{"API Evangelist"}

If I Could Design My Perfect API Design Editor

Swagger is now Open API Definition Format (OADF) -- READ MORE

I’ve been thinking a lot about API design lately, the services and tooling coming from Apiary, RAML and Swagger, and wanted to explore some thoughts around what I would consider to be killer features for the killer API design editor. Some of these thoughts are derived from the features I’ve seen in Apiary and RAML editor, and most recently the Swagger Editor, but I’d like to *riff* on a little bit and play with what could be the next generation of features.

While exploring my dream API design editor, I’d like to walk through each group of features, organized around my indentations and objectives around my API designs.

Getting Started
When kicking off the API design process, I want to be able to jumpstart the API design lifecycle from multiple sources. There will be many times that I want to start from a clean slate, but many times I will be working from existing patterns.

My goals in getting started with API design, will be centered around re-use the best patterns across the API space, as well as my own individual or company API design gallery. We are already mimicking much of this behavior, we just don’t have a central API design editor for managing these flows.

Editing My API Design
Now we get to the meat of the post, the editor. I have several things in mind when I’m actually editing a single API definition, functions I want, actions I want to take around my API design. These are just a handful of the editor specific features I’d love to see in my perfect API design editor.

The API design editor should work like most IDE’s we see today, but keep it simple, and reflect extensibility like GIthub’s Atom editor. My editor should give me full control over my API designs, and enable me to take action in many pre-defined or custom ways one could imagine.

Taking Action
My API designs represent the truth of my API, at any point within its lifecycle, from initial conception to deprecation. In my perfect editor I should be able to take meaningful actions around my API designs. For the purposes of this story I’m going to group actions into some meaningful buckets, that reflect the expanding areas of the API lifecycle. You will notice the four areas below, reflect the primary areas I track on via API Evangelist.

Design Actions
Early on in my API lifecycle, while I’m crafting new designs, I will need to take action around my designs. Designs actions will help me iterate on designs before I reach expensive deployment and management phases.

API design actions are the first stop, in the expanding API design lifecycle. Being able to easily generate mocks, share my interfaces and collaborate with other stakeholders. Allowing me to quickly, seamlessly take action throughout the early design cycles will save me money, time and resources early on—something that only become more costly and restrictive later on in the lifecycle.

Deployment Actions
Next station in the API design lifecycle, is being able to deploy APIs from my designs. Each of the existing API definition formats provide API deployment solutions, and with the evolution in cloud computing, we are seeing even more complete, modular ways to take action around your API designs.

I need help to deploy my APIs, and with container solutions like Docker, I should have predefined packages I can configure with my API designs, and deploy using popular container solutions from Google, Amazon, or other coud provider.

Management Actions
After I deploy an API I will need to use my API definitions as a guide for an increasing number of areas of my management process, not just the technical, but the business and politics of my API operations.

I predict, with the increased adoption of machine readable API formats like API Blueprint, RAML and Swagger, we will see more layers of the API management process be expanded on, further automating how we manage APis.

Discovery Actions
Having your APIs found, and being able to find the right API design for integration, are two sides of an essential coin in the API lifecycle. We are just now beginning to get a handle on what is need when it comes to API discovery.

The discovery of APIs has long been a problem, but is just now reaching the critical point where we have to start develop solutions for not just finding APIs, but also understanding what they offer, and the details of of the interface, so we can make sense of not just the technical, but business and political decisions around API driven resources.

Integration Actions
Flipping from providing APIs to consuming APIs, I envision a world where I can take actions around my API designs, that focus on the availability, and integration of valuable API driven resources. As an API provider, I need as much as assistance as I can, to look at my APIs from an external perspective, and being able to take action in this area will grow increasingly important.

I’d say that API integration is the fastest growing area of the AP space, second only to API design itself. Understanding how an API operates, from an integrators perspective is valuable, not just to the integrator, but also the provider. I need to be thinking about integration issues early on in the API design lifecyle to minimize costly changes downstream.

Custom Actions
I’ve laid out some of the essential actions I’d like to be able to take around my API definitions, throughout the API lifecycle. I expect the most amount of extensibility from my API design editor, in the future, and should be able to extend in any way that I need.

We’ve reached a point where using API definitions like API Blueprint, RAML, and Swagger are common place, and being able to innovate around what actions we take throughout the API design lifecycle will be critical to the space moving forward, and how companies take action around their own APIs.

API Design Gallery
In my editor, I need a central location to store and manage all of my API designs. I’m calling this a gallery, because I do not want it only to be a closed off repository of designs, I want to encourage collaboration, and even public sharing of common API design patterns. I see several key API editor features I will need in my API design gallery.

My API design gallery will be the central place i work from. Once I reach a critical mass of designs, I will have many of the patterns I need to design, deploy and manage my APIs. It will be important for me to have access to import the best patterns from public repositories like API Commons. To evolve as an API designer, I need to easily create, store, and evolve my own API designs, while also being influenced by the best patterns available in the public domain.

Embeddable Gallery
Simple visualization can be an effective tool in helping demonstrate the value an API delivers. I want to be able to manage open, API driven visualizations, using platforms like D3.js. I need an arsenal of embeddable, API driven visualizations to help tell the store of the API resources I provide, give me a gallery to manage them.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and being able to easily generate interactive visualizations, driven by API resources, that can be embedded anywhere is critical to my storytelling process. I will use embeddable tools to tell the story of my API, but my API consumers will also use these visualizations as part of their efforts, and hopefully develop their own as well.

API Dictionary
I need a common dictionary to work from when designing my APIs. I need to use consistent interface names, field names, parameters, headers, media types, and other definitions that will assist me in providing the best API experience possible.

I want my API design process to be driven by a common dictionary that fits my unique needs, but borrows from the best patterns already available in the public space. We already emulate many of the common patterns we come across, we just don’t have any common dictionary to work from, enforcing healthy design via my editor.

An Editor For Just My Own API Design Process
This story has evolved over the last two weeks, as I spent time in San Francisco, discussing API design, then spending a great deal of time driving, and thinking about the API design lifecycle. This is all part of my research into the expanding world of API design, which will result in a white paper soon, and my intent is to just shed some light on what might be some of the future building blocks of the API design space. My thoughts are very much based in my own selfish API design needs, but based upon what i’m seeing in the growing API design space.

An Editor For A Collective API Design Process
With this story, I intend to help keep the API design process a collaborative, and when relevant a public affair. I want to ensure we work from existing patterns that are defined in the space, and as we iterative and evolve APIs, we collectively share our best patterns. You should not just be proud of your API designs, and willing to share publicly, you should demonstrate the due diligence that went into your design, attribute the patterns you used to contribute to your designs, and share back your own interpretation—encouraging re-use and sharing further downstream.

What Features Would Be Part of Your Perfect API Design Editor
This is my vision around the future of API design, and what I’d like to have in my editor—what is yours? What do you need as part of your API design process? Are API definitions part of the “truth” in your API lifecycle? I’d love to hear what tools and services you think should be made available, to assist us in designing our APIs.

Disclosure: I'm still editing and linking up this post. Stay tuned for updates.

Updated November 27, 2015: Links were updated as part of switch from Swagger to OADF (READ MORE)