3 min

Developers use APIs.

Actually, that’s not exactly true. Plain old users (i.e. human beings) use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) every day to extract the functionality they need from the apps and data streams they depend upon on their smartphones, tablets and laptop/desktops when they want to use software services that rely upon an API’s ability to glue one or more digital entities together. It’s the developers that give us that chance to interact with the APIs within.

Written to a required syntax and sometimes called the ‘glue’ that binds together different application components, sub-componets, higher-level constructs, entire applications or indeed operating systems, APIs have come to embody the neural-like networked interlacing that typifies the structure of the modern web and of course the cloud model of service-based software delivery.

How’s my API, dude?

But that’s a lot of stuff going on at the back end, so how do we know how APIs are functioning, what their performance status is at any one time, where they are hitting the mark correctly in terms of service delivery and what their status should be in view of their (usually inevitable) ultimate point of retirement and decommissioning?

The answer is comparatively simple, we need API observability and visibility tooling.

Always vocal in this space is SmartBear, a provider of software development and visibility tools – and the firm has now integrated the contract testing capabilities of PactFlow with SwaggerHub, its own API development platform.

This now essentially integrated solution is hoped to allow architects and developers to gain previously unavailable visibility into how a proposed change would impact the use of an API by the consumer (that means users, yeah?) – and all of that happens instantly, from the SwaggerHub Editor.

“This integration is a decisive step toward our goal of a comprehensive API development lifecycle platform, combining the best of a design-first API development workflow and API contract testing, a modern approach to testing microservices,” said Sean Butler, VP product management, API at SmartBear.

Butler suggests that developers in teams across organisations of all sizes will benefit from having significantly increased visibility into how their APIs are being consumed, enabling them to catch ‘breaking change’ occurences during design.

Big time for microservices

According to the SmartBear team, microservices are now the norm in software development and the majority of the industry (okay, 61% in the State of Software Quality API report) think that microservices as the technology that will most likely drive API growth.

But – said the API lifecycle platform and API visibility company – the actual consumption of APIs has traditionally been a ‘blind spot’ (again, said the visibility vendor) for all involved, from the API architects and designers to developers on both the consumer and provider teams.

In terms of how to navigate the API management and observability path, we do know that many service platforms follow a ‘common services’ model i.e. a systems management approach where the fabric of a system is taken as all cut from the same cloth, rather like assuming that every sandwich on the planet is made from the same shape, size and sort of bread.

“While organizations who adopt this [common services model] approach will gain efficiencies by standardising key components of their system, they risk dampening benefits if dependencies between common service providers and specific business function consumers are not managed. Combining SwaggerHub and PactFlow allows common service providers to workshop changes so the impact to downstream consumers is understood before any code is written,” clarified the yogis, at SmartBear.

Out of API hibernation

As we come out of our collective API hibernation this winter and start to get real with the microservices landscape for the year ahead, what do we need to think about?

SmartBear says that today, traditional testing strategies and practices do not provide the coverage required, resulting in:

1) high risk of breaking changes in production

2) slow-release cycles due to interdependent development teams

3) over-reliance on complicated and expensive end-to-end testing

Contract testing (as explored here) is a modern approach for testing APIs that is claimed to be able to mitigate these (above) issues. The promise from SmartBear is, by pairing sound API standards and governance framework with a thorough API testing approach, teams of all sizes will be able to scale the delivery of quality software with speed.

SmartBear is trusted by over 16 million developers, testers, software engineers and cartoon bears at over 32,000 organisations.

Free image source: Wikimedia Commons.