Today, vast amounts of data are processed and made available across different types of devices. As a result, digital service providers (both internal and external users) offer various APIs. But what does API and API-first architecture mean?
What is API?
API can be compared to a restaurant menu. It contains a list of dishes and their descriptions. After the customer selects the dish from the menu, the waiter transfers the order to the kitchen, where the dish is prepared and then served to the customer. The customer does not know how the chef prepares the dish he ordered and does not need to know. He just wants to get what he ordered.
This comparison does not take into account all the uses of the API (especially if you are a developer!), but it is enough to illustrate how the API works.
API stands for Application Programming Interface. The API comprises three key elements:
- Procedures (also known as routines). Procedures refer to specific tasks or functions that are performed by the program. For example, Twitter provides an API for developers to access data for analytics purposes
- Protocols - a protocol is a format used to exchange data between applications
- Tools - they can be compared to segments from which you can create new programs
APIs are needed to connect applications to perform a specific function, which usually involves exchanging data and executing pre-defined processes. Application Programming Interfaces acts as an intermediary, allowing developers to create new interactions between the various applications that individuals and businesses use every day.
The API not only allows access to vast amounts of data but also avoids storing this data on the company's servers.
What is API first architecture?
The traditional monolithic approach to software design has focused on creating out-of-the-box capabilities, and access via APIs has typically been an add-on. The API-first approach assumes that API design and development come, well, first. The team starts by creating an interface for its application, after the API design, it relies on that interface to build the rest of the application.
Thanks to this approach, you are free to choose any frontend technology or framework you want while ensuring that you have access to implement all the functionality you need. A well-designed and consistent API reduces the learning curve for developers and masks some of the complicated logic processes that go on behind the API layer.
Companies like Netflix, Uber, Twitter, etc., have created a whole new business model driven by great API-first architecture. It provides a far better customer experience than the traditional approach.
What does API mean for business?
There are many reasons why API is not just a convenience but a necessity to stay competitive in the market.
The API acts as a link between internal databases and systems with a network of developers, partners, internal and external service providers, e.g., for the communication of a CRM application with a courier database or customer service with billing data and payment gateways, as an integrator of prefabricated delivery system modules or as an open one product catalog.
The API-first approach is also beneficial for integrating internal systems, especially in companies with extensive IT infrastructure. The key to business growth will be to enable efficient communication between all available data resources - opening them up, simplifying processes, eliminating duplicate operations, building transparent user interfaces - and this is possible thanks to the API specification.
APIs and code can be used for different projects. When a development team wants to build a new app, they don't have to start from scratch, which is time-consuming and costly.
The API first approach allows most problems to be solved before any code is written, which helps avoid mistakes when it's time to integrate APIs into apps.
What is the API-first strategy?
The API-first strategy allows developers to add new services and technologies to the application without re-architecting the entire system.
Competition is fierce, so applications need to be released as quickly as possible. With a reduced learning curve and the ability to implement any front-end technology or framework, you can quickly introduce new solutions and reduce time to market.
An API-first strategy makes it possible - and much easier - to build just one app on top of one API layer that can serve different apps on different platforms and still work efficiently with high cross-compatibility.
This approach makes development easy and the process of maintaining and updating apps across all platforms, whether native or web-based and on mobile and non-mobile platforms.
Vue Storefront & commercetools as the examples of API-first software
The universality of API-based solutions is not a seasonal trend or a whim, but a market requirement. Users want the freedom to choose and customize tools according to their needs.
Vue Storefront is a perfect example of such a solution. Since it fits into headless architecture, it allows fast data exchange with any headless backend system via API. The connection to other software is so flexible (besides many native integrations already available, others may be built on top) which allows high business scalability.
An example of such a perfect combination is the cooperation of Vue Storefront with commercetools. Thanks to the API, backend and frontend are compatible, and information migration is smooth and without errors.
The significant thing about the API-first approach is that it allows developers to play and experiment - often with open source software like Vue Storefront - to get an idea of which APIs offer the most excellent ROI.
Summary / TL;DR
- API stands for Application Programming Interface, which is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other and share information
- APIs and code can be used for different projects, so developers don't have to start from scratch
- API-first strategy allows developers to add new services and technologies to the application without re-architecting the entire system
- VSF and commercetools were built according to the API-first approach and are an example of two software that can therefore be connected and exchange data