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March 09, 2015

How to Manage Your APIs

March 09, 2015

In the changing tech landscape, it seems like every website needs to be integrated with at least five different websites, social platforms, apps, or other networked software. And, beyond the ever-evolving tech world, they also need to be up to date with all the sharp new animations and emojis – and still run on every device from the iPhone 1 to the Galaxy S16+.

Normally, developers just wave our magic wands and say a few words, but, when that doesn’t work, we rely on APIs (and hopefully some good documentation!) for the tools we need. APIs allow us to build websites which allow you to log-in to LinkedIn with your Twitter account or your Spotify with your Google+, and stay up to date with all your friends’ impressive Candy Crush progress. For developers, they act as a box of shortcuts, providing instructions that let us quickly and reliably piece together dynamic and socially-driven websites without having to recreate the wheel each time.

99% of the time we can rely on a website’s integration with an API to work as expected, giving our sites that cutting-edge feel that comes from implementing a product that is constantly being improved. However, integrating with other software can be detrimental if you don’t monitor and stay on top of those connections. This is mostly true for APIs provided by services like Facebook and Twitter who you have to interact with directly (i.e., sending requests for a user’s friend list or their log-in credentials): this means you have less control when you receive updates.

Generally, updates aren’t a big deal because they involve the removal of an old feature that your site never used, but in a worst case scenario an API will receive a “breaking change.” If you don’t update your site to handle the new change by the time it’s released, who knows which features on your site will stop working! The good news is, there are ways of finding out about those changes before they happen, and preventing your site from crashing. The bad news is: it’s not a one-and-done deal – it takes time and resources to maintain your API integrations.

Here’s how you can stay API-proactive:

API Changelog Screenshot


This screenshot gives you an idea of the variety of APIs listed on apichangelog.com

  1. API Changelog
    APIChangelog.com provided the closest solution to our problem that I could find. It allows you to “follow” the APIs you’re interested in, sends alerts anytime one of them changes, only shows you the information you care about, and even sends you a daily email (but only if there’s a change you need to know about).

    Though it currently follows only 68 APIs, it’s still a very useful resource for most situations, and performs a much needed function. I’m very excited to start using API Changelog and watching how it grows. I would love to see the addition of more APIs and even a way to keep your sites organized by linking them with the APIs you are following.
  2. Facebook and Twitter
    Most APIs I’ve worked with maintain their own social media presence or blog and apart from a little shameless advertising, their feeds are usually filled with announcements about upcoming changes and important information for developers. Through their developer app manager, Facebook even sends you notifications of updates that may affect your apps months in advance and tells you how to fix them. This is by no means a one-stop-shop solution and sifting through 30 different news feeds for relevant updates is going to be time-consuming. However, if you want to be certain that you aren’t going to miss a breaking change this is probably the safest solution.
  3. ProgrammableWeb.com
    As they say on their website, ProgrammableWeb is “the world’s leading source of news and information about internet-based application programming interfaces (APIs).” This is a great resource for wide-ranging API information, from whether it supports SSL to recent news articles mentioning it. Their database includes over 12,987 APIs – so if you want to use a specific API, you can probably find more about it here. Lastly, they have a nifty feature that allows you to “track” different APIs and search terms, and receive a weekly email update log based on your preferences. This is a great idea in theory, but unfortunately the emails left a lot to be desired insofar as our issue is concerned. This is a great website if you are testing out an API and want to see how other people have used it, or just shopping around and want all the news and gossip. It’s not great if you just want to make sure your OpenID integration doesn’t break unexpectedly.

What other tools and resources do you use to stay proactive on API changes that may affect your website?

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