These days, with the number of tools available, building an API can happen in a matter of minutes. But there is a big difference between creating an API on the fly and engineering an API that is secure, reliable, and meets the user’s expectations. Unfortunately, many organizations continue to treat their APIs as an afterthought rather than a core feature of their solution, falling into three significant pitfalls of development.

So, what should organizations focus on to avoid being a victim of a costly API process?

Three API Pitfalls of Development

1. API Doesn't Align With Core Strategy

One major pitfall that many developers fall into is designing an API that doesn't align with the core strategy. You want to align your design with business goals. In general, the purpose of APIs is to increase business revenue. Your decisions in terms of API design should focus on the core strategic business goals of the program. Before you start the process of designing, you should be crystal clear about what problems you want to solve with the API program. Consider which opportunities the program aims to realize and how it will do so.

Some questions that you should consider:

    • What assets will the API make available?
    • How will the API make these assets available?
    • What applications could be built using the interface?
    • How will developers use the program?
    • How will the applications developed with the API create value for the company?

 

Collaboration and communication are essential if you want to design a program that adequately addresses these opportunities and challenges. Throughout the process of deploying, designing, and managing an API, the architects and program managers should work together to ensure that strategic goals are being fulfilled. Program managers and architects should agree on what will be done to achieve the goals and how the outcomes will be evaluated.

 

The technical and business roles should agree on the following:

    • The ideal and objective end-state of the program.
    • The key metrics that will be utilized to evaluate success.
    • The daily tasks that must be completed to ensure the program continues to fulfill strategic goals.

Not Knowing Where to Start

Often, developers are not sure where to start when it comes to developing an API. An interface is flexible, which means that it can be used just about anywhere to improve a process. Unfortunately, the flexibility of API can be overwhelming. Developers often end up wasting their energy and creating a program of limited value.

You should consider multiple perspectives when deciding which APIs to build. One consideration is building a solid technical foundation. Another consideration is making customer-facing solutions and applications possible. Development of APIs should be prioritized based on the impact on strategy, business, and modernization.

In general, customer journeys are an excellent place to begin when it comes to thinking about the APIs to build. Focusing on customer journeys can help you determine how to develop an API that will provide an excellent user experience and a solid technical foundation.

Failing to Think About the API Consumer

When developing an API, be sure to think about the consumer. In general, the users of APIs are developers. You want to build your API in a manner that will make the lives of the developers using the program easier.

While many API developers are quick to include successful responses, they sometimes forget to include good error responses. The truth is that error responses are just as vital as successful responses. Error responses have a significant impact on applications that use the API. Based on errors, developers provide users with information and change the behavior of programs. It is essential that your error responses are thought out and consistent.

It is typical for developers to forget about the many HTTP status codes. When an error occurs, don't limit yourself to just returning 400. Expand the range of HTTP status codes that you use. For example, you can return a 401 status code to indicate that the client is unauthorized to use the resource. The developer can use this error message to redirect the user to login. Returning a 403 status code can indicate that access is forbidden. Based on this error message, you can allow the user to request access for the resource.

Above all, it is essential to make the error messages understandable. The error messages should include information about the cause and the context. If possible, provide information about a possible resolution for the error.

Do everything in your power to help developers learn how to use your API. Employees frequently change, and memory is not always reliable. You should write thorough documentation as the program is developed. Another advantage of writing documentation is that it makes it easier to identify inconsistencies. Fortunately, there are many solutions available for writing documentation for APIs.

2. API Architecture and Project Management

Developers often fall into pitfalls in terms of project management and design. Major project management mistakes include a lack of a clear objective, failure to manage project scope, poor resource management/wrong methodology, and assigning the wrong individual to manage the project. In terms of design, typical mistakes include failing to use a versioning strategy and using the wrong error messages and RESTful methods (GET, POST, PUT).

Some major project management mistakes are:

 

Choosing the wrong project manager

You should invest a lot of time and resources into selecting the right project manager. Hiring the wrong project manager increases the chance of failure for a project. While it is possible to learn on the job without the right skills, it is best to hire the individual who is best qualified to manage your project. Don’t make the mistake of hiring a project manager without the right experience just to save money.

 

Lack of skills and resources

Another potential cause of project failure is a lack of adequate skills and resources. Not only is it important to have a full staff, but it is just as vital that your team have the right skills needed for the project. If your employees lack the proper skill set, it will be challenging to achieve the success of the project. A lack of resources will also adversely affect your project.

 

Doing everything on your own

Inability to delegate is one of the biggest problems in managers at all levels. It is crucial to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses but those of your team, too. Project managers need to be open to suggestions and learn how to delegate tasks and show their trust in the abilities of the team. Setting up a team and schedule is great for success and it allows for project managers to better analyze team strengths and weaknesses to better delegate tasks and open windows for the team to grow and excel.

 

Failure to properly communicate

Communication is essential, and it is the responsibility of the project manager to talk with their team. A lack of proper communication will lead to misunderstandings, which will ultimately hinder the success of the project.

It is important that project managers take the time to consider the suggestions of their team members. Project managers should also encourage their team to share tips and ideas. A variety of perspectives tends to facilitate the success of a project. A good project manager is open to suggestions and has the skill set to delegate tasks effectively.

 

Poor initiation of the project

Before starting a project, it is necessary to have a kick-off meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to ensure that all team members have a good understanding of the project goals as well as the roles and responsibilities they will be expected to fulfill. Project managers should include deadlines and milestones on the agenda.

