API Versioning

By Published On: September 19, 2023Categories: Blog, Tutorials, Uncategorized

In a dynamic environment like that of API development, one of the most critical, yet often overlooked challenges is API versioning. Imagine having a robust set of APIs that support various applications, but the needs of the users who utilize them continue to evolve. How can you upgrade your APIs safely and without causing confusion?

This is where “API versioning” comes into play. In this post, we will examine the concept of API versioning, providing a guide on how to address this fundamental challenge in your development strategy with ApiShare.

What is API Versioning?

Versioning is a practice that allows you to manage and maintain different versions of the same API.

The choice of versioning technique depends on the specific project requirements and organizational preferences. One of the most common versioning systems in the web development landscape is “semantic versioning”, as described by Tom Preston-Werner, the co-founder of GitHub.

An example of this approach includes version numbers like 1.0.0 or 2.1.1. This format involves concatenating three numbers using dot notation. The first number represents the major version, the second represents the minor version, and the third denotes the patch version. This numbering structure provides a clear indication of the changes made to the API, offering an effective means to manage evolutions over time.

Given a version number MAJOR.MINOR.PATCH, increment the:

1. MAJOR version when you make incompatible API changes
2. MINOR version when you add functionality in a backward compatible manner
3. PATCH version when you make backward compatible bug fixes

~Semantic Versioning by Tom Preston-Werner

Why is it so important?

Versioning is crucial for several reasons. The first aspect we’ll explore is compatibility. When a specific API is updated, the enhancements may or may not be backwards compatible. In the first case, proper versioning ensures backwards compatibility for new minor and patch versions. Instead, when a new major version is created, this denotes the absence of backwards compatibility to its users.

Versioning enables long-term support, as older versions can still be maintained even when new versions are released.

Another reason to adopt this practice is that APIs with a well-defined versioning system are easier and safer to use and integrate. Developers can rely on greater stability and predictability when working with versioned APIs, for they immediately know which API version they are using and what changes have been made compared to previous versions.

For development teams, versioning simplifies the planning and management of API releases. It allows for future releases to be planned without the worry of breaking existing applications.

Why API Versioning often takes a back seat?

API versioning is often overlooked for several reasons, primarily because it is (wrongly) perceived as a very time-consuming activity with relatively minor benefits.

The pressure to quickly release new features or updates may lead to sacrificing time allocated to versioning. Tight deadlines and competition may drive companies to prioritize short-term goals, often overlooking long-term planning.

Furthermore, some developers view it as a secondary task to creating new features or fixing bugs: changes are often made directly to the current version of the API without carefully considering the impact on existing applications using it: this approach does not allow for application compatibility over time.

Finally, the absence of appropriate planning within the development team makes API versioning management often hard to apply.

However, it is crucial to remember the most important aspect of versioning management that cannot be overlooked: it enables stability and compatibility of applications over time.

How to simplify Version Management?

ApiShare lets you quickly discover the APIs you need to use, displaying all its available versions through a dedicated dropdown menu next to the API’s name.

Once a specific version is selected, you can view all the features related to that API in that particular version. If the API was properly documented, this solution provides easy access to all the data and improvements made in each API update.

As a developer, ApiShare also guides you when you need to create a new API version: by clicking the New Version button on your published API, you are prompted to choose which type of version you wish to create. The new version number will be automatically calculated by ApiShare according to versions that are already available.

As the user creates a new version, it is also possible to see this update inside the History section of a given API. Here, as showcased in the image below, it is also possible to see that as a new minor or patch version is published in all of its predecessors’ environments, the previous version gets overwritten, and the newer version takes its place. Former subscribers to this API will still be able to use the API without interruption.

This is not the case for major versions, which continue to exist as completely separate APIs, since backwards compatibility is not ensured.

Explore more, dive into the world of ApiShare!

Now that you’ve had the opportunity to learn how to effectively manage API versioning, take a look at our other articles on our blog and feel free to contact our team if you want to learn even more about ApiShare.

About the Author: Roberta Moro

Software engineer at User Group.

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