A Look at the Key Takeaways from State of API 2020

  November 06, 2020

There’s never been a more important time to pay attention to APIs. Given the impacts of a global pandemic, organizations are increasing their reliance on digital technology. Tools that support API development, testing, monitoring, and documentation have become crucial to enabling the success of digital initiatives. The recent State of API 2020 Report provides a timely glimpse into how organizations of all sizes, across the globe, are maturing their API strategy to survive and thrive during this time.

The report is the result of surveys sent to API practitioners early in 2020, just as many businesses were beginning to lock down and institute work-from-home policies. Responses came in from more than 1,500 developers, architects, QA professionals, operations engineers, and product leaders, representing more than 16 different industries around the world.

Respondents to the survey covered every aspect of the API lifecycle, including back-end developers, web and mobile developers, QA and testing engineers, architects, API developers, and so on. The growth of APIs across industries was pronounced as the report included practitioners from IT, finance, computer software, hardware, and telecommunications, among others.

The survey consisted of 52 questions – a lot to digest! But don’t worry. I put together a list of some of the key takeaways here in this blog.

Takeaway #1: Standardization is the way forward

First and foremost, let’s consider the importance of standardization in API design. As more and more companies begin to utilize APIs, both internally and externally, and organizations share APIs with customers and partners, the need for consistency in how APIs are designed grows.

When people surveyed were asked which API technology challenge they would most like to solve in the near future, 58% of them responded with “standardization,” an issue that continues to bedevil API initiatives year after year.

API style guides are one way to ensure developers comply with API standards. Look at this graph and you can see that more than half of the survey respondents state they don’t have a style guide.

On a positive note, of those organizations without a style guide, one third plan to introduce one.

At the end of the day, no one will debate the value of design consistency and its contributions to efficiency and quality. Standardization allows for a smoother workflow and increased developer productivity. Clearly, given the results of this survey, this is one area where organizations can really improve their API process.

The two charts together point to standardization as a clear area for future improvement in API maturity for a lot of organizations.

Takeaway #2: Increasingly quick deadlines create a vicious cycle

Let’s stay in the world of development. If you’re a developer and reading this (instead of coding), then you’re probably missing a deadline … or two. You probably also won’t find it surprising that overly ambitious development deadlines can lead to API quality problems down the line. Look this chart from the survey.

Over half of the survey respondents cited limited time due to workload as one of the biggest obstacles to ensuring API quality, with increasing demands for speed of delivery coming up as a close second. This scenario, coupled with another survey result stating that time and resources spent troubleshooting was a factor in poor quality APIs, demonstrates how dependent API quality is on time and resource. Expending time, having to fix initial API quality issues, only exacerbates the problem.

I think the takeaway from this section of the report is that the earlier mistakes are caught, the better the impact on time and resource down the line.

Takeaway #3 Consumers less loyal this year

The report also shows a change in how API consumers have come to behave in an era where API choice has expanded. As APIs have become increasingly integral to consumers’ applications, we can see tolerance for quality issues has been dropping. Here’s a look at what the report found regarding consumers’ response to issues with 3rd party APIs:

Looking at that response, it’s clear that consumers are more willing to search for a permanent replacement when issues arise than they have been in previous years. API quality directly affects how an application performs, and with customer intolerance for slow, buggy applications, API consumers are less and less likely to compromise on bad quality.

Looking at the survey results, it’s also apparent the characteristics API consumers care the most about are ease of use, accurate and detailed documentation, and responsiveness/performance.

Takeaway #4: Do you still use email?

Let’s turn our attention to developer communication. In the new world of development, teams can be distributed across various geographies, time zones, and organizations. Within the workflow of API development, it’s normal for various stages of the lifecycle to be handled by different teams – some working on design, others on testing and virtualization, and often prior to any code being implemented. As one might expect, collaboration between development and test teams was rated exceptionally high.

As you can see from the chart above, an overwhelming 76% of respondents cited collaboration as being very or extremely important, with only 1% finding collaboration not important at all. But today there are so many ways to communicate, right? It’s only natural that some methods would rise above others as a preferred means of communication.

For instance, you’ll see that the survey found email is losing ground for the third year in a row, ranking as only the 3rd most adopted means of communicating with co-workers. Way ahead of email is Jira, a project management platform, which is leading the pack. Not surprisingly, Slack scored a close second, just behind Jira.

The move to more immediate, collaborative messaging makes sense. Particularly given the unique nature of this year, as more people, including development teams, adopt remote working arrangements. Let’s face it, team collaboration can’t really happen in-person. Slack and Jira allow for faster communication – they’re less clunky and formal than email. And, from what we’ve seen with deadlines shrinking, teams from all areas of API development need a quick way to communicate, and these are the tools that are most popular:

Takeaway #5: Microservices and DevOps emerge as key technologies to facilitate API growth

I don’t know about you, but it seems everywhere I turn, there’s some mention of microservices, Kubernetes, or Docker. Maybe it’s my search history or cookies, but in truth, microservices are really gaining a foothold in the world of IT architecture. Their fine-grained quality makes them fast to develop and lightweight to deploy – a perfect complement to cloud architectures. Any wonder that for three years in a row developers have named microservices their top choice for technology that will drive growth in APIs.

Just behind microservices, survey respondents chose DevOps as being highly impactful in spurring API growth. As a practice, DevOps has become the go-to approach for organizations who strive to shorten their software development lifecycles while maintaining quality.

Improving efficiency while maintaining quality resonates as a key issue throughout this report.


Takeaway #6: Quick and easy is the name of the game

The options for API developers are expanding day by day, while the opportunities for incorporating APIs into different use cases grow. With this growth has come new API standards and protocols. For many developers, their first exposure to API development was using the open source framework Swagger to define their RESTful APIs. With the donation of Swagger by SmartBear to the Linux Foundation, the OpenAPI Initiative was born.

Today, the overwhelmingly predominant standard for API developers is still Swagger, albeit now referred to as the OpenAPI Specification (OAS). Swagger is more commonly known as the open source API design tools that support OAS. As you can see from the chart, OpenAPI/Swagger is cited at 82% as the choice by developers for defining a RESTful API. But there are others showing increased adoption year over year, including GraphQL and gRPC, which, while small in overall numbers, are showing strong growth.

Do you use any common standards for defining APIs or web services?


2020 has been an unexpected year to say the least. The pandemic has forced many organizations to accelerate their shift to digital in order to survive. Those with existing online business operations have gained a competitive advantage and their familiarity with APIs tools has made the change to a new reality easier.

To that end, the State of API is gaining strength, keeping pace with a world that is changing faster than ever before. COVID-19 may have ushered in a new normal, but APIs have and continue to drive a new era of digital business.

If you want to explore more about the State of API 2020, download a complimentary copy. The information in this report could help your organization identify opportunities. Like how to optimize your API workflow to improve internal interoperability, accelerate cloud deployments, or create more engaging web or mobile experiences.