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Learn API design with online courses

Application programming interface (API) design is the process of planning, building, and maintaining APIs. Learn API design with online courses delivered through edX.

What is API design?

API design, which involves any number of strategies used to build and maintain APIs, is crucial to businesses in all fields. Application programming interfaces (APIs) are channels for computer programs to communicate with each other, essentially sharing services with other pieces of software. By turbocharging communication between two or more computer applications, the right API design strategy can open the door to digital transformation, scalability, efficiency, and cost savings.Footnote 1

When devising strategies, API designers consider a handful of general objectives. These can include:

  • Clarity: Complicated APIs can quickly grow overwhelming and difficult to update. By standardizing labels, providing clear documentation, and optimizing versioning, API designers can boost readability and usability.Footnote 2

  • Scalability and growth: To meet the demand for rapid digital growth solutions, API designers must consider scalability when planning and building APIs. Preparing for a reasonably high volume of requests can help protect against future outages or crashes.

  • Security: In today’s rapidly evolving digital environment, the right approach to security is essential. API designers can protect sensitive data by carefully placing critical information, encrypting requests, and creating short-lived access tokens.Footnote 3

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API design course curriculum

Aspiring API designers and developers of all backgrounds can benefit from knowledge of API design. An introductory API course might cover the following:

  • API types and protocols: You may learn about different types of APIs, as well as the most common development styles and implementation approaches. Learners could also explore popular API protocols (rules that govern API communications), such as Representational State Transfer (REST), Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and Remote Procedure Call (RPC).Footnote 4

  • Data formats: Data formats connect the server and client sides of data-based interactions. Popular format choices include JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) and Extensible Markup Language (XML).Footnote 5

  • Documentation: Good API design begins with proper documentation. That means you must consider your target audience, whether that’s developers, users, or both, as well as error messaging, authentication and authorization, requests, and changelogs.Footnote 6

  • Authentication methods: By implementing a comprehensive identity verification strategy, API designers can prevent high-stakes data leaks. You may learn about key management infrastructure, or code that provides authentication; Transport Layer Security (TLS), a data protection protocol; and other security-related best practices.Footnote 7

Explore API design jobs

API design skills are essential to many roles. These may include:

  • API designer: This role uses advanced, specialized knowledge of API design. By learning and staying on top of API design best practices, they can build powerful APIs that help businesses scale in unprecedented ways. 

  • Software developer: Developers harness API design skills to better understand APIs, and in turn streamline the application development process.Footnote 8

  • Security engineer: These security experts occasionally work with APIs.Footnote 9 A solid understanding of API design, including authentication and authorization methods, can go a long way.  

Familiarity with API design principles, while valuable, isn’t always sufficient for every role. edX offers a variety of educational pathways, including specialized boot camps where you can master specific skills, as well as bachelor's degree programs and even master’s degree programs for learners interested in more comprehensive instruction on different subjects. Find the right educational pathway for you. 

How to become an API designer

If you’re an aspiring API designer or developer, you may want to consider learning more about the following complementary or foundational subjects:

  • Programming: To successfully design an API, you must be able to code. API designers often use Java, Python, and other popular programming languages.

  • Data formats: Because the API design process involves choosing and implementing data formats, aspiring API designers can benefit from knowledge of JSON, XML, and other popular format choices.

  • Web application architecture: Web APIs bridge the gap between applications and servers. By gaining a solid understanding of web application architecture, API designers can build stronger APIs with clearer documentation.

In general, requirements to pursue these positions vary by role and company. Some jobs may have specific educational requirements, like a bachelor’s degree in data science or computer science, while others may call for proof of skills that can be acquired in a UX/UI design boot camp, for example. Before choosing which courses to take, research the positions your hope to apply for after completing your learning and align your coursework with your professional aspirations.