In today’s world of ever-increasing digital interconnectivity, APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) have emerged as essential tools for integrating data efficiently and cost-effectively.
Enterprises are increasingly taking advantage of APIs to gain a competitive edge, create new business opportunities, and accelerate tech modernization efforts. This has led to the ubiquitous availability of APIs.
For example, Rakuten RapidAPI, which is a global API directory, lists more than 10,000 APIs on its platform to allow developers to discover and integrate a wide range of APIs into their use cases.
So, what is driving this massive growth of APIs?
In this article, I’m going to talk about the following five main factors behind the remarkable evolution of APIs in recent years:
Let me address these in more detail.
The growth of emerging technologies—such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and blockchain—is playing a critical role in the proliferation of APIs.
These ground-breaking technologies are increasingly relying on APIs to enhance their adoption and deliver realistic experiences. For example, IoT systems integrate with one another and with voice assistants via APIs, robotics use APIs to automate tasks and facilitate smooth transitions between linked applications, and blockchain uses APIs to provide strong performances.
As these nascent technologies shake up industries and shift the way we think about solving problems, APIs have been integral to this disruption. APIs assist in driving their innovation, improving development efficiency, and reducing production costs.
For example, APIs have been critical in taking AI mainstream. AI is a wonderful technology that can greatly enhance the capabilities of applications. However, most enterprises or teams lack the ability to build AI models from scratch.
As such, we’ve been seeing API-driven AI in which a technology powerhouse creates a powerful model in some domain, and allows others to harness that work via APIs. Examples of this include APIs for speech recognition, image and text analysis, and data extraction.
With such APIs, developers can easily leverage useful features from third-party providers and implement them into their environment, something which saves development costs and time.
So, the possibility of fetching the functionalities of innovative emerging technologies and incorporating them into applications has largely contributed to the increased adoption of APIs.
Developer experience (DX) is also essential in the evolution of APIs. DX refers to the cumulative experiences that developers have when consuming an API—from making the first API call to retiring it.
DX is crucial in ensuring that developers do not ditch your API product. If a competing API provides a more fulfilling developer experience than yours, then developers are likely to select it for integration into their work environments.
According to a recent study that analyzed the state of API integration in 2020, 83% of the interviewed respondents consider APIs as critical components for enabling their business strategy, mostly propelled by digital transformation initiatives.
Therefore, to enhance the adoption of APIs, API creators are aiming to provide a seamless experience to the people who use them: developers. This race to improve the efficiency of developers has led to the creation of APIs that are stable, reliable, usable, and enjoyable to use.
Another major factor that is impacting the evolution of APIs is the growth of API management platforms. These platforms assist in abstracting the day-to-day administrative challenges of managing and governing APIs, leading to increased efficiency and productivity.
It is predicted that the global API management market size will grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 32.9% during the 2018-2023 forecast period. By 2023, it’ll be valued at $5.1 billion, which is a significant rise from the $1.2 billion in 2018.
The API management solutions, such as the Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub, help in the advancement of APIs in many ways. Primarily, these platforms assist in building, governing, and deploying APIs. This helps in their discoverability, versioning, and clarifying their purpose and scope.
With these solutions, you can monitor, secure, and optimize the usage of your APIs. You can do these by enforcing security policies, access control measures, throttling (such as rate limits and quotas), routing, and analytics.
You can also use the API management platforms to market and monetize your APIs. They can assist you in managing sales, pricing, and key or token provisioning.
The widespread adoption of modern architectural concepts for designing APIs is also contributing to their advancement. These specifications assist in creating APIs that are easy to understand, fast, and secure.
Back in the day, most APIs were built using SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). SOAP is an XML-based protocol that is language and platform agnostic, allows for extensibility, and provides built-in error handling.
Then, when REST (Representational State Transfer) was introduced, it quickly dominated SOAP mainly because of its simplicity and efficiency. REST is nearer to other web technologies in terms of design philosophy, presents a leaner learning curve, and supports a wide range of data formats, besides XML.
Currently, there is a new kid in the block: GraphQL, which is a query language for designing APIs. It offers a comprehensive and understandable depiction of the data in APIs, eases the ability to evolve APIs over time, and allows for the integration of robust developer tools.
The emergence of GraphQL is quickly threatening the position REST has been holding as the go-to architectural style for designing APIs.
For example, if we use Google Trends to compare the interest people had with REST API and GraphQL search terms for the past five years, we can see that the two are in a head-to-head race.
So, do you think that GraphQL usage can overtake REST in the next few years?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Lastly, the evolution of APIs has also been sparked by changes in how APIs are perceived. Traditionally, APIs have been treated as technical tools for exposing data to both internal and external developers.
However, with today’s digital disruption, which APIs are playing a crucial role, this mindset is quickly changing. Currently, APIs are increasingly included in the context of business values and offerings. Most enterprises are beginning to treat APIs just like products.
The designing and managing of APIs as critical business assets help in getting the value out of them. When APIs are elevated from a mere development method to an essential business model driver and boardroom consideration, they can assist enterprises in adapting fast in the rapidly advancing modern economy.
When seen as a product, APIs are designed to focus on the needs of the end-users, sufficient resources are allocated for their improvement, and prioritized as fundamental to business moments. As a result, this helps in their betterment.
In recent years, several factors have made it possible for APIs to grow extensively not only in number, but also in sophistication. They have become increasingly accessible, resourceful, and versatile.
For me, I think that those five factors have been central to the evolution of APIs.
Is there an important factor I missed in this article? Do you have any comments or questions?
Please post them in the comments below!
Lead image source: Freepik Premium