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What to look for in an API development SaaS platform

Not all SaaS API development platforms are made the same. Learn about the fundamental capabilities that API SaaS tools should provide and discover some popular options.

When an organization chooses to go down the SaaS platform route for API development, it's crucial for it to then establish exactly what capabilities and features the development team will require from that platform. While there is no single universal feature set that applies to every API tool set, there are plenty of capable SaaS offerings equipped with the capabilities that developers need.

The must-have SaaS platform features

All API SaaS tools should standardize API creation and testing. In most cases, this requires some level of architectural and style enforcement. Even if the tool does not adopt a standard such as OpenAPI, it can still be valuable for companies to enforce a particular format, as they can then identify and remediate major deviations quickly. Also, API developers can then read and maintain each other's API work into the future.

Collaboration is often a vital capability in API SaaS tools. API development is typically a team effort, and it's almost certain that multiple developers will access, develop and maintain the organization's APIs. Collaboration features should also allow the API team to see and interact with the API code, documentation and test files. It's also important to find comprehensive search and versioning controls, which can enable authorized developers to locate APIs by criteria, such as project and version.

But SaaS offerings, especially where collaboration is a key feature, should also include comprehensive security features, such as identity and access management. APIs are part of an organization's intellectual property suite and require the necessary protections.

An API SaaS platform should also include a variety of features that help developers speed up the API creation and testing process. For example, SaaS tools can help to automate the code generation process by taking the conceptual behaviors of what an API should do and translating those behaviors into meaningful code.

The tool should also provide some assistance with API documentation that presents developers with clear and concise summations of API commands and syntax. A good documentation package is essential for other developers that seek to use the API to integrate their own software.

Code and documentation generation is often easier and more effective when there is an underlying standard, such as OpenAPI, to produce code against. For example, tools like Swagger Codegen generate code, documentation and test cases using OpenAPI standards.

The value of cloud-based tools

Workload development and deployment in the public cloud spawned the emergence of cloud-based API tools provided directly through major public cloud providers.

For example, Amazon API Gateway is a managed service that developers can use to create and manage APIs that allow applications to access data and services running on web applications, Elastic Compute Cloud instances and AWS Lambda code. Amazon API Gateway charges customers only for the number of API calls they make and the amount of data they transfer out of AWS.

Microsoft Azure and Google's Apigee also tout similar suites of services and capabilities for cloud users. API tools from cloud providers can utilize policies, handle authorization and access controls, set quotas on API calls, and integrate with other cloud services.

But there are also traditional API development tools available as services. SmartBear's Swagger platform is an OpenAPI-compliant platform available in both the cloud and on premises. MuleSoft's Anypoint platform offers numerous modules for API design, build and management. Then, there's Oracle Apiary, which designs, builds, deploys, consumes and monitors APIs with a particular focus on API security.        

However, be sure to consider pricing with any SaaS platform. For instance, Amazon API Gateway offers free API management services, but it charges customers on the basis of API calls and resource utilization.

By comparison, SaaS offerings can cover an assortment of payment plans, including flat rate monthly subscriptions, as well as per-hour and per-user, per-month variations. Companies can save money using per-hour plans for light usage, while extensive use by a larger team may justify a flat subscription option.

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