Api design .. remember these things

by Deepak Dhakal 27. January 2020 17:06

API Design

 Statelessness – There’s one place you don’t want your API to be storing state, and that’s in your application servers. Always keep application servers state-free so that they can be easily and painlessly scaled.

Content Negotiation – If you want to support multiple representations of your resources, you can use content negotiation (eg. Accept headers), or differing URLs for different representations (eg. …?format=json), or you can combine both and have your content negotiation resources redirect to specific formats.

 URI Templates – URI Templates are a well-defined mechanism for providing URL composition capabilities to your clients, or for documenting your URL access patterns to your end-user.

Design for Intent – Don’t just expose your internal business objects through your API. Design your API to have semantic meaning and to match the use-cases that your users will have. Darrel Miller wrote a great post on API Craft describing this better than I could. (Edit: I tried my best in an article entitled Stop Designing Fragile Web APIs.)

 Versioning – Theoretically, if you designed a really great API up front, you might never need to create incompatibilities in your API. For the pragmatists in us, put versioning in your API URLs (eg. a /v1/ path), so that you have a safety net in case the API doesn’t work out like you wanted. (Edit: An expanded justification is my follow-up article: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That: API Versioning)

 Authorization – Remember when designing your API that not all users will have access to all objects in the system. It’s great if you use or build an API framework with some form of declarative security so that it’s easy to assign and modify authorization rights on read and write access to resources.

 Bulk Operations – Most clients will perform better if they can issue fewer requests to fetch or modify more data. It’s a good idea to build bulk operations into your API to support this kind of use case.

 Pagination – Pagination serves two big purposes in an API; it reduces the amount of unneeded data delivered to the client, and it reduces the amount of unneeded computation on your application servers. There are many different patterns used for making paginated collection resources; if you don’t know where to start, browse through Stackoverflow for some hints. If you want to be my personal hero, implement consistent pagination by providing links to additional pages that are timestamped or versioned, such that you will never see duplicate results in pagination requests even if the objects involved change.

 Unicode – It’s pretty obvious these days that you need to support more than English characters in a web service; just remember to keep this in mind when designing and testing your API. In particular, Unicode characters can be interesting if you use them as natural keys in a URL (eg. /users/jimbob/ becomes /users/싸이/).

 Error Logging – Be sure you design how you want your API to perform error logging, rather than just throwing it together. In particular, I find it extremely valuable to distinguish between errors that are caused by the client’s input, and errors that are caused by your software. Keep these in two separate logs.


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