Coming up with a good API design is a topic that many development teams revisit when there is a need to discuss how to perfect an API. A good API design has many benefits. Not only does it enhance the developer’s experience, but it also leads to increased adoption and better documentation. While it is simple enough to say that every developer needs to come up with a good design, it is always easier in principle than execution.
What are the characteristics of a good API?
In every API Design Guide, you will find the following characteristics defined as essential features of a well-designed API.
- Difficult to misuse. The implementation and integration process of a well-designed API is simple and straightforward. As such, it is less likely for a developer to end up writing incorrect code. The API will be informative, and will not impose strict rules on the end user.
- Easy to work with and read. The developer will find that a good API is a breeze to manage and work with. The developer will also see that operations and resources associated with it are easy to memorize even with constant interaction.
- Comprehensive yet concise. The completeness of an API usually happens over a period as developers build upon the API little by little. But starting with a good design enables these developers to create complete applications using the available data.
In ensuring that your API design achieves the characteristics outlined above, here are some design principles to help with designing a good API.
Use nouns to describe URLs
The base URL for the API should be not only neat but also simple and elegant. This way, the developers who are using the product can easily apply them for web applications. If you begin with a base URL that is long and complex, it will be hard to read and may be prone to errors when someone tries to recode it. It is a good practice to use nouns in the base URL. Self-explanatory nouns will also help the developer understand what resource the URL describes, and eventually help them work independently with the API.
Provide feedback for developers
In designing an API, another best practice you need to keep in mind is providing developers with comprehensive feedback which helps with retention and adoption. Every request from the client side and the server side is in the form of messages, and it is best that these messages are also self-descriptive. Providing useful feedback means that there is positive reinforcement and validation for correct implementation. On the other hand, when there is an error in execution, the feedback should be informative so that the developer can easily debug the error.
Provide samples for GET responses
Part of what makes an API design good is the availability of examples for every possible response expected when there is a successful call to the URL. Sample responses also need to be simple and easy to understand. Developers need to be able to comprehend the response to a successful call in as little as five seconds.
These principles, along with other best practices are what results in good API design that both the developer and the end user will appreciate.