What is an API portal?

An API portal essentially serves as a bridge between the API producer (the API creator) and the API consumer (usually, the developer community). An API portal allows API consumers to sign up to use your APIs and get all the required information on those APIs throughout their lifecycles including guiding developers on how to integrate your APIs, education around the API, grant or provision user access, generate client keys and more. A successful API portal will grant developers access to a sandbox environment loaded with production data so developers can easily test out the API. Since most developers prefer to test APIs, a good API portal will offer that service and make it easily accessible.

An API portal turns your APIs into products that developers can easily discover, access, and integrate into their applications. You can use an API portal to package and promote your APIs as products—and make the process of onboarding, engaging, and empowering developers much more streamlined. Think of an API portal like a store window or a brochure where you can advertise or host your API products.

An API portal has all the information that a developer could want about an API including documentation, specification, security, pricing, any legal notices, and complete transparency about the design of the API. Further information about business benefits of implementing the API and perhaps even some examples of successful uses of the API can be included. In fact, these are encouraged to increase the likelihood a developer will use that API. An API portal should also include any known issues, time to solve them and how to seek help.

An API portal is not just one-way communication. In addition to hosting documentation about the API, it has other functionalities such as FAQs, articles, discussion forums, and blogs. This enables consumers and producers to make suggestions, ask questions, and talk about their experiences. Forums and blogs can be used by the API Providers to provide more information to the developer community such as new initiatives or changes to the API. With forums, API consumers can also list feedback and report bugs. A thorough and well-built API portal will encourage developer engagement which is the name of the game to increase usage of your API.

Why use an API portal?

API portals make it much easier for developers to share and collaborate. An API portal should help developers get started easily and should also notify them if an API is being retired or updated. With an API, you can establish policies and authorization requirements about who can use your APIs and how they can use them. You can define policies such as throttling and rate-limiting to optimize API performance within your API portal.

The three main actions that a developer can take with an API portal are:

  • Register to use the API, including self-registration capabilities
  • Explore and consume the contents of the API and learn how to use it
  • Get support for using the API in terms of FAQ’s or submitting feedback

Code samples and libraries or software development kits (SDK) should also be made available in an API Portal. This will enable developers to begin building immediately. Developers are not the only users of an API portal. Many different departments in an organization can use an API portal for a number of different reasons including the developers who manage their access and other integration information in the portal. Other users of an API portal include:

  • Marketing can use it for messaging to show the API’s valuable offerings
  • Partners can use the portal for support and even showcase how the API is helping their business
  • Product managers and technical writers use it to represent all aspects of the API including documentation
  • All business units can learn, share and innovate using a portal

Only APIs that are easily discoverable, have sufficient documentation and transparency get consumed into popular applications. APIs have to be promoted, even if they are just an internal API or one aimed only at partners. And, if your internal employees are empowered, that leads to better service for your customers.

Basically, developers can make or break your API game plan. Their adoption is crucial to ensure its success. A well-designed portal is a great way to ensure developer engagement and hence, developer adoption of your API- your organizations end goal. Essentially, an API portal will answer crucial questions for the developer looking to engage with your API such as the business value they will achieve by using your API, what they can build, what your offerings are and how does your API enhance what I already offer my customers? An API portal should also let developers know how reliable your API is. Developers have a world of APIs to choose from, they do not want to engage with a flaky, unreliable partner.

The name of the game of an API portal is to increase the adoption of your APIs. In an increasingly digital world, communication between applications is crucial. APIs enable both internal and external audiences to access the services of your applications and enable communication between your services and their systems. APIs have become the central nervous system of digital businesses because they allow for new business models such as monetizing data. Today’s world is all about opening new pathways for innovation and growth which is what APIs enable and API portals are the way to entice users to consume your APIs.

The best way to design an API portal

APIs can make a service very easy to use or extremely complex and that can be the difference between a developer using your API or not. Most developers (or API consumers) find it difficult and time-consuming to consume APIs with very little or even no documentation. When this is the case, developers often abandon existing services, and might even duplicate functionality. To avoid this frustration, using all the functionality of an API portal to ease the consumption of your API is just as important as designing the API itself.

When designing APIs, start with your audience’s needs first. A great way to engage users is through portals to see if you are designing what they require. An API portal should be like a brochure that easily lists everything a developer would want to know about the API, plus a place for them to interact with you. It’s what API consumers use to determine if your API is the right choice for them. In fact, if your organization has the bandwidth, an API catalog is a terrific way to organize your APIs for both internal and external audiences.

API catalogs, a type of library, give your organization one place to find all APIs inside the company. Unfortunately, most times, users have to search for APIs and don’t often find them, resulting in duplicate work and even worse, lack of adoption of your API. An API catalog enables users to find your APIs faster. And, imagine external parties looking to integrate with your business and who are looking for particular APIs. Without an API catalog, they may be sent to multiple places and often not find what they are looking for. API catalogs enable API re-use and easier discoverability. Other benefits of an API catalog include:

  • Centralized handling of authorization
  • Consolidated Traffic Management
  • One place to monitor all your APIs, be made aware of alerts and insights into API usage Monitoring
  • More easily register and onboard consumers

API portals as centers of innovation

Today, organizations are finding that API portals are becoming centers of innovation due to its many functionalities available for interactivity. Many product designs and alterations happen at this particular intersection because you have entire teams that can communicate on the portal.

API portals are not simply places to posting or circulate documentation about the API. That does not invite collaboration with customers and partners or even within an API team. By using the full functionality that an API portal offers such as blogs, forums, etc., you encourage developer adoption of your APIs.

API gateway vs API portal

An API gateway is what controls the API traffic in your organization, managing API usage and load balancing. This is done automatically and usually does not require much human intervention. An API gateway is more of a backend, but extremely important piece of your API strategy.

An API portal is the front end of your API strategy. It’s where consumers can go to sign up for the API and get all the necessary information, such as documentation, blogs, and community forums, to ensure a successful integration and to report feedback and bugs or get more support.