Five Problems That an API Development Environment Solves

At Postman, we believe that the future of software is based on APIs. Cliche or not, we are hurtling toward a future where everything is connected, and APIs are taking us there. APIs are the basis for connected software and the developers working with them require a development environment designed specifically for APIs. To reflect this new reality, we’ve started using the term ADE – API Development Environment – for this category of tools.

The API Development Environment: an IDE for API Work

The ADE is a logical extension of the IDE (Integrated Development Environment). IDEs provide a well-integrated set of components to support software development combined with a single, powerful user interface (UI). The goal is to increase programmer productivity. While modern coding practices created the IDE, the exploding use of APIs has created the need for ADEs to support, simplify and formalize API development.

An ADE addresses the needs of the API developer: combining and centralizing the tools needed to work on any aspect of an API development workflow. A good ADE will streamline the development process, create a single source of truth for an organization's APIs and enhance collaboration on APIs across the organization.

The Five API Development Needs that an ADE Addresses

A well designed ADE will address a number of needs for API developers. I’ve narrowed the list down to the five most important, though there are others worth considering.

  1. Simple testing and debugging: APIs can be hard to learn, complex to use and they often change over time. An ADE should allow the developer a single place to debug, create tests and scripts, and run automated tests over time.
  2. Accurate API documentation: Postman’s survey of the API community last year highlighted what we all already know: that we need more and better documentation. A good ADE will make creating, formatting and sharing documentation easy. A good ADE will enable devs to maintain a single source of truth for the API, particularly as it gets updated and improved over time.
  3. Collaboration and version control: APIs demand collaboration, almost by definition. An ADE should allow developers to collaborate in real time to create, debug, and work with APIs. Like all software, API work also needs access and version control, which is one of the most effective uses of an ADE.
  4. Flexibility in specification and design: An ADE can capture multiple forms of existing API specs or allow creation of an API spec directly within the ADE.
  5. Ease of publishing: APIs are meant to be used, and many developers actively use public APIs in their everyday work. A complete ADE will help the API publisher get their API into the hands of developers so they can onboard quickly and effectively.

Key Features of an ADE

Given the growing API ecosystem and the rise of the API-first software world, I believe that this new category of ADE was nearly inevitable. So, what elements comprise a successful ADE? We can look to IDEs for a start.

Just as IDEs provide a well-integrated set of components to support software development with a powerful UI, an ADE addresses those same needs for the API developer by combining and centralizing the tools needed to work on any aspect of an API development workflow.

Typically, an IDE provides five key features for software programmers: authoring, modifying, compiling, deploying and debugging. The power of the IDE is in combining all five activities within one toolchain, rather than forcing the programmer to piece together a series of unrelated tools with cumbersome transitions from one stage to the next.

The API development workflow has its own unique elements: design and mock, debug, test automation, document, monitor, and publish.
While not every API developer uses every stage of this workflow every day, each stage is critical to developing and maintaining robust, effective APIs. An ADE needs to address all six aspects of the API workflow to be complete.

In addition, the API workflow complements and overlaps with the broader software development cycle. Integrations are critical to addressing the specific needs of API development, and a strong ADE will integrate with software development at multiple points.

Streamline the Development Process and Create Something Great

In an API-first world, developers need an ADE that streamlines the entire process. An effective tool makes development easier and, beyond that, also helps developers to unlock their creativity and make something great. A quote from Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull says it best: “Making the process better, easier, and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on—but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.”

Be sure to read the next API Design article: Create and Deploy Serverless APIs with StdLib’s Web-Based Code Editor


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