Are Software Developers Taking Full Advantage of APIs?

As the software development industry continues to evolve, APIs, both providing and consuming them, will be a more common part of your processes.


Application programming interfaces (APIs) can make a software developer’s life a lot easier. APIs enable developers to easily connect their applications with new functionality, features, or data sources. They establish mutual communication, delivering a request to the API’s provider and delivering the response back to the consumer.

In the computing world, APIs are still a relatively new tool, with availability increasing in the past five years. So, information about API trends, best practices, and methodologies can help development teams establish their API processes and practices. To provide the industry with benchmarks, SmartBear released the third edition of its State of API 2020 Report, including these insights based on feedback from more than 1,500 developers and their teams.

Most Developers Are Both API Users and Consumers

Among developers surveyed, 77 percent report that they both consume and develop APIs. Interconnected systems, tools, and third-party partnerships increasingly drive API consumption. The web continues to lead API use cases, with mobile and back-end system integration close behind.

When wearing the “consumer” hat, developers value ease of use above all else. Developers who encounter issues report them directly to the provider, and 70 percent expect immediate notice on issues.

Communication Between Internal Systems is the Main API Development Driver

Two-thirds of respondents to the survey report that connecting internal systems is the main motivation behind API development. Success is measured in terms of performance and uptime. When asked which technology areas are expected to drive the most API growth in the next two years, the majority of respondents (65 percent) chose microservices. However, limited skills and experience are seen as challenges to growth in this area.

Standardization is a Challenge

SmartBear’s research results show that an organization’s size is an indicator of whether there it has a standardized API design process. Developers this year indicate that they prefer OpenAPI, but GraphQL and gRPC standards are increasing in popularity. Organizations report that they recognize the value of API style guides, but some have not yet developed them. Overall, API standardization continues to top the list of challenges that developers want to solve.

Bigger Software Development Companies are More Likely to Have API Documentation Processes

Larger organizations, those with 1,000 or more employees, are more likely to have formal API documentation. Two-thirds of organizations see limited time as the biggest obstacle to API documentation, and most teams leverage OpenAPI specification definitions to generate API documentation automatically.

Deadlines and Testing Clash

Over half of organizations (53 percent) have a formal API monitoring process, and 32 percent say they plan to establish one. Rapid-delivery expectations and total workload continue to make deadlines the biggest obstacle to quality. API quality is a priority to 75 percent of survey respondents’ organizations; however, threats to API quality include the time and resources necessary to troubleshoot issues.

API Tools Have to Be Easy to Use

Ease of use and ease of implementation are the primary drivers when choosing API tools. API development shows an increased emphasis on source control management (SCM) tools. The clear choice among survey respondents for source control tools is GitHub, while cloud vendors Amazon and Microsoft lead customer choice for API management platforms.

How Does Your Organization Stack Up Against API Benchmarks?

As the software development industry continues to evolve, APIs, both providing and consuming them, will be a more common part of your processes. The insights from this research can help you identify opportunities for improvement in how they can design, document, test, and monitor APIs across their software development lifecycle.