 

Lack of Clear Objective

The lack of a clear objective can have a negative impact on a project’s success. The project manager needs to be able to plan effectively and carefully. It is vital to produce an objective that is clear and easy to understand for all the team members involved. There should also be concrete ways to measure success.

 

Inaccurate Estimation of Budget and Time

Sometimes, project managers go overboard when it comes to estimating the time and budget for a project. It is a good idea for the project manager to get expert advice if they don’t have enough knowledge or experience to come up with an accurate estimation.

 

Failure to Manage Project Scope

Changes in scope frequently lead to the failure of a project. During the planning stage, it is essential to agree upon the scope of the project. You should have a procedure in place to handle requests for changes to scope. The proposal must clearly outline what is in the scope, what isn't, and the impact of changes to scope on budget and scheduling.

3. API Security

The security of your program is incredibly important. This is particularly true if you intend to design an API to be used by another party that youdo not have control over. When you allow another entity to use your program, your data will be put at risk.

One typical mistake that many organizations make when it comes to API security is failing to use HTTPS instead of HTTP. If you want your RESTful API to be secure, the endpoints must be HTTPS. The advantage of HTTPS over HTTP is that the former protects authentication credentials in transit. Some examples of authentication credentials include JSON web tokens, passwords, and API keys. HTTPS enables authentication of the service by the client and guarantees the transmitted data's integrity.

Even if you're not transmitting data that is sensitive in nature, you should still use HTTPS. By always electing to use HTTPS for your web services, you don't have to spend the time and energy determining whether data counts as sensitive. Not only does always using HTTPS reduce the chance of error, but it also simplifies deployment. All unencrypted HTTP requests reveal information about the behavior of the user. It is now commonplace for cybercriminals to intercept and track unencrypted browsing. Therefore, in a sense, all web traffic should be considered sensitive. When you properly configure HTTPS, it can provide a secure, fast, and reliable connection that also offers users privacy.

For additional protection, you should think about using mutually authenticated client-side certificates.

Not Using HTTPS

One typical mistake that many organizations make when it comes to API security is failing to use HTTPS instead of HTTP. If you want your RESTful API to be secure, the endpoints must be HTTPS. The advantage of HTTPS over HTTP is that the former protects authentication credentials in transit. Some examples of authentication credentials include JSON web tokens, passwords, and API keys. HTTPS enables authentication of the service by the client and guarantees the transmitted data's integrity.

Even if you're not transmitting data that is sensitive in nature, you should still use HTTPS. By always electing to use HTTPS for your web services, you don't have to spend the time and energy determining whether data counts as sensitive. Not only does always using HTTPS reduce the chance of error, but it also simplifies deployment. All unencrypted HTTP requests reveal information about the behavior of the user. It is now commonplace for cybercriminals to intercept and track unencrypted browsing. Therefore, in a sense, all web traffic should be considered sensitive. When you properly configure HTTPS, it can provide a secure, fast, and reliable connection that also offers users privacy.

For additional protection, you should think about using mutually authenticated client-side certificates.

Failure to Properly Authenticate and Authorize Client Applications

Another frequent API security error that organizations make is failing to authenticate and authorize client applications properly. The first thing to keep in mind is that authorization and authentication are two different things when it comes to API security. Authentication refers to confirming that the identity of the client application has permission to use the API. Authorization, on the other hand, refers to the scope of interaction permitted by the program for the application. Essentially, authorization defines the data and actions the app has access to during the use of the API. The first layer of security should be authentication while the second layer of security for your API should be authorization.

You can use OAuth 2.0 for authorization and authentication for your API. OAuth 2.0 offers four players, which are the Client, the Resource Owner, the Authorization Server, and the Resource Server. The Resource Owner refers to the user who is attempting to use the client application to access the program. The API is the Resource Server and the Client is the client application. The function of the Authorization Server is to provide an Access Token to the Client. The Client can then use the Access Token to access the Resource Server.

There are many security advantages when it comes to OAuth 2.0. One security advantage is that the authorization process will confirm that a registered client is making requests to the API. Essentially, you will always know who is trying to access your data. The Access Token will make it easier for you to identify who is attempting to access your API. Access Tokens typically expire in a few hours. The fast expiration ensures that the identity of the client application will need to be confirmed again before they are permitted to re-access the service.

Protecting Your API: Preventing XSS and SQL Injection in Your API

Besides failing to authenticate and authorize users, developers often commit the mistake of overlooking the importance of having safeguards against malicious calls. A very typical pitfall is leaving an API vulnerable to attacks in the form of SWL and XSS Injection. It is the responsibility of the developer to make sure that the API validates all user input made during any calls to prevent XSS and SQL Injection attacks. You can clean user input to prevent XSS Injection attacks.

Using prepared statements with bind variables is one of the best ways to protect against SQL Injection attacks. Most languages offer functionality for using prepared statements. Therefore, you will likely be able to use prepared statements in the language you are using to develop your program to protect against SQL Injection attacks.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many mistakes that developers can commit when it comes to developing APIs. Falling into these pitfalls will prevent you from developing a program that will help you increase business revenue. At Spark Equation, we specialize in API enablement and integration with attention to an effective development lifecycle of our client's API ecosystem. We help growing companies avoid the pitfalls of developing APIs.

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