The API-first approach refers to a strategy in software development where an application programming interface (API) is created before any code is written. An API, of course, is a type of software that lets an application obtain data from another. It allows various applications to communicate with one another.

Almost all the applications we use in our daily lives employ APIs. And so, it only makes sense to conceptualize, design, and test an API before writing the software code, instead of the other way around.

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Imagine you and your friend are stranded on opposite sides of a river. You want to give your friend some supplies, but you have to build something to carry the items across the river to do so. What do you do?

First, you would need to make a raft out of any available material. Although you already have a standard in mind while building the raft, it’s only when it is finished would you be able to know what type of items it can carry. So you would test it first. After testing, you may find the need to reinforce it so it can transport more supplies.

In the API-first approach, the raft is the API. You need to design and develop the API first and tweak it to suit your requirements.

API-First Approach versus Code-First Development

Code-first development and the API-first approach in software development are opposite techniques. As its name suggests, code-first development occurs when developers write an application’s code and design its functionality, then insert the API at the final development stage. 

The API-first approach, as defined in the previous section, works the other way around. In it, developers think of the API first and foremost. As developer Joyce Lin describes it, “Your team begins by creating an interface for their application. After the API has been developed, the team will rely on this interface to build the rest of the application.”

Code-first development can result in delays and a lot of revisions. An example of this happened to Etsy. The e-commerce website had to implement features and updates twice—on its website and API, which is used for its iOS and Android apps. The process is time-consuming and costly. The solution? Etsy switched to the API-first approach.

Advantages of Using the API-First Approach

The API-first approach is adopted by most developers these days, especially those implementing agile project management, where projects are broken down into smaller and more manageable tasks. Below are three of the significant benefits of the particular development approach.

  • Lower development costs: With the API-first approach, the API code can be reused and recycled for other projects. Development teams, therefore, don’t need to write code from scratch since they already have a baseline. As such, costs associated with code writing, such as human resource hours, are significantly reduced.
  • Reduced development time: Developers can easily integrate APIs into their applications, allowing them to finish products quickly. That means apps can go to market faster and generate income earlier.
  • Less chances of failure: API failure can affect everything about your business, from marketing to customer experience. Using the API-first approach lowers the risk of such failure since the API design has been tested beforehand, making it reliable and stable. In addition, any feature or fix can be integrated without the need to redesign the API.

While developers apply the API-first approach in the backend, users can feel the difference when apps work seamlessly. This development strategy is currently the go-to approach for application development since all apps use APIs. In fact, Gartner declared that “We live in an API economy,” back in 2016.