Elevating API Quality with Stoplight and SmartBear 

  August 22, 2023

SmartBear has entered a definitive agreement to acquire Stoplight, a global API design-first company. Together, we can deliver an unparalleled API platform on a global scale.   

Why does it matter?  

APIs are the backbone of modern software. They enable the seamless integration between diverse systems to deliver the digital experiences that we’ve come to rely on, even take for granted. Yet, good APIs are hard to deliver!   

If we peel back the covers, most development teams are grappling with the need for easier ways to ensure that quality APIs can be delivered consistently.   

Figure 1 - API Industry Challenges - SmartBear State of Software Quality API, 2023  

In the absence of standardized practices, poor quality can leak in, and delivered APIs often face issues related to security vulnerabilities, inadequate documentation, and inconsistent user experiences. These challenges stem from a lack of collaboration and governance in the API development lifecycle. The negative impact can materially influence the success of an API, the wider API program, and in some cases, even the company at large. Solving such challenges related to standardization, security, and reusability regardless of scale is non-trivial.   

To tackle these challenges, both SmartBear and Stoplight have been vocal thought leaders in the merits of an API-first (even design-first) approach. Thankfully, it’s an approach the API industry is embracing.   

In a nutshell, this involves adopting an outside-in mindset with respect to collaborative understanding of the problem to be solved by any given API. Then, we must intentionally design to solve the problem in a manner that’s validated by the intended consumers through short feedback cycles, while still abiding by the constraints on the provider side. Effectively, we refer to this approach as shifting left on many of the considerations within the development lifecycle before falling victim to potential sunk cost fallacy.   

Shift Left and We’re Done? Sounds Simple….  

Well, not quite!   

The modern-day integration landscape for most organizations has become more complex. We are dealing with increasing API numbers, shifts toward composable architecture approaches, increasing variety in styles and patterns, increasing variety in technical specifications, protocols, and software stacks. In examining some of the findings from SmartBear’s report on the State of Software Quality API 2023, I don’t think it will surprise anyone that REST continues dominating API style preferences. However, we continue to see an increase in those using multiple different protocols, technologies, and API styles (~81% more than one with ~57% using three or more). Additionally, this complexity is set against the backdrop of teams being more distributed than ever, and there being fewer skilled people available to keep up with demand.  

Figure 2 - Complex API Landscape - SmartBear State of Software Quality API, 2023  

Any initiative that shifts left on API delivery must happen in a controllable manner. A mindset change is required to understand why such a transition will benefit a team or organization, backed up by ensuring designers, developers, testers, and the broader stakeholders responsible for quality need to be equipped with the appropriate tools and techniques to reduce alignment gaps. Shifting left should be less a shimmy and more a frictionless glide toward enabling practitioners to collaboratively tackle the shared problems to be solved, while having confidence that the support system is in situ to promote quality being consistency delivered.  

Better Together  

SmartBear and Stoplight provide award-winning API tools which enable teams and organizations to capitalize on the advantages of decoupled capabilities delivered through APIs. By coming together and combining our capabilities, we can become the best API design and development platform in the world.  

API Governance: Enablement Rather than Impediment  

The shared ethos between both SmartBear and Stoplight has pivoted around enabling teams to address the common challenges of governance, collaboratively from the alignment and design phases right throughout the API lifecycle. Those who achieve appropriate levels of standardization and governance can enable the delivery of higher quality APIs consistently faster while remaining nimble to market changes.  

Standardization also promotes cross-functional participation in API delivery (remember - APIs are not just for IT) to validate that an API being delivered addresses a given problem in a manner that aligns with company standards. I often refer to this as All People Inclusive, as non-technical stakeholders play a critical role in the highly collaborative work of modern business value delivery. Afterall, that’s all that APIs are for – conduits to the business value that passes through them in the form of data or services.  

At the heart of a solid standardization approach lies API specifications such as OpenAPI, AsyncAPI, and JSON Schema. Broad support for specifications affords many benefits for API providers and consumers. The benefits come in many forms, but fundamentally as artefacts conforming to industry specifications act as the central point for collaboration across the various phases of API delivery and consumption. By their very nature of being both human and machine readable, development teams can identify issues early and create APIs that are more consistent, secure, and well-documented. This improves the consumer experience as well as the visibility needs from a provider perspective.  

The wide support of modern API specifications across the open source projects we support, as well as the commercial offerings of SmartBear and Stoplight, puts us in a unique position to enable teams regardless of size, means, or demographics.   

Better Engagement Across the API Community  

The open source core and engagement with the broader API community is what truly helps us tackle the challenges faced on the ground by API professionals around the world. Projects like Swagger, Pact, and SoapUI have been well known across the API space for the last decade. Being able to welcome exciting and innovative Stoplight open source tools such as Spectral, Prism, and Elements under the same umbrella presents our global communities with capabilities that cover most needs across the API lifecycle.  

I’m very excited about the potential to be achieved through closer cooperation, alignment, and collaboration by these API open source communities together with the wider API community.  

Engagement and vibrancy within our communities can help us contribute to solving the challenges that matter most. In turn, this puts us in a position where we can enable customers to elevate their approach to API quality at scale.   

The Future is Visibly Bright  

In summary, I see the addition of Stoplight’s excellent capabilities into the wider SmartBear API platform as being a force multiplier which soon will enable our collective customers and communities to deliver quality throughout their API journey.