The acronym API is ubiquitous in the world of information technology.  It represents a modern application development pattern that is extremely powerful and essential for crafting scalable and performant web and mobile applications.  Developers and development teams must be able to efficiently leverage existing APIs as well as produce robust, secure, and easily consumable APIs for internal or external development.  We will explore what an API is, why someone would want to make use of an API, and some great tools and methodologies to ensure that APIs are being utilized in the best way possible.  

What is an API?

API stands for application programming interface.  It represents a way for applications and servers to communicate and share data over the internet.  Kin Lane from Postman has a great explanation of what APIs do, saying “APIs are designed for other digital systems and applications to use.  Websites and APIs both do the same things, like return data, content, images, video, and other information.  But APIs don’t return all the details that are needed to make things look pretty for the human eye—you only get the raw data and other machine-readable information needed behind the scenes to put the resources being delivered to work, with very little assistance from a human.”  APIs make available all the same data a normal website would, but in a manner that is easy for another application to consume and transform for its own purposes.  Lane goes on to say of API integration “API integration is simply the connection between two (or more) applications, programs, services, or systems, using APIs.  Applications use APIs to send and receive data and content between each other.”  APIs make it possible for systems to communicate, share data, and react to changes in other systems.  

Why Use an API?

Understanding what an API is and what it enables, one can imagine a multitude of uses for them.  APIs allow for speeding up software development projects and reducing costs.  They enable developers and development teams to leverage all the hard work of development teams before them by retrieving important data from other systems that already exist.  This means that a team can build on existing work to expeditiously create an application for their own purposes, pulling in relevant data from other sources that is already available. 

APIs connect systems.  An organization may have multiple teams working on multiple applications, and each group needs to know a subset of your organizations data to craft their application independently.  A comprehensive API could allow for a CRM system and an Ecommerce system to make use of the same data without the operational overhead of constructing and maintaining different ways to interact with the same set of data.  APIs allow for connected systems to react to things happening in other systems, so an order in that Ecommerce system can trigger changes in the CRM system.

APIs make it possible to decouple the heavy lifting of retrieving and manipulating data from devices and front ends.  Modern JavaScript single page applications development technologies like React, Progressive Web Apps, mobile applications, and IoT devices all make use of APIs.  This makes the client facing portion of the application lightweight while still being able to easily provide rich information to the user.

How to Work with APIs

Seeing how powerful APIs are, teams should be eager to make use of APIs in their organization and software development projects.  This can also be daunting.  Because APIs are so prevalent, to effectively leverage APIs, your development team will need to ensure that they follow best patterns and practices to ensure success.  Using APIs creates challenges.  They need to have the proper security so that only the right systems can get to the right data.  They need to have proper documentation, so that developers of other systems can leverage the API in the way it is intended.  APIs need to be maintained properly, so other systems that rely on them do not break with new changes.  APIs also need to be simple; too much complexity will prevent developers of other systems from effectively leveraging that API.  Fortunately, there are many tools and patterns available for developing effective APIs.  These are some that the team at MercuryWorks leverage to “Make it Work”.

REST

REST stands for Representational State Transfer and is an architectural style for distributed systems.  Some of the tenants of REST architecture are Client-Server which means separating user interface concerns from data storage concerns, Stateless which means that each request must contain all the information necessary to understand the request.  REST sets out guiding principals that allow for systems that communicate with each other to speak the same language.  It enables shared expectations for developers of different systems so that teams can lower the barrier for integrating with other systems and reduce complexity.

OpenAPI

OpenAPI is an open specification for working with RESTful APIs.  It allows humans and computers to understand an API without having access to source code or documentation.  OpenAPI standardizes how an API is written and documented so that it can be easily understood and consumed.  OpenAPI is a great tool for promoting clarity and reducing overhead for development teams making use of APIs. 

Webhooks

Webhooks are messages sent from one system to another when something happens in the originating system.  This means that when systems are connected, instead of a system using an API to query information, it is notified by the system that it would otherwise query.  The system that wants to be notified of changing data defines an address to be notified at over the web, and when an event happens in the originating system it sends the requested information to the system that defined the webhook.  This is a powerful tool for real time information sharing across systems.

GraphQL

GraphQL is a query language for APIs that allows developers to group the data that the application needs and get all that data in a single request.  GraphQL organizes data in terms of types and fields, not endpoints, which allows the application making use of the API to only care about what it needs to work.  It is an abstraction for working with APIs that makes the development process simpler and more expedient.

Postman

Postman is a platform for API development.  It offers tools for connecting with APIs, testing those APIs, creating documentation, automated testing, monitoring, and collaboration tools for sharing API connections with other developers on your team.  The Postman API Client makes it easy to simply connect with an API and get data without worrying about your application.  You can simply call an API, see the response, and ensure that it is what you are looking for before beginning development.

Swagger/Swashbuckle

Swashbuckle is a great tool that we use in applications to generate a Swagger/OpenAPI definition for an API.  This examines the API that your team has developed creates documentation in the OpenAPI specification that matches your API with little additional effort.  Swashbuckle also creates a page in your application for testing your API.  It shows your documented API and all the endpoints and allows you to call those endpoints and test them.  It can account for things like API versioning and security, and it allows for teams not only to understand what an API is intended to do, but also working with that API before programming against it.

It’s Demo Time

Swashbuckle.AspNetCore is one of my favorite tools and we use it on all our .NET Core API projects. 

