Best Practices for Designing APIs for Mobile Apps

Art Malkovich
by Art Malkovich on May 3, 2023 9 min read

With access to services, goods, and information at our fingertips, mobile applications have become crucial to everyday life. However, a mobile app’s success depends on its features and how effectively it integrates with other programs and services. APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) can be helpful in this situation.

Using standardized APIs, apps may share data and seamlessly integrate with one another. User experience, security, and scalability are just a few of the elements that must be carefully considered when designing mobile app APIs. In this post, we’ll review some crucial advice and industry-recognized best practices for creating APIs suitable for mobile apps.

APIs for Mobile Apps: The Basics

By this point, it’s clear if you’re not optimizing and having a presence on mobile, then you’re already far beyond. That is why the questions of progressive web apps are so popular today. However, there’s another term closely associated with mobile apps – which brings us back to the good old API.

The specific features of mobile networks and devices influence how APIs are designed. Mobile equipment often has less memory, computing power, and battery life than desktop or server devices. Additionally, mobile networks frequently have lower bandwidth and higher latency, which might impact the dependability and speed of API requests.

The impact on the user’s device is crucial when building APIs for mobile apps. API designers need to ensure that their APIs are optimized to reduce power consumption. You can do this by reducing the number and length of network calls.

Among the most obvious API design tips is using valuable tools like Magento GraphQL. That provides a flexible and efficient way to fetch data from Magento stores and improves the performance and reliability of API requests.

Additionally, data usage needs to be kept to a minimum because it might increase customers’ costs or negatively influence their data plans. Another crucial element is connectivity, and APIs need to be built to deal with low or inconsistent network connectivity.

A number of APIs were explicitly created with mobile devices in mind. Google Maps APIs illustrate this since they offer location-based services specifically designed to meet the needs of mobile devices. Other examples include the Amazon Web Services Mobile SDK, which provides tools for developing mobile apps that can access AWS cloud services, and the Twitter API, which enables mobile app developers to incorporate Twitter features effortlessly.

Designing Mobile Apps APIs Best Practices

One of the most critical choices to make when creating an API for a mobile application is selecting the correct data type. There are several data formats available, including JSON, XML, and Protobuf, each with its own pros and cons. A variety of data formats that may be used in APIs will be discussed in this article, along with suggestions for selecting the best format for your API.

JavaScript Object Notation, or JSON

The most common data format used in mobile app development APIs is JSON. It is a simple, text-based format that works with practically all computer languages. It is also lightweight and easy to read. JSON data structures are a wonderful option for developing mobile apps since they are simple for mobile devices to understand and work with.

Benefits of utilizing JSON:

  • Portable and easy to read;
  • Suitable for the majority of programming languages;
  • Easy to produce and parse on mobile devices;
  • Effective for collections of small to medium size data.

Drawbacks of utilizing JSON:

  • Not appropriate for massive data sets;
  • There is no binary data support;
  • limited capacities for data validation;
  • Extended Markup Language (XML).

Another well-liked data format for mobile app development APIs is XML. It is a markup language that makes use of tags to specify data items and attributes to give further details about those components. JSON is less versatile than XML, so complicated data structures frequently utilize XML.

Benefits of XML use:

  • Appropriate for huge data sets
  • Provides the ability to validate data
  • Better suited for complicated data structures
  • Support for binary data

Cons of XML use:

  • More complex than JSON
  • Not as simple to produce and parse as JSON
  • Limited support for certain programming languages

A binary format called Protobuf, created by Google, is gaining popularity in developing mobile apps. It is a small, quick, and effective format for transferring structured data across programs. Data structures are defined by Protobuf using a schema, which may subsequently be used to produce code for various programming languages.

Benefits of Utilizing Protobuf:

  • Swift and small
  • Both small and big data sets are suitableEffective in terms of storage and bandwidth use
  • Supports the growth of the schema and data validation

Drawbacks of utilizing Protobuf:

  • Further setup and configuration are necessary
  • Limited support for certain programming languages
  • Not as understandable as XML and JSON

Apart from choosing the right data type, there are several other essential tips to take into account.

