API automation can help you to take a product-led approach to your APIs that gets you to market faster while keeping your developers happy. And those are just the headline benefits – there is plenty more to gain, as we’ll discuss below.
What is API automation?
Let’s start with a quick definition. API automation involves the automation of a wide range of tasks within full lifecycle API management. An API automation framework can encompass tasks during the design, deployment, testing, publishing and consumption phases of the API management lifecycle. As such, it can support a wide range of architectural and deployment patterns.
API automation enables developers to design and build API products using controlled processes for repetitive tasks. As such, it can be used to achieve greater consistency in API production in areas ranging from security to various types of API testing.
Deciding to automate API management can support you to level up your API strategy through enhanced consistency, reduced risk and time savings. There are two types of automation paradigms, both of which Tyk supports:
· Imperative API automation – this is a step-by-step approach, where you define each step of the process. Many platforms support imperative automation and developers use it widely.
· Declarative API automation – this is a simple approach where you let your chosen automation tool know what you want to achieve, then leave the tool to deliver. It can be an excellent choice for developers using an API gateway for microservices. You can build the automation into your CI/CD pipeline as part of a GitOps-centric approach to API management. Tyk Operator supports this approach, whether or not you’re using Kubernetes.
Enterprise benefits of API automation as part of full lifecycle API management
There is, of course, a cost to introducing automation, as it will take developers’ time to implement and may involve a learning curve. However, the automation of repetitive tasks can ultimately free up developers’ time to spend on other duties, meaning there can be a cost saving in the long run. The fact that automation can also support enterprises to achieve time to market or time to value faster can also deliver financial rewards.
Any enterprise undergoing a digital transformation process is likely to benefit from API automation. It can contribute to enhanced engineering efficiency, thus enabling developers to focus on innovation and customer satisfaction instead of manually repeating tasks. This can be an excellent way to underpin an API as a product mindset and ensure a desire to deliver a customer-centric approach doesn’t get lost behind the tedium of manual, repetitive tasks.
[Could we link here to the API as a product blog post that has been drafted recently?]
API tasks to consider automating
You can’t automate every task connected to creating and publishing APIs – but you can automate plenty of them. Some examples include:
· API documentation – some tools can generate API documentation based on your codebase. As documentation is so key to delivering APIs as products, this can mark a big step forward on your journey to market.
· Code generation – you can use tools to automatically create code snippets based on your API documentation or specifications.
· Security testing – there is plenty of scope for API test automation when it comes to security, as we will consider in a moment.
· Versioning – automation can make it easier to manage multiple versions of your APIs and ensure that new changes aren’t breaking changes.
· Deployment – automation can underpin more consistent deployment, ironing out some scope for errors and streamlining the process.
· Monitoring – from checking for errors to examining performance metrics, automation has plenty of potential to enhance API monitoring.
Of course, with any automation, it’s essential to monitor progress and outcomes regularly, to ensure that everything works as it should. Documentation, for example, requires human oversight to ensure that it is accurate, user-friendly and updated regularly. Automation is very much there to save developers time – not to negate the need for their involvement entirely!
What is API automation testing, and why do we need it?
What is API testing? Simply put, it is testing an API to ensure that it fulfils its contract in terms of expected functionality. It can test correctness, efficiency and compatibility, and API security. API automation testing takes that concept to the next level by automating many areas of the testing process.
Introducing automation into your API test framework means you can achieve faster results than manual testing. There is also scope for increased accuracy and coverage, as you can run automated tests more regularly than manual ones and cover a wider range of functions within each test. As the tests are faster, they can also deliver cost savings.
How does API automation testing work?
You can use various tools for API automation testing. One of the many benefits of Tyk, for example, is that you can introduce automation into your development and testing pipeline.
API automation testing works through test scripts, which interact with the API in numerous ways. These trigger responses that you can analyse and compare against expectations. The test scripts usually use HTTP requests to send and receive data.
Why you should automate API tests
There are multiple reasons why you should consider automating API testing. You can save your developers a whole heap of time, for one. Time that they could spend creating value in other ways on your journey to market.
