Application programming interfaces (APIs) are increasingly essential in web development, as well as more broadly across the world of software engineering and IT.
The key to successfully implementing and adapting APIs is making best use of the testing tools that are available. To bring you up to speed with this dynamic area and to show how such tools can enhance your own skills and career, here is a look at what APIs can be used to achieve and which tools are worth learning.
There is a whole host of metaphors often used to describe what an Application Programming Interface is designed to do. But rather than going on some confusing metaphorical tangent, it is better to speak about them simply.
In essence, APIs are the means by which two different applications are able to communicate with one another, fulfilling requests for data which might be made over a network even if the apps themselves are not natively interoperable.
Clearly there is a lot more going on under the surface than this implies, but since APIs are used in everything from social media websites to video streaming services, weather apps and beyond, anyone should be able to comprehend the key role they play in facilitating the smooth operation of modern digital solutions.
Here’s a basic example of an API in action: a hiking trail finder app such as AllTrails can use the Google Maps API to overlay Google’s latest maps over its trail data and provide users with driving directions to trailheads. This example could also be extended with the use of another API such as a weather forecast API. Where users could filter out hiking trails where the weather conditions could be favorable for this activity.
Why API Testing Tools Matter
Building an API is one thing, but actually making sure that it functions as intended, performs as expected, is adequately reliable and provides enough security to prevent exploitation is a whole different matter.
This is where API testing comes into play, and there are a plethora of tools that are attuned to fulfill all of these requirements.
Whether you use popular platforms like Postman, Paw or other options, the main perk of making good use of testing tools in an API context is that it will teach you many lessons that are equally applicable to the wider process of web development.
Performance in particular is something that API testing lets you focus your attention on, and in an era when end users are becoming increasingly picky about putting up with sluggish services, you clearly need to be on the ball with your optimizations. There are lots of different moving parts that determine how well an API performs, just as there are when it comes to building a robustly speedy website. In many cases, if your site plays host to an app, the performance of these two elements will be intrinsically linked.
Security is another part of API testing that has real relevance when designing and building the underpinnings of a website. Factoring in authentication, dealing with the risks of DDoS attacks and effectively protecting user data in transit using encryption are all things that on-the-ball developers need to be able to juggle.
In short, working with API testing tools will not just make you a better developer of APIs alone, but will certainly help to hone your web development skills.
The Best API Testing Tools
As mentioned, there are a multitude of API testing tools on the market at the moment, but rather than covering them all, let us take a look at 3 of the biggest players to see where they stand out and what shortcomings they have.
One of the best known tools is undoubtedly Postman. It went from being a Chrome extension to becoming a collaborative platform for API developers. Among its most outstanding features you can find automated testing, monitoring of your APIs and workspaces, among others. Insomnia.rest is another platform very similar to Postman with a huge community behind.
The aforementioned Paw is a good starting place, as it has the benefit of being a Mac-focused API tool that can help test comprehensively within this particular ecosystem. It is geared towards creating effective HTTP requests and seeing how well a server responds, with a trial version giving you a free way to see what it can do.
SoapUI is another top testing tool, especially if you are eager to try out scenarios that involve a greater degree of complexity. Even so, it manages to be user-friendly thanks to its drag and drop test creation interface. The main downside is that it could do with a bit more documentation to thoroughly explain the potential it provides.
Complementarily, you can make use of marketplaces like RapidAPI where you can find different APIs and analyze how they work. This will help you implement these APIs in your APP, as you will be able to see the types of requests available, their structures and the responses that each one returns.
Whichever API testing tool you decide to tinker with, all of your input and efforts will have long term benefits for your web development skills, as well as for your career in this industry.