The terms API-enabled and API-first are often used interchangeably, particularly in core banking and fintech lexicon. However, these terms are not equal; in fact, there are important distinctions between the two. Here we will explore the definitions of these terms, and examine why we at Highway have opted for an API-first approach towards developing our platform.
Application programming interfaces (APIs), and the API economy, have become business critical assets to companies operating in the digital age. The ability of companies in all sectors to effectively integrate well-designed APIs into their systems, and use them in a way that best supports their objectives, can prove to be a main differentiator in how well their operations can scale. Before examining the differences between API-first and API-enabled, let’s first ask:
What is an API?
An API is a software intermediary which enables an application to interact with external applications, operating systems, microservices, or data. They can be used to enable automation and straight-through-processing, as well as for pooling and analysing various data sources. As a result, APIs both simplify application development and also unlock new opportunities for innovation.The technical design process for an API is well-defined, with design patterns such as REST and HATEOAS supporting standardisation and helping developers to avoid mistakes. As a result, modern APIs are developer-friendly, self-described, easily accessible, and broadly understood.
APIs have allowed developers to reimagine software architectures, giving rise to API-enabled and API-first platforms. Although these terms sound similar, there are important distinctions between them.
- Ann Adams, UX Researcher
The meaning of API-enabled
API-first is a software development approach where the design and development process begin with the API and takes precedence over other aspects of the system. API-enabled is very different.API-enabled typically means that a system or platform has the capability to integrate with or use APIs. It means that the system has the necessary infrastructure, tools and functionality to interact with external APIs to access and utilize data sources or external services through an API. So, API-enabled systems can integrate with APIs, but they are not API-centric or primarily built around APIs.
What is an API-first approach?
APIs have been around for roughly two decades now, but the concept of an API-first approach is something that has gained traction with developers in just the past few years.
An API-first approach involves building software products around APIs from the ground up, as opposed to building the product first and later adding API layers.
- Ann Adams, UX Researcher
API-first development aims to ensure that the API is well-defined, robust and scalable before building the rest of the system around it. This approach promotes the creation of modular and decoupled systems that can be easily integrated into a larger ecosystem and extended through the API.