An API-first approach is a development model where design of the application starts with the API, before any code is written. Rather than being treated as an afterthought, APIs are fundamental and seen as distinct products with development starting at the API specification and applications being first conceptualized as an API. This is in contrast to a traditional “code‑first” approach, where monolithic code takes priority and API design comes only later, if at all.

An API-first strategy is ideal for microservices architectures because it ensures application ecosystems start as modular and reusable systems. By emphasizing APIs early on, the structure of API requests and data are highlighted. This enables the API to deliver what developers need most and avoids spending developer time on features that later turn out to be unwanted.

Why Adopt an API-First Model?

When a company adopts an API‑first model (in turn, becoming an “API‑first company”), it prioritizes APIs – whether internal or external – and recognizes how the API lifecycle may affect its business. For enterprises, API‑first often means faster time to market since it’s easier to update and change backend services.

In addition to increased production speed, taking an API‑first approach also produces stronger software. Developers can concentrate on design, as teams don’t have to start from scratch and can reuse their APIs and code across projects. Having to do less work down the line consequently saves money, with most problems being solved before code is even written.

API-first models also simplify API governance, providing more control and observability to operations teams by default. Having greater control and visibility into the API enables teams to see both the API’s current state and future potential.

API-First Security Risks

APIs are characteristically open, which gives them great capability, but it also means any developer can access the API. And, unfortunately, not every developer has good intentions.

Centrally defining API security policies, and embedding that security across the entire API lifecycle, is necessary when creating a successful API‑first model. And, with a security‑focused mindset, an API‑first model can have an even stronger security perimeter than previous, code‑focused models.

You can learn more about the importance of ensuring your API‑first strategy doesn’t become a security‑last vulnerability in the F5 blog Recipe for Disaster: API‑first with Security‑last Strategies.

How Can NGINX Help?

API Connectivity Manager, part of F5 NGINX Management Suite, was designed with the API developer experience at its core. With API Connectivity Manager, infrastructure teams can deploy high‑performance API gateways and developer portals. And developers can rapidly publish and manage APIs and documentation or discover and onboard APIs into applications.

API Connectivity Manager also enables API‑first models by:

  • Using the OpenAPI Specification to publish and automatically generate documentation
  • Providing discrete workspaces for teams to publish and manage their services
  • Empowering developers to manage the lifecycle of their APIs and services

API Connectivity Manager is a key part of the NGINX Secure API Connectivity solution, which provides these benefits:

  • Scalability – Deliver uncompromised performance, reliability, and security with NGINX Plus as an API gateway
  • Observability – Monitor API traffic across teams and environments to identify configuration errors and security threats
  • Governance – Ensure consistent oversight while empowering API developers to manage their APIs with fine‑grained controls
  • Security – Defend APIs against common and advanced threats with out-of-the-box protection against the OWASP API Security Top 10

Start a 30‑day free trial of NGINX Management Suite, which includes API Connectivity Manager and Instance Manager.