6 min read

Everyday, we see a new architecture popping up, being labeled as a modern architecture for application development. That’s what happened with Microservices in the beginning, and then all went for a toss when they were termed as a design pattern rather than an architecture on a whole. APIs are growing in popularity and are even being used as a basis to draw out the architecture of applications. We’re going to try and understand what some of the top factors are, which make Architects (and Developers) appreciate API driven architectures over the other “modern” and upcoming architectures.

Before we get to the reasons, let’s understand where I’m coming from in the first place. So, we recently published our findings from the Skill Up survey that we conducted for 8,000 odd IT pros. We asked them various questions ranging from what their favourite tools were, to whether they felt they knew more than what their managers did. Of the questions, one of them was directed to find out which of the modern architectures interested them the most. The choices were among Chaos Engineering, API Driven Architecture and Evolutionary Architecture.

Source: Skill Up 2018

From the results, it’s evident that they’re more inclined towards API driven Architecture. Or maybe, those who didn’t really find the architecture of their choice among the lot, simply chose API driven to be the best of the lot.

But why do architects love API driven development?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it a bit and thought I would come up with a few reasons as to why this might be so. So here goes…

Reason #1: The big split between the backend and frontend

Also known as Split Stack Development, API driven architecture allows for the backend and frontend of the application to be decoupled. This allows developers and architects to mitigate any dependencies that each end might have or rather impose on the other. Instead of having the dependencies, each end communicates with the other via APIs. This is extremely beneficial in the sense that each end can be built in completely different tools and technologies. For example, the backend could be in Python/ Java, while the front end is built in JavaScript.

Reason #2: Sensibility in scalability

When APIs are the foundation of an architecture, it enables the organisation to scale the app by simply plugging in services as and when needed, instead of having to modify the app itself. This is a great way to plugin and plugout functionality as and when needed without disrupting the original architecture.

Reason #3: Parallel Development aka Agile

When different teams work on the front and back end of the application, there’s no reason for them to be working together. That doesn’t mean they don’t work together at all, rather, what I mean is that the only factor they have to agree upon is the API structure and nothing else. This is because of Reason #1, where both layers of the architecture are disconnected or decoupled. This enables teams to be more flexible and agile when developing the application. It is only at the testing and deployment stages that the teams will collaborate more.

Reason #4: API as a product

This is more of a business case, rather than developer centric, but I thought I should add it in anyway. So, there’s something new that popped up on the Thoughtworks Radar, a few months ago – API-as-a-product.  As a matter of fact, you could consider this similar to API-as-a-Service.

Organisations like Salesforce have been offering their services in the form of APIs. For example, suppose you’re using Salesforce CRM and you want to extend the functionality, all you need to do is use the APIs for extending the system. Google is another good example of a company that offers APIs as products. This is a great way to provide extensibility instead of having a separate application altogether. Individual APIs or groups of them can be priced with subscription plans. These plans contain not only access to the APIs themselves, but also a defined number of calls or data that is allowed.

Reason #5: Hiding underlying complexity

In an API driven architecture, all components that are connected to the API are modular, exist on their own and communicate via the API. The modular nature of the application makes it easier to test and maintain. Moreover, if you’re using or consuming someone else’s API, you needn’t learn/decipher the entire code’s working, rather you can just plug in the API and use it. That reduces complexity to a great extent.

Reason #6: Business Logic comes first

API driven architecture allows developers to focus on the Business Logic, rather than having to worry about structuring the application. The initial API structure is all that needs to be planned out, after which each team goes forth and develops the individual APIs. This greatly reduces development time as well.

Reason #7: IoT loves APIs

API architecture makes for a great way to build IoT applications, as IoT needs a great deal of scalability. An application that is built on a foundation of APIs is a dream for IoT developers as devices can be easily connected to the mother app. I expect everything to be connected via APIs in the next 5 years. If it doesn’t happen, you can always get back at me in the comments section! 😉

Reason #8: APIs and DevOps are a match made in Heaven

APIs allow for a more streamlined deployment pipeline, while also eliminating the production of duplicate assets by development teams. Moreover, deployments can reach production a lot faster through these slick pipelines, thus increasing efficiency and reducing costs by a great deal. The merger of DevOps and API driven architecture, however, is not a walk in the park, as it requires a change in mindset. Teams need to change culturally, to become enablers of reusable, self-service consumption.

The other side of the coin

Well, there’s always two sides to the coin, and there are some drawbacks to API driven architecture. For starters, you’ll have APIs all over the place! While that was the point in the first place, it becomes really tedious to manage all those APIs. Secondly, when you have things running in parallel, you require a lot of processing power – more cores, more infrastructure. Another important issue is regarding security. With so many cyber attacks, and privacy breaches, an API driven architecture only invites trouble with more doors for hackers to open.

So apart from the above flipside, those were some of the reasons I could think of, as to why Architects would be interested in an API driven architecture. APIs give customers, i.e both internal and external stakeholders, the freedom to leverage enterprise’s assets, while customizing as required. In a way, APIs aren’t just ways to offer integration and connectivity for large enterprise apps. Rather, they should be looked at as a way to drive faster and more modern software architecture and delivery.

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