Learn how a well-defined API lifecycle helps team members stay on the same page and develop high-quality APIs—even at enterprise scale.
What is the API lifecycle?
The API lifecycle is the series of steps that teams must take in order to successfully design, develop, deploy, and consume APIs. Teams that follow a clearly defined API lifecycle are more productive and better equipped to deliver a high-quality API.
A stable API lifecycle is an essential part of an effective API governance strategy, as it lays the groundwork for stage-specific policies and processes that support collaboration and enable organizations to maximize the value of their API portfolio.
API producers and consumers follow separate—but related—API lifecycles. In this article, which focuses on the producer lifecycle, we'll discuss how a well-defined API lifecycle can help teams successfully implement the API-first strategy. We'll then explore the eight stages of the producer API lifecycle in detail—and review some best practices for API lifecycle management. Finally, we'll showcase several features of the Postman API Platform that enable teams to collaborate efficiently throughout the API lifecycle.
How does a well-defined API lifecycle support the API-first approach?
Today, many teams are designing and building applications as a collection of internal and external services that are delivered through APIs. This approach, which is known as API-first, has led to the widespread proliferation of private, partner, and public APIs that help organizations unlock new features and advance their business goals. But as APIs multiply and evolve, it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure that each one is highly performant, secure, and able to meet consumer needs. A well-defined API lifecycle, which identifies the owners, governance policies, and tools for each stage, establishes a shared understanding and vocabulary for API-related work. This helps team members stay on the same page and consistently develop high-quality APIs—even at enterprise scale.
What are the benefits of API lifecycle management?
In addition to making it easier for teams to adopt the API-first approach, API lifecycle management can also lead to:
- Increased productivity: API lifecycle management is about establishing tried-and-true processes for designing, developing, and deploying APIs. These processes improve collaboration by reducing confusion and unnecessary work, which can lead to substantial and sustainable productivity gains.
- Greater visibility: API lifecycle management creates a clear roadmap for every API-related project, which gives leaders better visibility into an API's trajectory. It also lays the groundwork for an effective API monitoring strategy, which can be used to keep tabs on every API's health, performance, and usage.
- Organizational alignment: API lifecycle management establishes a common vocabulary for all API-related work within an organization. This not only helps teams communicate more effectively, but also improves morale by ensuring that everyone is working towards a shared goal.
What are the 8 stages of the API lifecycle?
Every API is different and will therefore follow a unique lifecycle as teams bring it to life. Nevertheless, the following eight stages provide an effective blueprint that can help organizations standardize their processes, policies, and workflows.
Stage 1: Define
In the first stage of the API lifecycle, product managers and other stakeholders must define the operational, business, and security requirements for a single API or group of APIs. This requires them to agree on the API's intended use case—and identify the team members who will move it through each subsequent stage of the lifecycle. They should also create and configure a dedicated workspace where team members can collaborate, as well as a GitHub repository that is connected to a CI pipeline. These steps help stabilize the rest of the API lifecycle and establish locations and tooling for stage-specific work.
Stage 2: Design
API design involves making intentional decisions about how an API will expose data to consumers. These decisions are then captured in an API definition, which is a human- and machine-readable representation of an API's intended functionality. API definitions adhere to API specifications, such as OpenAPI and AsyncAPI, which provide a standardized format and vocabulary for API definitions and lay the foundation for API contracts, documentation, mocks, and tests.
Leaders may wish to standardize the design stage by defining organizational patterns and practices for shaping the surface area and behavior of APIs. For instance, they may require that all teams follow the OpenAPI specification, and they may also define style rules for capitalization, naming, and punctuation that can be enforced through automated checks.
Stage 3: Develop
After the API has been designed, developers are tasked with writing code that implements its intended functionality. Most development teams use Git for version control, which enables them to safely manage changes and revert to previous iterations if necessary. They also typically use GitHub or GitLab repositories to store their source code, keep track of code-related issues, and conduct code reviews. Development workflows vary widely, so it's important for leaders to clearly define these processes in order to standardize their team's approach.
Stage 4: Test
API testing, which occurs during the “develop,” “secure,” and “deploy” stages of the API lifecycle, enables developers and QA teams to confirm that an API is working as expected. API tests can be executed manually, or they can be automatically run from multiple geographic regions or within CI/CD pipelines. Testing early and often helps teams surface and remediate issues before they become ingrained or reach production.
There are many different types of API tests, and each one serves a unique purpose. For instance, contract tests are used to ensure that any changes do not cause the API to deviate from what was promised during the design stage. Performance tests, in contrast, can help confirm that an API is able to deliver responses in an appropriate amount of time.
Stage 5: Secure
The “secure” phase of the API lifecycle involves checking an API for common security vulnerabilities that can compromise an application's overall security posture. For instance, it's important to confirm that an API's authentication logic only allows legitimate users to interact with the API and access its data. These API security checks can be run manually or automatically within CI/CD pipelines, and they help ensure that every API within an organization's portfolio follows the same security standards.
Stage 6: Deploy
The “deploy” stage of the API lifecycle refers to the process of publishing APIs to development, staging, and production environments. Many teams leverage CI/CD pipelines and API gateways to standardize the deployment process and ensure that every batch of changes is properly tested and secured before it reaches consumers. Consistent processes make deployments more predictable, which is particularly important for agile teams that ship new code several times a week.
