Application Programming Interfaces, known colloquially as APIs, are simply mechanisms that enable communication between two or more pieces of software. More specifically, they are a collection of rules that govern who may access the information it holds, as well as what information that person may access (if any).
Up until recently, the only way that software developers interacted with APIs was via commands issued to the API. However, as with everything else in the technology field, APIs are evolving, and not only will we see developers interacting with APIs differently, we’ll see different uses for APIs as well.
Developers work with APIs when their products need access to data that is held by another product. Most APIs were private, which meant that access was restricted and gaining the appropriate rights required authentication and authorization. While this offered greater privacy and allowed the owning entity significant control over the changes made to the API, private APIs resulted in problem areas, such as difficulty in integration with third-party software.
The trend of private APIs is giving way to what are known as open APIs. Open APIs, which are simply APIs that have been made public so that anyone can access them without going through the authentication and authorization processes, are quite common today.
Open APIs facilitate sharing and communication, which simplifies any integration an engineer might need to implement. It doesn’t matter whether the engineer is affiliated with the entity that owns the API or not — open APIs do not require third parties to authenticate and authorize before they grant access to their data.
Because of this openness, third-party integration of software is not only easier but less problematic. Developers have access to the API at all times, so they can ensure that the two-way communication between assorted pieces of software is correct, rather than having to guess at the appropriate methods to use.
The biggest issue regarding open APIs is, of course, security. With fully open public access, you have little control over who gets access to your data and what they do with it.
What Open APIs Mean for the Future
As we look toward the future of technology, we see open APIs driving more and more changes in the software development world. Here are some of the ways we might benefit.
Open APIs make it very easy for people to improve existing applications. If a vendor has released a product and its associated API, the community could easily take advantage of this openness and build on top of what the company has released. More hands make light work, as the old saying goes, and with the contributions of many in the general development community, we can see the releases of improvements to the app without necessarily including the vendor’s engineering team. Furthermore, such changes could potentially come faster than if we were to wait for the vendor to implement them. This process is very similar to open-source software, which is widely used and very helpful for developers.
One of the boons of automation is the removal of human error from the business process, resulting in an overall increased efficiency. Even with the most well-written of documentation, individual employees, especially when it comes to highly repetitive tasks, produce different outcomes. However, leveraging the assorted open APIs available means that you can move toward a proactive, automated world.
DevOps, ChatOps, and other Methods of IT Management
Newly-developed methods of IT management, such as DevOps and ChatOps, all rely on APIs to facilitate communication between assorted software integrations. The complexity of such networks is enormous, but open APIs make it simpler to manage such setups. Due to the available access to the assorted APIs involved, IT teams can implement, maintain, and troubleshoot their integrations, all without interacting with the owners of the API endpoints themselves.
Such setups are designed to facilitate and support a short software development lifecycle, so IT teams need to be able to able to carry out their tasks quickly and on short notice. With open APIs, administrators can get the information they require when they need it, without having to jump through the hoops they would have to if the APIs weren’t open.
Open APIs are therefore an excellent way to optimize costs, performance, and the ability to meet the needs of the organization.
Big data and analytics is a hot concept today, and one of the ways that you can gain the data you need without drowning in it is to use APIs. First, the fact we can use this data means that we are gathering the data — previously, many entities didn’t bother since we had no way of analyzing it.
Moreover, you can leverage APIs, so the source of data is automatically fed into whatever analytics software suite you’re using, eliminating the need for a human intermediary. Not only does this automate and remove the need for someone to manually manage the data collection process, but it also allows you to gain large quantities of data that your team handles only after it’s been fed into an environment where you can make sense of the data.
You are also not limited to one source of data; with the rising popularity of open APIs, you can gather data from multiple sources so that your datasets contain much more useful information than before.
What Increasing API Usage Means for Today’s Sites and Applications
As open APIs become increasingly familiar and apps and sites are more and more dependent on third-party APIs, the likelihood that a single failure impacts the whole system increases. Think of it as you would a rock that’s been dropped into a pond of water — the ripples flow outward, spreading its influence.
While your site may be rock-solid, well-monitored, and continuously fixed, an outage faced by a vendor three steps removed from your dependency could very well impact your uptime. Worse, you there’s little you can do about this outage — the only action left you can take to remove your dependency on this product.
Being able to respond immediately in light of an outage that you cannot directly control requires thorough API monitoring — without this information available to you, as well as a plan of attack for what you should do if things stop working, you won’t be able to ensure that your services remain available and performant no matter what happens.
Open APIs are a boon to the technology industry, and leveraging them is a great way of incorporating features into your product without developing extensive engineering resources to reinventing the wheel, so to speak. However, this growing network of dependency means that your site and its performance and uptime becomes vulnerable to issues faced by other vendors.
To guarantee that your site is impacted by these matters as little as possible, it’s important that you utilize a full featured monitoring solution that covers not just your APIs, but APIs down the line so that you can act immediately if the need arises. This, combined with proactively determining a response plan means that you don’t have to waste time planning — you’ll already know what you need to do to get your site up and running again.
For additional information on how Rigor’s API monitoring solutions can help your site stay functional and performant, contact us today. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you own it or not; if it’s uptime/downtime impacts your site’s, you should be monitoring it!
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