Another key advantage of API testing using automation is the reduced capacity for human error. You can achieve more accurate results in a shorter time frame and then use those results to underpin data-driven decision-making regarding your API.
The overarching reason for all of this, of course, is to ensure that your APIs are performing as expected while meeting strict security requirements. Automated testing makes it easier and faster to confirm and monitor this.
Steps to automating API tests
You can automate API testing in three simple steps. Be sure to do so within the boundaries of a testing plan, so that you are clear on the purpose, parameters and limits of your automated API test framework.
Scoping the testing
Before you can automate your tests, you need to decide what it is you need to test. This means creating a plan to define the scope of your testing, including any online API testing, and which tools you will use for your tests.
Setting up testing
Once you know what you want to test, it’s time to set things up. This means creating test scripts that can delve into all areas of your API’s performance and security. You’ll have to purchase and configure the tools you need for testing as part of this process.
Carrying out automated tests
With everything set up and configured, it’s time to run your first series of tests. It is crucial to analyse the results of these carefully to ensure that each automated test is performing as it should and delivering the response that you need. Once you are certain that your tests are running as they should, you can turn your attention to monitoring the results to ensure that your APIs are secure and performing as expected.
Best practices for API automation testing
With any aspect of working with APIs, there are best practices you can follow to ensure that you get the best results. In API automation testing, that means starting with a plan and working out what you want to test and why. Grouping tests into categories is a good idea here – versioning tests, security tests and so on. It’s also good practice to include the declarations of the APIs being called in your plan, as well as the parameter selection for each test case.
Also important is to maintain the independence of each test case, so far as this is practicable. After all, if test cases include too many dependencies, you face greater potential for errors. You could also waste valuable time unpicking what has gone wrong when tests don’t return the expected results. As well as API test definition, your testing plan should address call sequencing.
Another key point is to do your research when developing your software API testing plans. You will need to ensure that you have the best API test automation tool to meet your specific needs.
Finally, it is best practice to implement your testing as early as possible. After all, the sooner you can identify any issues, the sooner you can address them.
API automation challenges
While we’ve focused on the benefits of API automation above, it’s definitely worth noting that automation comes with a few challenges. None of these are insurmountable – they are just areas that you need to be aware of when planning for API automation and automated testing.
Which tasks and tests should you automate and which should you not? And should you be implementing imperative or declarative automation? Or partial automation?
Understanding precisely where automation should start and finish can be a challenge. The answer will depend on a range of factors. A business using an open source API gateway with a single API, for example, will have very different needs to an enterprise using dozens of services as part of a complex microservices architectural pattern. Such considerations should be taken into account when defining the scope of API automation.
Remember that the scope of your automation will also impact other decisions – such as which tooling you choose. And that leads neatly onto our next challenge…
While API automation can save you money in the longer term, dedicating resources to scoping out and implementing testing takes time and money. You may also need to shell out for new tools and technologies to underpin the automation you want to achieve. This can present a cash flow challenge if money is tight.
Collaboration can be a challenge during API automation as teams must work together to automate multiple tasks and run multiple tests. Poor communication between teams can result in tests interfering with each other, so close collaboration is essential throughout the API automation process. Whether your approach is daily huddles, conversations on Slack, a Kanban board, other collaboration tools or all of these at once, be sure that the lines of communication are open and flowing if you don’t want to end up dealing with a costly muddle.
Testing live data
API automation testing can also throw up curveballs when it comes to testing live data. This means that developers need to be ready to deal with surprise results, including any potential impact that these may have on the backend.
Whether you’re using an API gateway for microservices or simply looking to ensure that your API products are the best that they can be, API automation could help ensure that your APIs are performing as well as they should be.
Where have you got to with your API automation journey? Are you already reaping some of the rewards of automation, or are you still looking into the potential benefits before going down the automation route? Either way, the Tyk team would be delighted to have a chat about your needs and how our full lifecycle API management solution might be able to help.