Stage 7: Observe
The “observe” stage of the API lifecycle involves collecting, visualizing, and alerting on API telemetry data in production. During this stage, SREs and DevOps engineers will configure monitors to automatically notify them of API performance and security issues—and leverage APM tools that place API performance data in context. API observability plays a crucial role in surfacing errors, latency, and security vulnerabilities before they negatively impact dependent services, partners, and customers.
Stage 8: Distribute
During the “distribute” stage, teams will focus on improving their API's discoverability. API catalogs play a crucial role in this stage. Public API catalogs help API producers reach and support third-party consumers, while private API catalogs make it easier for internal teams to collaborate and consume one another's APIs. Every API should also include a detailed description and relevant tags, which will help ensure it can be surfaced by the catalog's search engine.
Distribution may be the last stage of the API lifecycle, but it's not the end. API work is highly iterative, and teams will constantly return to the earliest lifecycle stages as they address consumer feedback and develop new features.
What are some best practices for API lifecycle management?
API lifecycle management is the process of overseeing every stage of an API's lifecycle—and ensuring that each one is running as smoothly as possible. This is a complex undertaking that can have a direct impact on the business, but the following best practices will help set teams up for success.
Establish a clear, stable, and specific definition for each stage
As we mentioned above, every API will follow a unique lifecycle that reflects its type, use case, and level of maturity. Leaders must therefore establish a clear definition of each stage that reflects the specific requirements of their API. Ambiguous definitions may lead to confusion and misinterpretation, which will undermine the larger goal of developing high-quality APIs as efficiently as possible. Any changes to the lifecycle definition should be carefully considered and only made if absolutely necessary.
Document each stage of the lifecycle, as well as its relevant policies and processes
The API lifecycle won't be useful if its definition is not easily accessible, which makes it important for leaders to thoroughly document each stage's owners, processes, tools, and policies in a centralized location. They might also create a visual diagram of the lifecycle, which can be easily shared in decks, blog posts, and workshops. Making the lifecycle definition highly available helps keep everyone on the same page and enables new team members to onboard as quickly as possible.
Leverage a unified API platform
The API lifecycle requires many different stakeholders—such as developers, testers, architects, product managers, and business strategists—to work together towards a shared goal. These stakeholders need visibility into one another's work to ensure alignment. Organizations should therefore leverage a unified API platform to ground the lifecycle, break down silos between teams, and ensure every stakeholder is able to see their work in context.
What is the future of API lifecycle management?
An increasing number of organizations are leveraging private, partner, and public APIs to modernize their tech stacks, deliver new features, and remain competitive in today's market. These organizations are also investing heavily in API lifecycle management to maximize the value of their growing API portfolios and ensure the success of their digital strategies. As API lifecycle management continues to evolve, it's likely that we'll see the following trends emerge:
- Increased adoption of API platforms: An API platform is a software system with integrated tools and processes that allow teams to effectively build, manage, publish, and consume APIs. API platforms will continue to redefine API lifecycle management by enabling organizations to harness the full potential of private, partner, and public APIs while using the tools, protocols, languages, and runtimes that work best for them.
- Reduced API sprawl: Increased awareness of API lifecycle management has been driven, in part, by the shift towards microservice-based architectures. Microservices support rapid iteration and scalability, but they can also overproliferate. As teams continue to dedicate resources to API lifecycle management, it's likely that API sprawl will become less problematic.
- Increased automation: Automation will play an increasingly important role in API lifecycle management by streamlining the documentation, testing, and deployment processes. API test automation, in particular, will become even more deeply ingrained in teams' workflows, as it enables them to continuously validate their work during rapid development cycles.
How can Postman help teams manage the API lifecycle?
The Postman API Platform has been recognized by Gartner® as a Visionary in the Full Lifecycle API Management category for two years in a row. It includes a robust feature set that enables teams to efficiently collaborate at every stage of the API lifecycle while prioritizing quality, performance, and security. With Postman, you can:
- Generate and edit API definitions: Postman enables teams to import an existing API definition or generate a new one from scratch. Postman supports OpenAPI, RAML, Protobuf, GraphQL, or WSDL definitions, so teams can choose the specification that works best for them. Users can also automatically generate API documentation for any OpenAPI 3.0 definition, which will include information about each path, operation, and data model.
- Establish and apply an API governance strategy: With Postman API Governance, leaders can select and configure pre-built API governance rules from our in-app library. These rules can be applied to any API definition in Postman, and violations can be reviewed from within the platform.
- Enforce security rules on API definitions and requests: Postman API Security provides a set of default security rules, based on the OWASP “Top 10” for APIs, which will automatically surface common vulnerabilities and violations in any API landscape.
- Improve discoverability for private and public APIs: Postman's Public API Network allows public API producers to grow their developer ecosystem and provide direct support to consumers, while the Private API Network enables internal teams to easily discover and consume one another's APIs.
- Collaborate efficiently: Postman workspaces give teams shared, centralized access to the tools they need—such as collections, environments, documentation, mock servers, and tests—to solve problems together. Postman also supports in-line commenting, which reduces context switching by enabling team members to give one another feedback directly alongside the relevant API artifacts.
- Seamlessly integrate with third-party tools: Postman integrates with a variety of third-party tools that are commonly used throughout the API lifecycle. For instance, our GitHub and GitLab integrations enable teams to maintain a single source of truth for their API artifacts, while our CircleCI, Jenkins, and Travis CI integrations let them execute Postman API tests within their CI pipeline of choice. For a complete list of Postman integrations, see the documentation.