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Write Great APIs

Write Great APIs

Update: 2021-04-26


We discuss all things APIs: what makes them great, what makes them bad, and what we might like to see in them while Michael plays a lawyer on channel 46, Allen doesn’t know his favorite part of the show, and Joe definitely pays attention to the tips of the week.

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  • Big thanks to everyone that left us a new review:
    • iTunes: hhskakeidmd
    • Audible: Colum Ferry

All About APIs

What are APIs?

  • API stands for application programming interface and is a formal way for applications to speak to each other.
  • An API defines requests that you can make, what you need to provide, and what you get back.
  • If you do any googling, you’ll see that articles are overwhelmingly focused on Web APIs, particularly REST, but that is far from the only type. Others include:
    • All libraries,
    • All frameworks,
    • System Calls, i.e.: Windows API,
    • Remote API (aka RPC – remote procedure call),
    • Web related standards such as SOAP, REST, HATEOAS, or GraphQL, and
    • Domain Specific Languages (SQL for example)
  • The formal definition of APIs, who own them, and what can be done with them is complicated à la Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc.
  • Different types of API have their own set of common problems and best practices
    • Common REST issues:
      • Authentication,
      • Rate limiting,
      • Asynchronous operations,
      • Filtering,
      • Sorting,
      • Pagination,
      • Caching, and
      • Error handling.
    • Game libraries:
      • Heavy emphasis on inheritance and “hidden” systems to cut down on complexity.
    • Libraries for service providers
      • Support multiple languages and paradigms (documentation, versioning, rolling out new features, supporting different languages and frameworks)
  • OData provides a set of standards for building and consuming REST API’s.

General tips for writing great APIs

  • Make them easy to work with.
  • Make them difficult to misuse (good documentation goes a long way).
  • Be consistent in the use of terms, input/output types, error messages, etc.
  • Simplicity: there’s one way to do things. Introduce abstractions for common actions.
  • Service evolution, i.e. including the version number as part of your API call enforces good versioning habits.
  • Documentation, documentation, documentation, with enough detail that’s good to ramp up from getting started to in depth detail.
  • Platform Independence: try to stay away from specifics of the platforms you expect to deal with.

Why is REST taking over the term API?

  • REST is crazy popular in web development and it’s really tough to do anything without it.
  • It’s simple. Well, not really if you consider the 43 things you need to think about.
  • Some things about REST are great by design, such as:
    • By using it, you only have one protocol to support,
    • It’s verb oriented (commonly used verbs include GETPOSTPUTPATCH, and DELETE), and
    • It’s based on open standards.
  • Some things about REST are great by convention, such as:
    • Noun orientation like resources and identifiers,
    • Human readable I/O,
    • Stateless requests, and
    • HATEOAS provides a methodology to decouple the client and the server.

Maybe we can steal some ideas from REST

  • Organize the API around resources, like /orders + verbs instead of /create-order.
    • Note that nouns can be complex, an order can be complex … products, addresses, history, etc.
    • Collections are their own resources (i.e. /orders could return more than 1).
  • Consistent naming conventions makes for easy discovery.
  • Microsoft recommends plural nouns in most cases, but their skewing heavily towards REST, because REST already has a mechanism for behaviors with their verbs. For example /orders and /orders/123.
    • You can drill in further and further when you orient towards nouns like /orders/123/status.
  • The general guidance is to return resource identifiers rather than whole objects for complex nouns. In the order example, it’s better to return a customer ID associated with the whole order.
  • Avoid introducing dependencies between the API and the underlying data sources or storage, the interface is meant to abstract those details!
  • Verb orientation is okay in some, very action based instances, such as a calculator API.

Resources We Like

Tip of the Week

  • Docker Desktop: WSL 2 Best practices (Docker)
    • Experiencing déjà vu? That’s because we talked about this during episode 156.
  • With Minikube, you can easily configure the amount of CPU and RAM each time you start it.
  • Listen to American Scandal. A great podcast with amazing production quality. (Wondery)
  • If you have a license for DataGrip and use other JetBrains IDEs, once you add a data source, the IDE will recognize strings that are SQL in your code, be they Java, JS, Python, etc., and give syntax highlighting and autocomplete.
    • Also, you can set the connection to a DB in DataGrip as read only under the options. This will give you a warning message if you try a write operation even if your credentials have write permissions.
  • API Blueprint. A powerful high-level API description language for web APIs. (
  • Apache Superset – A modern data exploration and visualization platform. (<a href="https://superset.








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Write Great APIs

Write Great APIs

Allen Underwood, Michael Outlaw, Joe Zack