In today’s digital age, we depend on application programming interfaces more than we think. Commonly referred to as APIs, nearly all web services offer programmatic access for their facilities and data in one form or another today, ranging from processing online payments to location-based data. However, not all are created equally. And there’s a good chance that you’ll find several options for any task with varying approaches and levels of support and documentation.
Choosing the wrong provider can potentially end up being a significant time-sink. In some situations, it may even result in a vendor lock-in that’s not easy to get out of, like payment APIs, for example. Therefore, you need to carefully consider your decision before making any commitments. So when exploring your options, consider the following factors.
Never assume that all providers offer the same processes for similar APIs. It would be best if you determined whether or not they can meet your needs and expectations before deciding on one, whether you’re selecting the best news API, reviews API, forums API, etcetera. For example, PayPal’s API provides a process for authorize-capture funds while Stripe before didn’t. Only once you know that a specific API can deliver the required features should you make your choice.
Is the documentation for the API comprehensive and detailed? Are all the parameters and examples clear and explained adequately? Generally, you should be able to get some insight into the way its implementation will appear within the documents. If it doesn’t, then it’s a red flag and an indicator that you should probably look for the desired APIs somewhere else, or you’ll risk committing to one that won’t produce the intended outcome.
A decade ago, the leading programmatic data request format was XML. However, since then, many others have emerged as easier-to-use and lighter alternatives like JSON. There are also APIs that will still produce URL-encoded strings for their returns. The key is to determine the data format you would prefer and choose a provider that can accommodate your preferences. If you don’t, you’ll only have a lot of trouble.
Most APIs, especially the ones offering public-facing data, generally employ a threshold for requests per IP or API key. These limits are put into place so that user abuse can be prevented. In other cases, they may be imposed to encourage upgrading the account. You need to know if the overhead is worth the cost and ensure that you won’t be hitting its limits. Be sure to explore all available options and check if there are any competing APIs offering much higher limitations or preferably no limits at all.
The right API can make or break a business. Therefore, it’s crucial that you pick the best one for your business. By understanding what you need the most and considering the features, documentation, data formats, and limitations of the API, you’ll be able to effectively guide yourself to the one that’s best suited for the intended job.