API lifecycle management: everything you need to know

If you want to get the best out of your APIs and take an API-led approach to growing your business, you’ll need a sound API management strategy. Full lifecycle API management takes you from ideation through to the deprecation of your APIs, putting a structure in place for each stage of API life. If you’re new to API strategies and management, read on to discover all you need to know about the API lifecycle and its role in delivering an API-first approach to your business.

What are the components of API lifecycle?

Full lifecycle API management can be broken down into several distinct phases. These apply equally to internal vs external API management, as the principles remain the same, regardless of whether your API consumers are within your organisation or outside of it. Let’s take a look at each of these stages. 

API design phase

The API lifecycle starts with designing an API contract. This means designing the look and feel of your API in a way that meets consumers’ needs, accounts for available resources, contains relevant business logic and is easy to understand/consume. 

API management solutions enable you to design and create APIs from scratch or to import API definitions from a range of sources. The API management software you choose will determine which particular sources you can use, so choose carefully based on what you need – if you’re dealing with modernising legacy APIs, for example, your needs may differ to those of businesses building a foundation of microservices and APIs from scratch. 

Once you’ve created your API contract, you can mock up your API and begin refining it based on feedback from your initial consumers. You can then modify it before moving on to the implementation phase.  

API implementation phase

When you reach the implementation phase of the API development lifecycle, you’ll develop and deploy your API while ensuring that it is secure, easily discoverable and delivers a great consumer experience. That means taking care of access control, rate limiting and quotas, along with implementing any custom plugins you may need, along with plenty of testing. 

Using an API gateway can be a big help here. It takes care of security, load balancing and more at the gateway level, rather than per-API, meaning you can rest easy, knowing that your APIs are all subject to the same stringent security measures. 

API management phase

API lifecycle management doesn’t end with deployment. Far from it. Once consumers are using your API, you enter a continual development phase where you monitor your API and then optimise it based on what your analytics are telling you. 

Those analytics will likely lead to you creating another version of your API. In that case, you’ll need a structured approach to version control, accounting for both minor updates and major updates with breaking changes (in which case you’ll have to support consumers during a migration phase from older versions to the latest). 

This phase of the API lifecycle may see you developing your API environments (development, testing, staging and production), as well as the API products that you offer, all in line with Continuous Integration/Continuous Development (CI/CD) best practice. 

API consumption phase

Changes that you make during the API management phase can have a major impact on the API consumption phase. This is where you can transform your business to a product-led model where you develop and version your APIs based on the way in which consumers are using them. And – importantly – where you can monetize based on that consumption as well, through appropriately tiered services. 

This is the point at which you can enjoy scaling in a big way, bringing in automated key provisioning, multi-tenant management and other tools and architecture elements based on your particular needs. 

Of course, your analytics may show that your APIs aren’t being consumed as you originally intended. That may lead you to a new ideation phase – and so the whole API lifecycle management process begins again. 

Your analytics data and consumption patterns may also lead you to conclude that it is time for sunsetting and deprecating one of your APIs – or perhaps just deprecating some features of an API. Be sure to include this as part of your full and comprehensive approach to API lifecycle management. 

What is lifecycle management of API gateway?

An API gateway provides a single, unified entry point for consumers to access your APIs. It performs a range of important functions, from authentication and authorisation to routing and load balancing – as well as security. An open source API gateway such as Tyk can also help to keep your costs down while achieving everything you need to with your APIs. 

Full lifecycle API management, meanwhile, is a much larger concept. It covers the entire process of designing, deploying and managing your APIs. An API gateway is an important component of that process. 

Who manages the API lifecycle?

Who manages the API lifecycle will depend on the size and structure of your business. It could be that you have one or more API managers who oversee the whole API lifecycle. They could be enterprise architects or API product managers, depending on the size and shape of your team. 

While the API manager will oversee the full lifecycle management, others will also manage elements of it. This may include API admins, application network architects, API analysts and other members of your DevOps team. 

Why are APIs so important to enterprise?

Increasingly, the world is powered by APIs. Without them, many financial and healthcare infrastructures would falter, as would the travel industry and many others. APIs underpin so many of our modern booking, information sharing and data-driven systems that enterprises around the globe would be lost without them. Quite simply, APIs and the way that they are managed play a fundamental role in the operation of the world as we know it. 

API lifecycle in the enterprise world

Within enterprises, APIs are a powerful tool in driving digital transformation. API lifecycle management is enabling them to do so in a structured and impactful way, with effective workflows that support organisational goals. 

One of the key things that API lifecycle management brings to the enterprise world is standardisation. Businesses often develop silos as they grow and this can lead to significant disparity in the way that APIs are designed and implemented. Introducing a full lifecycle management approach can help to standardise an enterprise’s approach to its APIs, with resulting benefits for the business in terms of increased efficiency, enhanced API security and more. 

Full lifecycle API management can also help enterprises to monitor their APIs, evolve them and even roll them back in a smooth and timely fashion when circumstances call for this. 

Federated architecture for API management

One API architecture pattern to attract significant interest of late is federation. A federated architecture for API management can help organisations manage the complexity that can result from managing API and microservices environments at scale. By introducing API federation, businesses can expose multiple services and event streams as a unified API. The consumer enjoys the consistency of that single API, while the business can continue to evolve the services behind the scenes. 

One way to achieve a federated architecture is to use GraphQL (though there are also other ways), along with certain design principles and tools. As with full lifecycle API management, federation can deliver benefits in terms of standardisation and efficiency that support businesses to scale with fewer growing pains.  

Using an API gateway for microservices

An API gateway can deliver multiple benefits when it comes to building a microservices architecture. You can use an API gateway to provide consumers with a single, unified entry point for your microservices. You can then use whatever combination of languages and communications protocols you wish across your microservices, building, evolving and changing services to meet your business needs, without the consumer interface changing. It’s a neat and tidy solution that can also help you to control traffic flows and load balancing, implement consistent security and mock and virtualise new services with ease – all while protecting your internal concerns. 

Using an API gateway for microservices can also support your business to scale in a way that quickly becomes difficult when attempting to do so without a gateway. The API gateway provides far greater flexibility, while supporting a superb user experience as you grow. 

What is API lifecycle management of assets?

APIs are business assets that can provide significant competitive advantage and monetisation opportunities. What is API management good for in relation to those assets? Well, by introducing API lifecycle management, you can ensure a consistent, robust approach to every stage of API life, from the initial concept through to eventual retirement. By managing your API assets in this way, you have a powerful foundation from which to flex, scale and transform your business, no matter how large, complex or geographically dispersed that business may be. 

The future of API management

As the world of APIs continues to expand – thanks to exciting new possibilities opened up by GraphQL, Universal Data Graph and a range of emerging technologies, engineering disciplines and architectural patterns – the role of full lifecycle API management will continue to be crucial in ensuring that APIs are conceptualised, designed, implemented, tested, version controlled, published, monetised and more. 

Businesses large and small are taking a product-led approach to developing their APIs. By doing so within a robust management framework, those businesses are putting their APIs front and centre in a way that can support consumers to achieve their goals while also maximising opportunities for monetisation. Everybody wins.