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Use an API mapping tool to demystify complex API integrations

Whether a simple diagram or more complex model, an API mapping tool can bring order to loosely coupled application components, speed up debugging and simplify application updates.

Cloud-native applications are distributed by nature, which introduces complexity of connections in every layer. With multiple components and units interacting with each other, it's hard for developers to understand what messages get passed between which APIs. API mapping can connect the dots.

API mapping tools give developers, analysts and even users a shared source of truth for how APIs interact with each other. API spec creation and mapping, however, can be challenging, as the people making a diagram must be aware of both the source and target systems. To get the right results, this process should be a collaborative effort and the team should evaluate and choose the right API mapping tool for the job.

API map features

API mapping sounds straightforward, but creating a design that's easy to understand by nontechnical people can be difficult. There are many visualization tools available in the market, and developers need to find ones that can take into account the full complexity of API mapping. 

An ideal API map contains information about a resource and its APIs, and how they interact with other resources. It efficiently displays the relationship between various resources and what their respective APIs accept and return. 

API integrations are especially complicated for a new developer. Looking at an application and its APIs, developers might not see what goes where and which two APIs are supposed to interact with each other. Documentation is only useful if it provides a clear picture of all the APIs and their specifications. API maps create a holistic picture of all the APIs, so developers gain an understanding of how the application works, and can even debug issues more effectively. 

Evaluate API mapping tools

Tools like Microsoft's Visio and BizTalk suffice for basic API mapping. Visio enables users to create all sorts of professional diagrams with ease. Developers who have an in-depth idea about a particular application can use this tool to diagram API connections. However, this general-purpose visualization tool doesn't help much to strengthen basic understandings of complex APIs.

BizTalk Mapper, also by Microsoft and found within Visual Studio, can serve a similar purpose to Visio with its graphical mapping display. This tool's processes are quite slow and iterative, and a developer may have to repeatedly get feedback from the business to create a working map. The fact that this tool is only offered as a part of the overall BizTalk Server middleware product -- which is expensive compared to an individual mapping option -- is another shortcoming. If you're already using BizTalk Server for integration, BizTalk Mapper is in your bundle, but if not, the price is a deterrent.

Api-map is a versatile API mapping option. Unlike Visio and similar broadly applicable tools that make diagrams, this tool provides machine-learning-based features targeted for the process of API mapping. The basic function of Api-map is to define paths between different messages. Where BizTalk only runs on the Microsoft and Intel platform and doesn't support XML schema definition, Api-map supports XSD and JSON formatting.

How to use Api-map

To build an API map in Api-map, upload the source and target messages. The tool generates suggested matches for each target field as it is selected, based on machine learning heuristics. The tool can map multiple source fields to a single target field. There's an option to deselect mapping for fields that aren't required.

Users can also provide and define additional mapping information such as the mapping type and the conditions to be enforced at each step. Users can denote a direct mapping between the source and the target fields or if the application must transform the data. Optional conditional mapping takes place only when a certain condition is met. With UI annotation, the API mapping tool connects a screenshot of the UI for comprehensive documentation, especially useful when maps are shared with nontechnical stakeholders. Users can attach multiple maps together to have a holistic view of all APIs across the system. 

API maps, whether digitally generated or even hand-drawn, help developers and nontechnical team members understand API interactions and messages. As applications get more complex, the API mapping tool market will evolve and API maps will become instrumental aspects of software project documentation.

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