Make the Correct Data Format Selection for Your API

These aspects should be taken into account while selecting the appropriate data format for your API:

  • Data size: JSON is an excellent option if you’re sending small to medium-sized data files. Protobuf is more effective at handling substantial data collection.
  • Complexity: XML may be a better option than JSON if your data structures are complicated.
  • Compatibility: Consider the systems and programming languages your API should support. Protobuf has somewhat limited interoperability with programming languages compared to JSON’s virtually universal compatibility.

Keep APIs Lightweight

Here are some hints for making APIs as light as possible:

  • Use compact data formats like JSON or Protocol Buffers rather than XML to lower the payload size.
  • Reduce the number of requests by batch processing them or by utilizing pagination methods to combine numerous queries into a single request.
  • Enable compression for API replies to minimize the payload size and enhance network performance.
  • Enhance API endpoints by eliminating superfluous fields, streamlining data structures, and avoiding pointless data transformations.
  • Use the libraries and frameworks created particularly for mobile platforms and can manage network requests efficiently.

Use Caching

An API receives a request from a mobile app and processes it before returning the desired data to the app. The API will execute the same request again if it is sent, which might result in longer response times and more data use.

Caching saves an API answer to a mobile device’s cache memory so that the app may receive the data from the cache rather than sending a new API call the next time the same request is performed. This enhances the app’s performance and lowers data use by minimizing the data transmitted over the network.

Additionally, caching might increase the dependability of mobile APIs. The app can utilize the cached data to improve the user experience while the mobile device is offline or has poor connectivity. Doing so can prevent mistakes, and fewer requests will fail.

Secure Your API

By safeguarding your APIs, you can guarantee that the mobile application is secure for users. Here are some top recommendations for protecting APIs to enhance the development of APIs for mobile devices:

  • Use HTTPS: When transmitting data between a mobile application and a server, HTTPS should always be used to encrypt the data. HTTPS ensures that all communication is secure and no one can intercept the data.
  • Use Token-Based Authentication: Rather than employing session-based authentication, use token-based authentication. A secure method of user authorization is provided through tokens, which may be quickly withdrawn if required.
  • Implement input validation: To thwart attacks like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and other vulnerabilities, ensure all input from the mobile application is checked on the server side.
  • Use rate limiting: Use rate limiting to thwart brute-force attacks and API misuse. This will restrict the requests a user can make in a specific period.
  • Implement Access Control: Limit access to sensitive API endpoints by implementing access control. As a result, unauthorized individuals cannot access private information.
  • Protect sensitive data: Make sure the data, like user credentials, passwords, and other private information, using encryption. Data breaches may be prevented by encrypting data both in transit and at rest.
  • Maintain API Updates: Keep your API current with the newest security updates and recommended procedures. Check your API often for security flaws and address any problems at once.

Test Your API

Naturally, you must ensure that everything functions flawlessly (with both testing and mocking, and the latter you can do right in Stoplight!). The general procedures to test an API for a mobile app are the following:

  • Use programs like Insomnia. You may inspect headers and other information, issue queries, and get answers using these API tools.
  • Test the API with various inputs, including erroneous or unexpected data, to see how it responds to edge situations. This will assist you in finding potential bugs or security holes.
  • Test the performance under various loads to make sure it can withstand high traffic. Simulate different scenarios using software like JMeter or Gatling.
  • Work along with the API’s developers to ensure that any concerns discovered are dealt with and fixed.
  • After the API has been incorporated into the mobile app, test it with actual users to get feedback on how well it works and how easy it is to use.
  • Keep an eye on user feedback and API performance to spot potential improvements and make the appropriate adjustments.

Final Word

Building APIs for mobile apps requires careful consideration of several criteria to achieve the best performance and user experience. Developers may construct dependable, effective, and simple APIs by adhering to best practices such as guaranteeing API security, designing for low latency, offering thorough documentation, and leveraging caching and compression techniques.

Developers have to prioritize designing and implementing high-quality APIs that address consumers’ changing demands as the use of mobile apps rises. Developers may produce APIs that allow smooth, engaging mobile experiences by taking a user-centric approach and implementing the aforementioned recommendations and best practices into their development process.

Author Bio

Art Malkovich is CEO and co-founder of Onilab, an eCommerce development company. He has about 10 years of experience in team management and web development for eCommerce. He is passionate about keeping up with recent technologies and working on innovative projects like headless commerce solutions and PWAs in particular.

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