2021 State of the API Report

Postman State Of The API Report Postmanauts researching ontop of graphs. Illustration.

API-First and Other Strategies

Embracing API-first

Many teams and organizations are embracing an API-first philosophy. In fact, two-thirds of this year’s survey respondents ranked themselves as a five or higher in terms of embracing API-first, while 62% ranked themselves in this way in 2020. It’s clear that the industry as a whole is generally trending toward API-first, but it’s only a select few who are leading the way—8% rank themselves as 9 or 10 on the scale of embracing API-first. We refer to these respondents as "API-first leaders."

0: 3%
1: 5%
2: 6%
3: 9%
4: 10%
5: 28%
6: 11%
7: 11%
8: 9%
9: 3%
10: 5%

Defining API-first

But we wanted to dig even deeper: What does "API-first" mean to API developers and professionals? When it comes to defining API-first, we found a variety of responses, and the industry as a whole appears to be moving toward this definition: defining and designing APIs and underlying schema before developing dependent APIs, applications, or integrations. The next favorite? A little more than 3 out of every 10 developers and API professionals preferred developing APIs before developing applications or integrations dependent on APIs. Interestingly, only 10% of respondents said that they’re not sure what API-first means, down from 13% in 2020.

Defining and designing APIs,and schema before beginning,development: 42%
Developing APIs before developing,applications or integrations: 31%
Defining business requirements,before defining and designing APIs: 16%
I’m not sure.: 10%

Due to rounding, percentages may not add up to 100%.

API-first in our organization means that we can think of what IS possible rather than what IS NOT possible when it comes to providing the best features and functionality for our products and services to our members. We no longer have the difficulties of customization or integrations with systems and applications."

Andrew C., Vice President, Development

Development priorities

We asked respondents to identify the top priorities for their development teams and organizations, and there was a clear winner: quality, coming in at 80%. Agility, reliability, security, and speed of development were also important to more than half of respondents. What seemed to be less of a concern? Reducing costs, cited by less than one-third of API professionals.

API-first leaders were even more likely to cite quality, reliability, agility, and security as priorities than other survey respondents.

Quality: 80%
Agility: 66%
Reliability: 65%
Security: 56%
Speed of development: 54%
Reducing costs: 32%

Multiple responses allowed.

Public vs private vs partner

Respondents were asked to allocate 100 points among three API categories (public, private, and partner) to indicate the percentage of APIs in their organization for each. The leader again this year is private APIs.

Interestingly, API-first leaders reported a lower percentage of private APIs and higher percentage of public APIs, indicating that these leaders spend less time coding functionality in-house when they can rely on functionality already publicly available from others across the industry.

Private (only used by your team or your company): 58%
Partner (shared only with integration partners): 27%
Public (openly available on the web): 15%

API design

We asked respondents at what point in a project they typically consider API design. The majority of survey-takers said that they consider API design early in a project, before development kicks off. Almost 1 in 5 consider API design even before stakeholder expectations are set, and a similar ratio considers API design in the middle of projects. Less than 10% of respondents consider API design last or aren’t concerned with API design at all.

Within job functions, quality engineers were more likely to state that API design is considered early, while full stack and frontend developers were less likely to state that API design is considered early.

API design is considered first,,before stakeholder expectations: 18%
API design is considered early,,before development kicks off: 57%
API design is considered in the,middle of a project: 18%
API design is considered last: 3%
We aren’t concerned with API design: 6%

Due to rounding, percentages may not add up to 100%.

Factors considered: API integration

When asked what factors are considered before integrating with an API, four factors were cited by more than two-thirds of survey respondents: security, performance, reliability, and documentation. Also notable were scalability and usability, important to more than half of respondents. Interestingly customer support, provider reputation, and popularity/adoption were considered less important.

API-first leaders were more likely than other respondents to cite the top four factors: security, performance, reliability, and documentation.

Security: 72%
Performance: 72%
Reliability: 69%
Documentation: 65%
Scalability: 59%
Usability: 52%
Pricing: 41%
Health/uptime: 38%
Changes/versioning: 31%
Development community: 29%
Customer support: 29%
Provider reputation: 25%
Popularity/adoption: 24%

Multiple responses allowed.

Factors considered: producing APIs

When asked what factors individuals consider when deciding to produce an API, the leading factor—mentioned by almost 67% of respondents—was integration between internal applications, programs, or systems. Integration with external systems, adding or enhancing functionality of internal systems, and adding or enhancing functionality for customers round out the top four—all mentioned by more than half of respondents.

API-first leaders were more likely than other respondents to cite those same top four factors: internal integration, external integration, and adding or enhancing functionality for both internal users and customers.

Integration with internal systems: 67%
Integration with external systems: 59%
Adding and/or enhancing functionality,of internal systems: 58%
Adding and/or enhancing functionality,for customers: 57%
Speeding up development: 43%
Improving organizational,security/governance: 38%
Improving testing: 38%
Reducing operation costs: 34%
Enabling mobile applications: 34%
Reducing development costs: 33%
Reducing organizational risk: 25%

Multiple responses allowed.

Factors considered: consuming APIs

When asked what factors individuals consider when deciding to consume an API, the factors included in the top four remain the same as cited by individuals deciding to produce an API (see above); however, the priorities are slightly shifted. The number one factor is integration with external systems, followed by adding or enhancing functionality for customers, adding or enhancing functionality of internal systems, and integration between internal systems. One factor that takes higher precedence when consuming APIs versus producing APIs: speeding up development.

Continuing the trend we observed among those deciding to produce an API, API-first leaders were even more likely to cite these same top factors for consuming an API than other survey respondents.

Integration with external systems: 58%
Adding and/or enhancing functionality,for customers: 54%
Adding and/or enhancing functionality,of internal systems: 54%
Integration between internal systems: 53%
Speeding up development: 50%
Reducing development costs: 44%
Reducing operation costs: 40%
Improving organizational,security/governance: 35%
Improving testing of systems: 35%
Enabling mobile applications: 27%
Reducing organizational risk: 26%

Multiple responses allowed.