, unlike POST, when you call the same PUT request several times, it’ll give the same result.
DELETE: As the name suggests, this HTTP method deletes a resource.
In addition to the above HTTP methods, other HTTP methods include COPY, LINK, UNLINK, and PATCH. However, these are not used very often.
Using the Right HTTP Response Codes
When a request is sent to an API, it either results in a successful or unsuccessful response. These responses have a crucial role in the API request’s outcome and the proper working of the API. Hence, developers must understand and use appropriate HTTP response codes. Using these codes, developers can show the right outcome or status of the request to users, such as whether there was an error, the request was successful or requires any action.
Here are the most common HTTP Response codes:
- 200: Operation/request successful.
- 201: New resource created successfully.
- 204: Empty resource.
- 400: Invalid request.
- 401: Authentication required.
- 405: Invalid or incorrect HTTP method.
- 415: Media/content type unsupported.
- 429: The user has made too many requests.
- 500-599: Server-side errors
Creating the Right Number of Endpoints
An API endpoint refers to the location from which the API accesses the resources required to perform a specified function. API users use endpoints to access the data/resources they need. For example, a weather API can have three endpoints, ‘current,’ ‘historical,’ and ‘future,’ that users can utilize to fetch specific weather data. However, API developers shouldn’t create too many endpoints as it can confuse users. Developers can even create an endpoint for multiple resources. Doing this also reduces the number of API requests made by users.
Using the Right Data Formats
REST APIs typically use JSON data format as it is lightweight, fast, and easy to read and parse. It’s a best practice to use the same format for requests and responses. Additionally, it’s recommended to include descriptive messages in the response body and the right HTTP response code.
User authentication and authorization are among the best API development practices, as they are crucial for security and data protection. Authentication ensures that only authenticated users access the API. Authorization helps with data privacy and security by limiting access permissions. REST APIs usually use an API key to identify and authenticate a user. However, API developers must also implement advanced authentication and authorization techniques, such as OAuth protocol, to ensure API security.
Correct Resource Naming
In REST APIs, every object that represents data is considered a resource. Correct resource naming makes it easy for developers to understand what the action is. Some of the best practices for resource naming include:
- Use nouns for resources instead of verbs
- Name resources in plural
- Use lowercase letters for URI paths
Using pagination and data limits helps improve API performance as developers can limit the amount of data sent in a single request.
Creating proper API documentation is an important part of API development as it helps users understand how the API works. Proper documentation includes all the details about API endpoints, features, methods, responses, and objects. Moreover, good documentation also provides coding examples to make the API integration easy. Here is an example of good API documentation.
Implementing best API development practices enables developers to build high-performance APIs that work properly in any app they are integrated into. Some of the best practices for API development include using the right HTTP methods, using the correct HTTP response code, creating proper API documentation, naming the resources correctly, creating the right number of API endpoints, and authenticating and authorizing users.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
In which programming languages are APIs developed?
Java, Python, and PHP are some of the most common programming languages used for API development.
Where can you find the best free APIs?
APILayer market consists of a wide range of free APIs for developers, including Geo APIs, finance APIs, web scraping APIs, and more.
Why is API used?
API enables developers to access existing data and functionality of another software/app or database to build apps quickly.