A link to the project can be found here: https://github.com/domaindrivendev/Swashbuckle.AspNetCore. Let’s dig a little deeper into this tool to demonstrate how easy it is to develop APIs in accordance with REST and OpenAPI principals and follow best practices of API development. 

Step 1: In your .NET Core project install the Nuget package Swashbuckle.AspNetCore

Step 2: In the ConfigureServices section of the Startup.cs, register the Swagger generator.

Swashbuckle code snippet

Step 3: Make sure that the API endpoints in your project have the proper descriptors for Http and From

API Descriptor

Step 4: In your Startup.cs Configure method add the following:

startup.cs method

Step 5: To add the interactive Swagger page in your application, in your Configure method in the Startup.cs add the following:

set up Interactive Swagger page

Now, when you start your application, you can go to the /swagger endpoint to find an interactive page describing your application and allowing testing of your API.

There are many more options that you can make use of to customize and layer information about your API using Swashbuckle and Swagger, but I hope this example illustrates that with just a few extra steps, you can leverage tools in your application development practices ensuring proper API development practices. 

Summary

API development is a powerful and essential tool for any software development team.  Understanding how to produce and consume APIs came make a huge difference for a successful project.  Using established patterns and practices of API development, along with making use of some great tools, helps teams quickly leverage APIs to build great systems in less time.   Interested in leveraging API development for your next project?  Let us help, reach out today.  

The open-source JavaScript library React JS was first created and implemented internally at Facebook in 2011. Since then, it’s dominated other libraries and frameworks like Angular JS and Vue JS in popularity with a current average of 10 million monthly downloads.

At MercuryWorks, we use React regularly in front-end development. Sophisticated JavaScript libraries are critical to delivering powerful modern web and mobile applications with optimal UX/UI, and React checks the boxes that we need to create the mission-critical applications our clients depend on. React is the dominant front-end framework because it offers modern benefits both on the developer and the user side. Here’s why and when we opt for it, and why we recommend that companies consider React when they’re in the market for a web development solution.

React's Key Benefits

Ease of use and maintenance

Any front-end developer familiar with JavaScript can easily learn and use the React library. As a collection of reusable UI components, React reduces technical debt and opportunity for coding errors while delivering beautiful, lightweight user experiences. There’s been some healthy—if pedantic—debate over whether React is a library or a framework, and the answer is… yes. As a library of components, React is architecture agnostic; it can be built on top of any backend. But it’s also positioned as an interface-only framework as it’s “a way of doing things” in front-end development with a prescribed structure and requires some inversion of control.

React is flexible, nimble, and fast loading, and its colocation of content, logic, styling, and state control greatly simplifies the maintenance load and keeps code interdependencies to a minimum. Upgrading and building components is easy in React’s modular structure, which minimizes the possibility of disrupting your code base and maximizes stability. This translates to application development and maintenance consistently coming in ahead of schedule and under budget.

Beautiful, extensive UI resources

Mission-critical applications depend on a smooth, highly interactive interface, which is precisely what React is designed to deliver. The prevalence of resources such as third-party developer tools and literally hundreds of UI libraries makes finding components for application use incredibly easy—and prevents teams from having to reinvent the wheel when it comes to common interactive components such as buttons, menus, dropdowns, graphs, and more.

Strong, robust performance

Power and speed are essential to a great user experience, and React’s simple rendering logic allows developers to create more without weighing down the application. When implemented with server-side rendering, React significantly decreases both perceived and actual load time and allows the application to be crawled by search engines. Both of these outcomes contribute to better UX and better results in technical SEO.

What’s more, React’s innovative Virtual DOM (VDOM) makes it a game changer for front-end development and for a better, faster user experience on highly interactive web applications. React JS uses the Virtual DOM to monitor which parts of the DOM to update selectively based on user interaction, rather than requiring the entire page to reload. Not only does this provide a smoother UX for users, but updating the Virtual DOM is faster and more efficient than manipulating the DOM itself. This translates into less computing power and better memory optimization, as well as simpler code.

When We Recommend React Application Development

The benefits above make React a go-to solution for many different types of applications, but there are a few where it’s objectively the strongest contender. Typically, those use cases are where high interactivity is the nature of the application, and thus where the Virtual DOM and/or React’s server-side rendering are essential to providing the best user experience:

  • Data management. Heavy data management applications such as CRMs, resource management, and analytics platforms that contain a large amount of data that users may need to manipulate (such as filtering, sorting, and adjusting views) very quickly.
  • Single-page applications (SPAs). The “classic” manifestation of a single-page application is a social network—hence Facebook’s development of React as a framework and the fact that it currently uses more than 50,000 React components. Today, however, many web applications rely on native-like interactivity without the cumbersome UX and extra time and power required to load additional pages. Many popular SPAs were built with React, including Netflix, DropBox, and PayPal.
  • Cross-platform applications. React is also a flexible option for situations where you need both a native mobile application and a web app. While React JS is a library and React Native is a mobile framework, much of their architecture is the same. Developers can easily shift to React Native while designing and building a mobile application, and it’s used for both Android and iOS.

Choosing a React Application Development Partner

Ultimately, React JS is an incredible tool that helps web development teams deliver quality code faster—without setting themselves up for increased cost or avoidable technical debt. React JS comes up frequently in the discovery and consultation conversations we hold with our clients, particularly when their mission-critical applications require high interactivity and powerful performance.

Interested in React development services for your organization? We use React regularly to build applications with quick response times, smooth interfaces, and native-like performance. Learn more or call us today at (813) 933-9800.