Best Practices for API Integrations

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have become critical to modern app development, as software developers increasingly rely on them to extend product functionality via third-party services. This approach is almost always faster and easier than developing new functionality from scratch.

This article will recommend some best practices for third-party API integrations while building business apps.

What is an API?

API is a software intermediary which combines two applications. It enables your application to communicate with other applications without the need to know how they are implemented. APIs can be used to pull in data sources, manage complex tasks, or add features that are not in your application from other applications. The most commonly used forms of APIs are web APIs and web services.

What is an API integration?

API integration is the method by which two or more applications connect to each other through their APIs. It makes use of APIs to enable communication between two or more applications. API integrations power many high-performance business processes that keep data in sync, improve productivity, and boost revenues.

Some common types of API integrations include:

  • Social logins
  • User accounts
  • CRM systems
  • Payments
  • Tracking

How do API integrations work?

An API integration consists of a set of API methods which enable CRUD operations (Create, Read, Update, Delete). These CRUD operations contain the basic methods for accessing and managing data through RESTful APIs.

Why are APIs so important for businesses?

By having a seamless API integration platform, businesses can leverage the functionality of existing applications with other applications and systems. For instance, a company database can be shared among other internal systems without being limited to one team.

Moreover, APIs allow businesses to automate their systems and constantly share data. Many organizations provide APIs to their customers and business partners for seamless communication between teams. On top of that, APIs enable businesses to integrate existing applications such as Salesforce, Eloqua, and Marketo into their systems for effectively managing their lead routing.

There are four major types of APIs:

1. Open APIs (Public APIs)

These are commonly available to all users and come with the fewest restrictions. While some open APIs require registration or use of an API key or OAuth, some are completely open. They focus on external users who need to access data or services.

2. Partner APIs

These APIs are available for strategic business partners. They require certain forms of authentication to access them and are not publicly accessible. Similar to open APIs, partner APIs also have high visibility and are used to communicate between companies.

3. Internal APIs (Private APIs)

Internal APIs are invisible to external users and can be discovered only by internal systems. These are not made for use outside of the company, as they exist to enable high productivity and service reuse among internal development teams. There is a proper management system for exposing internal APIs to an API developer portal, which connects to the internal IAM systems for authorizing users to access the needed APIs.

4. Composite APIs

Composite APIs connect multiple data or service APIs. They enable developers to access several endpoints (either different endpoints of one API or endpoints of multiple services / data sources) in a single call. Composite APIs are useful in instances such as in a microservices architecture pattern, where it is required to get information from several services to carry out a single task. You can reduce server load and enhance application performance by using composite APIs, as they can return all the required data in one call.

API integration best practices

API integration is a process that should be performed with careful consideration. If not done well, it may result in poor application performance as well as a bad user experience. Below are some best practices for a successful API integration.

Review all API documentation carefully

You cannot leverage the full functionality of the API without referring to its documentation. Quality API documentation provides critical information such as usage limitations, data input and output, and other implementation details.

Select reliable, well-tested APIs

Some APIs have a high possibility of downtime due to the fact that they depend on third-party services. This risk is compounded whenever these same APIs are poorly maintained and untested. This can lead to poor user experience and even revenue loss. By integrating well-tested APIs from reputable providers, you can manage your critical applications while delivering robust user experience.

Audit your APIs for security vulnerabilities

Some APIs from recognized sources offer high-level data protection and encrypted connection, whereas some APIs are poorly maintained and actively prone to security breaches. You should be sure that any APIs you select are protected against data theft and common security threats.

Ensure that your APIs can scale with your business

A good API should be able to grow along with your user base. You don't want to continually swap third-party services in and out as your company expands.

Implementing an API integration strategy

It's a good idea to plan your API integration strategy in advance rather than integrating as needed. Proper planning ensures that your systems can be easily maintained and upgraded.

Step 1: Define goals and benchmarks

The purpose of this step is to have a solid idea of what you hope to achieve through the API integration strategy and how to evaluate its success. Defining a roadmap and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the strategy allows those in charge of it to track progress and shift strategy accordingly.

