Covid-19 crisis spurred greater API development, survey suggests

Survey of more than 13,000 developers shows things were full-steam ahead with APIs, which helped enterprises ramp up their digital transformation efforts.

While the Covid-19 crisis wreaked havoc with many corporate IT plans -- pushing many, at least temporarily, into survival mode -- API development either remained constant or even expanded. APIs also have been playing a pivotal role in helping organizations operate on a more virtual level. 

That's the word from a recent survey of 13,500 developers and other IT professionals, released by Postman. While Postman, an API development platform, obviously has a horse in this race, the sheer magnitude of this study makes it worth a deep look. 

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

The role of APIs in digital transformation efforts cannot be understated, as they are the building blocks for organizations becoming both producers and consumers of software. As observed in previous posts. Even the most mainstream of enterprises (say, retailers or toy manufacturers) are behaving more and more like software companies, increasingly reaching out to customers with APIs and digital services. 

The need to behave more like software companies really became critical as the crisis took hold of the world. In fact, the shutdowns created barely a bump in API development activities, the survey finds. While the crisis put many IT activities on temporary hold, API development continued to surge. In fact, APIs helped enterprises manage through the mess. For those working on digital transformation initiatives, 85 percent say APIs are playing a significant role in those initiatives. Nearly a third, 31 percent, say that APIs are playing a role in their organization's ability to respond to Covid-19 for customer communications, powering remote work options, and quickly responding to regulatory changes and government initiatives.  

Close to half of respondents stated that investment of time and resources into APIs will increase over the next 12 months, while another third stated that investments into APIs will stay the same, despite economic uncertainty. And it's not just developers who are working with APIs -- one in 10 of those working with APIs are in management roles, from the C-suite through to directors and managers. 

The survey looked at some of the trends shaping API development and use. Why produce APIs? The leading factor mentioned by almost 70 percent of respondents was integration between internal applications, programs, or systems. Integration with or enhancement of current internal or external applications, programs, or systems registered similarly around 61 percent. Enhancing customer-oriented products or offerings came up with 59 percent of respondents.

Why consume APIs? Integration with external applications, programs, or systems was the leading factor at 60 percent. Adding or enhancing the functionality of internal applications, programs, or systems was the second-leading factor with 58 percent, followed closely by its customer-facing counterpart, adding or enhancing the functionality of products and services offered to customers. 

The survey also finds that lack of time is the number one obstacle to producing APIs, cited by 52 percent. Lack of documentation is the number one obstacle to consuming APIs, cited by 54 percent. API design is also an area IT professionals wished they had more time to pursue. They spend only eight percent, on average, of their time in API design, devoting the rest to testing and debugging. Most of the design process occurs before development kicks off. 

REST (93%) is the dominant architectural style for APIs, followed by webhooks (34%), SOAP (33%) and GraphQL (23%). JSON Schema (76%) is the dominant API specification, followed by Swagger 2.0 (44%) and OpenAPI 3.0 (28%).  Microservices (49%) is the emerging technology respondents are most excited about, followed by Kubernetes (44%) and containers (42%). 

When it comes to preferred change-management practices, the utilization of Git repositories scored the most mentions, at 63%. Logging in succession behind that top response we find versioning APIs (59%), versioning server code (35%), and versioning client code (28%). Applying semantic versioning lagged behind at 21%.