Tuesday, September 25, 2018

APIs Are Key - Connect With Your Market, Connect With The World

If you're using ColdFusion in your startup, one of the questions you should be asking yourself is if you're making the most of it. ColdFusion, like many other tech platforms, is useful in so many ways, and the number of ways seems to keep growing every year. One of the most important aspects of technology is communication, and that's where ColdFusion rocks! Data flowing back and forth quickly and easily is not only the basis of business, but it's fast becoming the basis of everyday living. One of the best ways to get your startup moving in that direction is to use CF to build your company's API (application programming interface). You need something that serves your data to your customers as well as allows you to benefit from other business services, too.

What Is An API

As mentioned, API stands for application programming interface. Basically, it's a standard set of programmed functions that you expose publicly, or privately, through a server that, when called by another program, makes something happen. Similar to you opening up a web page, your browser is sending a request to a web server that requests data associated with the URL you entered. Just as ColdFusion can be used to serve a company's website, the dynamic programming nature of CF can be used to send back data that is pulled from your database and formatted in any number of ways for you as a consumer. So, an API is your best option to share your data with customers who need it, or fulfill a request that helps make your customer's life easier. It's the modern communication standard that shows no sign of stopping.

There are different types of APIs available from RPC (Remote Procedure Call) to REST (Representational State Transfer) or any other SOA (service-oriented architecture) style setup, but those details are a bit more involved. For simplification, we'll use a REST API as the primary example of what you'll want to incorporate into your business. That's because at its core, a REST API is pretty much a URL request where you don't get back a web page, but rather you get back a serialized, formatted file (JSON, XML, HTML, etc.) that any third party app can use to interpret the results. REST is also a popular approach these days, but that doesn't mean it's the ultimate answer for everything.

Why Use An API

Do you have a product to sell? You can fulfill an order through an API. Do you have inventory you need to monitor in real-time, just have your app make a request by way of your API so everyone is up-to-date on what's available. Whether you're adding employees to your record system or checking blockchain mining results, your programmed API is the way to go. In a world where new devices are being brought to the masses almost daily, you want to have an interface for those devices that works if a request is coming through a smart refrigerator or your phone.

So, that's all well and good, but you may now be asking, "How can I get one of these wonderful APIs for my startup?" The best answer may be that you make it, or at least your developers do. Luckily, ColdFusion has been on top of the API game and kept up with the modern architecture needed to rapidly create your API. From roll-your-own options to pre-built building blocks that you simply have to put together, ColdFusion is an environment that makes processing your customer's requests quick and easy. It also makes development and maintenance less of a headache as you grow.

ColdFusion And APIs

If your startup idea were to create a veterinary records service based on blockchain, ColdFusion could easily be a way for veterinary office management software to do a URL request to your CF server, validate a pet's medical history and serve up the results, ASAP. ColdFusion, Adobe and Lucee engines, have administrative dashboards that make setting up REST paths easy for you. You have to concentrate on developing the business logic, but once your idea is in place, you can put it out there for the world to use, or just your office area.

Along with the ColdFusion built in tools, modern CFML has plenty of frameworks you can implement for even greater control over your content. From REST development frameworks such as Taffy, ColdBox and Preside to FW/1, there are plenty of good frameworks to build out your REST APIs in proven, maintainable methods.

While this post isn't going into all the detail of creating the API for you, a few resources to explore further are available.

Adobe ColdFusion:

Lucee Server:

Make Your APIs Better

So, now you may have an idea of how to get set up with your own API and why it's one of the essential things you'll need to do with a modern startup. Whether your startup is based on blockchain or bicycle chains, you'll need to consider how you get your business message out into the world and how the world can reach you. Even if you're just marketing with social media, knowing how to use their APIs is a first step to mastery of the tech to please your customers. Some things you'll want to keep in mind when creating an API are standardization, maintenance, documentation, discoverability and scalability. An API is more than just a web page for devices. Using a framework that enforces industry standards will go a long way towards allowing others to easily help build up your company through third party apps and plug-ins.

Following modern programming practices is also important because you may not know how many developers will need to know your platform over the years. Documentation is also essential.  APIs should be created so they are usable with minimal training. Using a tool like Swagger to build your API will help on many levels when it comes to documentation and design. Discoverability is related to the documentation and design aspect of your API. Using only the hypertext nature of a REST result, a consumer application should be able to know how to traverse your API's functions from the root without additional special instructions. While this may be more important for a RPC APIs, making sure your REST API follows industry standards will go a long way towards getting users to trust what you have to offer.

Finally, scalability is something you'll need to take into consideration as well. Whether you have a few users a day or a million, you'll want an design an infrastructure that can accommodate them all easily. Whether this means building an additional API gateway will be up to you. The ColdFusion API manager can help take you along the path, but if you're planning for enterprise scale, that'll be something to look into from the start.

Connect With Your Market

Ultimately, what you do with your API is going to be up to you. Just like any new business venture, there aren't any hard rules that guarantee success. You could build a perfect API, but if it's not the kind that your customers want, then it might as well not exist. Your API should help you connect with your market. If that's users in the general population or other businesses, building a means to connect is always to your advantage. If you don't have an API today, maybe you should think about areas that you'd like to enhance your startup and consider how an API can help. Once you have the tools in place and set up right, expanding your market share will be significantly easier.

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