Some example KPIs to evaluate the success of an API implementation strategy are as follows:

  • Development time
  • Time to market
  • Operational costs and capital expenditures
  • Client satisfaction and churn rates
  • Productivity and application adaption by employees
  • ROI on current systems

Step 2: Develop an exhaustive understanding of your current IT environment

Before creating an API implementation strategy, it is intensely helpful to understand what is in place at present. You should mainly consider the following facts:

  • How many active software licenses are there?
  • What are the tools / applications used by each department?
  • How often are those tools / applications leveraged?
  • How are those applications and systems currently connected or decoupled?
  • Are APIs used in any of the above scenarios?
  • How has the IT department evolved over the past few years?

Step 3: Decide what needs to be connected via APIs and how it should be done

After a thorough analysis of the current IT environment, you should figure out what needs to be connected through APIs. Depending on the scope and use cases of certain APIs, you may find it useful to adopt an API creation platform which enables you to create your own APIs as required.

Step 4: Track and communicate the value added by APIs

In any organization, there are employees who are resistant to change. This can create headwinds for your strategy among your engineers. These issues can be mitigated by proactively informing your team why certain API integrations are essential and what you intend to gain by implementing them.

Step 5: Conduct a trial project for your new strategy

Once the strategy has been clearly defined and communicated, it’s time to check how it actually works. Trialing your new strategy with a specific number of employees from each department will help you to verify if it works as expected or if any additional tweaks are required. Even though no strategy will work 100% smoothly, conducting a trial run will help you to ensure that minor issues at the beginning won't cause organization-wide headaches later.

Preparing quality documentation for API integrations

API documentation is the deliverable that contains all the technical details of the API, such as instructions on how to integrate it and use it effectively. This document works as a comprehensive reference manual for developers and includes all the necessary information on how to work with the API. In addition, API documentation also comes with details about the functions, classes, arguments, return types, and so on, together with examples and tutorials.

Even if you build the best and most functional API, it will not be adopted if you don't explain how to use it. Therefore, API documentation is the key to a good developer experience.

Common API integration challenges

Along with the benefits of API integrations also come challenges. Some common integration difficulties that teams usually encounter are:

1. Technological complexity

Implementing a flawless integration requires having broad tech knowledge and familiarity with the latest trends in API development. Finding a highly skilled and experienced developer to properly carry out the integration is one of the main challenges for CIOs.

2. Security risks

API security is one of the major concerns for CIOs. Data breaches and data loss can occur as a result of API abuse, negatively affecting the reputation of the company and also harming end users. As data breach methods are getting more complex, poor integrations will become a good opportunity for hackers.

3. Long implementation time

Setting up a properly functioning integration module involves a large amount of work. Implementing one connection will take around 4-12 weeks, as your developer needs time to learn the architecture and logic of the platform, eliminate bugs, and other polishing tasks before going live.

4. High cost

Since there is a high demand for professional developers who are capable of handling these API integrations, it can be very expensive to hire one and get the work done.

5. Maintenance and upgrades

Once the integration is done, it is not all over. You need to assign members of the IT team or a developer to handle the integration maintenance and upgrading. Otherwise, any changes made to the functionality of the system can mess up the entire process of data access and manipulation. Additionally, your customers may also make requests for modifications and custom improvements.

How to ensure the security of APIs in API integrations

The rise of APIs has also increased their potential for more security breaches. This means that the developers need to identify the risks of managing corporate and customer data safely. They should focus on security features of the APIs in addition to functionality and agility while integrating. Businesses also need to create guidelines in order to ensure their API integrations do not create any security vulnerabilities.

Below are a few important best practices for API security:

  1. Audit APIs before integrating them
  2. Carefully monitor add-on software
  3. Follow standards for API security
  4. Carefully vet any frontend authorizations
  5. Validate and encrypt backend data
  6. Consider dedicated API security tools and gateways
  7. Budget time for security testing

API integrations with Crowdbotics

Crowdbotics utilizes an API layer alongside React Native and Django as a core part of RAD stack. API integrations via Crowdbotics enable developers and PMs to easily add scalable third-party services to their apps. Moreover, the Crowdbotics Model Builder automatically produces self-documented API endpoints for all data models.

If you're building a powerful custom application with third-party API integrations, Crowdbotics provides expert PMs and devs to ensure that your APIs are properly built and continuously maintained. Get in touch with us today for a detailed quote and build timeline.

Shanika Wickramasinghe

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Originally published:

February 17, 2021