APIs and automation: The good, the bad, and the better

February 13, 2024  |  Ali Cameron

The content of this post is solely the responsibility of the author.  AT&T does not adopt or endorse any of the views, positions, or information provided by the author in this article. 

APIs are often adopted by businesses as a way to automate certain operational tasks. This not only helps to introduce efficiencies, it also reduces the chance of human error in repetitive, manual actions. But the relationship between APIs and automation doesn’t end there.

To streamline the API management process, developers have started automating a variety of tasks in the API lifecycle, from development to production. In this article, we explore where these automations live, how they impact the development process, and what teams need to look out for.

What is API automation?

API automation is the process of automating a variety of tasks associated with designing, building, deploying, testing, and managing APIs. This automated approach lets developers navigate the API lifecycle by using controlled streamlined processes for repetitive, manual tasks.

This enables greater consistency throughout the lifecycle, and can improve the success and reliability of functions like testing (both in development and production) and security. In addition, introducing automation also enables more efficiency in the process, allowing developers to focus more of their efforts on more strategic tasks.

While not all tasks related to APIs can be automated, there are a variety that lend themselves to it quite nicely. These include:

  • API documentation: Some tools can automatically generate API documentation based on the code base.
  • Code generation: Other tools can automatically create code snippets, using API documentation and specifications as inputs.
  • Versioning: Automated processes can facilitate the management of multiple API versions, ensuring that new changes don’t break anything.
  • Deployment: Introducing automation into the API deployment process can introduce more consistency and reduce the scope of potential errors.
  • Monitoring: Perhaps most importantly, automated monitoring can reduce a lot of the burden on teams while also introducing more real-time visibility.

Regardless of which of these steps are automated, it’s important to note that all progress and outcomes need to be monitored regularly to ensure that the parameters around the automation are appropriate. As such, there is still an important human element in the process, but with less of a burden.

API test automation

Perhaps the most common (and useful) task that gets automated in the API lifecycle is testing. In fact, there’s a whole suite of solutions that focus on API test automation, which is defined as using a testing tool to programmatically run API tests at specific intervals. This is particularly important for fast-paced development teams that want to get their products to market quickly.

Primarily, API test automation augments a manual approach to testing and helps teams prevent problematic changes from reaching production. It helps get quality code out the door faster. Other benefits include:

  • Being able to identify issues as soon as they’re introduced. Testing can be conducted at such a rate that issues are spotted almost in real time. For example, developers can set up their CI/CD pipeline to automatically run API tests after every code push. This way they can get immediate feedback while the code is still in progress.
  • Saving time and resources. Automated API testing reduces the burden on QA teams, distributing the testing load across the API lifecycle. This shortens feedback loops and equips teams to get their code live faster.
  • Reducing the risk of human error. Manual testing is prone to human error. API test automation standardizes how tests are executed and increases confidence in the testing process.

API automation and security

Beyond testing, automation also plays an important role in API security. In fact, the right security platform should be able to automatically:

  • Identify business logic flaws in pre-production.
  • Identify every new and changed API, as well as the sensitive data they expose. This information is key for security teams looking to reduce the potential vulnerabilities that come from APIs.
  • Classify data in API calls and responses.
  • Detect and help eliminate vulnerabilities at the build phase by providing actionable insights.
  • Create a baseline for normal API behaviour.
  • Identity security gaps throughout the API lifecycle.
  • Send developers remediation insights that are identified in runtime.

In other words, an API security solution should be able to collect, store, and analyze hundreds of attributes across millions of users and API calls and leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to automatically correlate them over time. As such, as you build out your API security strategy — and you should have one — opt for security tools that will go the extra mile and automate tasks that would otherwise be complex and time-consuming for your team.

The future of APIs

APIs are becoming increasingly widespread within the business landscape, and rightfully so. They enable core business operations, support automation, and enable the transfer of data between internal and external applications. As APIs simplify many other functions, the development of APIs also needs to be simplified. Automation will continue to become a core feature in the API lifecycle, making APIs much easier to create and manage down the line.

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