Looking into API testing is a strategic move for any organization looking to improve the reliability and functionality of its applications. API testing involves a series of steps, from grasping the basics and building a skilled team to selecting the proper tools and adopting best practices.
This guide will help you navigate through everything you need to know before you embark on API testing as an organization.
What is an API?
An API, or Application Programming Interface, is a set of rules and protocols that allows various applications to talk with each other. It essentially acts as a bridge, enabling requests and responses to flow between systems through a set of API endpoints. Each endpoint here corresponds to a specific function or resource that an application has access to.
With regards to testing an API, the focus is on these endpoints. The goal here is to make sure that they behave as expected. Generally, APIs are made to be consumed by programming code rather than by human users. A developer writes code to interact with the API with the expectation that they respond as documented by the API provider.
What is API Testing?
API testing is basically exercising an API. Testing is an essential part of any application development. In this regard, API Testing goes beyond checking that the API works. Instead, it also encompasses other features such as validating the reliability, performance, and security of the APIs. While it can all happen manually, API testing benefits from the speed and efficiency of automation.
An Autonomous Bot to Test your Apps
Benefits of API Testing
API testing has numerous advantages. These include but are not limited to:
Testing Error Handling
The error handling capability of an API can be the difference between a working and a failed API. As such, error handling is one key benefit of API Testing. API testing includes sending requests with invalid data, incorrect HTTP methods, or without necessary authentication. A robust API should return appropriate error messages and status codes. These should provide enough guidance for the end user to understand what went wrong.
Testing Large Volumes of Data
APIs often need to handle large volumes of data. As such, testing this capability is essential for performance assurance. Monitoring the system’s response to these requests helps in optimizing the API for real-world scenarios where the data load can be substantial.
Testing When There is No User Interface
APIs often operate behind the scenes, without a direct user interface. Testing such APIs requires a focus on the interactions at the service layer. Testers must therefore create requests that simulate various scenarios and observe if the API’s logic processes them correctly.
Testing When the User Interface Changes Rapidly
In some cases, the user data can be subject to frequent alterations. By targeting the API directly, testers can verify the underlying business logic without being affected by UI alterations. This enables a consistent testing approach that can keep pace with rapid development.
API Tests are Technology and Language Independent
API tests can be written in any language of the platform and still interact with APIs in different languages. An API testing framework facilitates this by providing a common ground for tests to run. In addition, data formats like JSON format and XML format are often used.
How to Approach API Testing in Your Organization
When approaching API testing, it’s important to understand the technology your APIs are built on. With this knowledge in mind, you will be able to choose the right tools and programming language for writing automated tests.
With the tools in place, the next thing you need is a strategy that includes both positive and negative test cases. Positive tests verify data integrity and proper functioning under normal conditions. On the other hand, negative tests check how the API handles errors and edge cases.
The next thing is to integrate API testing into your development lifecycle early. This way, you will be able to proceed with continuous testing, where automated tests are run against new code commits.
Finally, think about the security and performance implications of your APIs. Implement tests that simulate various security threats. These can include attacks like injection attacks or unauthorized access. Additionally, performance testing should be conducted to ensure that the API can handle expected traffic volumes.
Identifying the Types of APIs Within Your Organization
Different types of APIs serve various purposes within an organization. Recognizing the distinct characteristics of each type is crucial for effective testing strategies. Here are the types of APIs you need to know about:
Private APIs are internal to an organization and are not exposed to external consumers. Their primary purpose is to enhance internal development and integration efforts.
Composite APIs combine different services and data sources to achieve a single task or transaction. They are often used to speed up processes and improve the user experience.
Partner APIs are exposed to strategic business allies, often under specific contractual agreements. They enable integration between different organizations’ systems.
Open APIs, also known as public APIs, are available to external developers and are designed to expand the organization’s reach and services. Testing open APIs requires a focus on scalability, documentation clarity, and a robust security posture to handle a wide array of public interactions.
The most common API protocols
Here are the common API protocols that are used today:
REST: Representational State Transfer
REST is a simple and stateless API protocol that is widely used in business applications. It employs standard HTTP methods and is designed to be lightweight and fast. When a request from a client is made to a RESTful API, it responds with the requested data in a format like JSON or XML.
SOAP: Simple Object Access Protocol
SOAP is a protocol that relies on XML format for data exchange. It is known for its extensibility and independence. It allows programmers to operate over a variety of transport protocols. Despite being heavier than REST, SOAP remains popular in business applications due to its standardized nature and advanced error-handling capabilities.
RPC: Remote Procedure Call
Remote Procedure Call (RPC), as you can guess from the name, is a protocol that allows a program to execute a procedure on another machine or application system. Unlike RESTful services which use HTTP and web patterns, RPC involves direct commands to perform specific operations. RPC is particularly useful in distributed systems.
Challenges in API Testing
Here are the common challenges that you should expect in your organization in regards to API Testing:
Diversity in APIs
In real-world business applications, the range of APIs within an organization can be vast and varied. Such diversity in APIs demands different testing strategies. This complicates data management, as different APIs may interact with data in different ways. In addition, the diversity can lead to inconsistencies in API security protocols.
APIs are dynamic. New features are being added and already existing ones are regularly being updated. As such, continuous and consistent testing is crucial to make sure that every change does not introduce new issues.
Uncertainty in Ownership
APIs often serve as the bridge between different systems and services. As such, there is always an uncertainty about ownership. When multiple teams are involved in the development and management of APIs, it can be unclear who is responsible for testing.
Sometimes, there are unexpected changes in the APIs. These can include updates or purging without proper communication. As such your organization must be agile and must adopt robust testing strategies.
API Testing Best Practices
With these challenges in mind, it is only fair that we also update you with best practices in API testing.
Always Specify the API output status
As you test your APIs, it’s essential to clearly specify the API output status. Always make use of the different status codes to indicate the output. In the global standards, there are five distinct response code categories. These are usually denoted by the value of the first digit and include –
- 1xx (Informational) – Indicates the request has been received and is being processed.
- 2xx (Successful) – Indicates that the request was received successfully and has been accepted.
- 3xx (Redirection) – Indicates that further action is required for the request to be completed.
- 4xx (Client Error) – Indicates when a request contains incorrect syntax and cannot be completed.
- 5xx (Server Error) – Indicates when the server has failed to fulfill a request.
Focus on small functional APIs
Results show that concentrating on small functional APIs can have significant benefits. By isolating and testing each of these units, you can easily identify and resolve issues. This granularity allows for more targeted testing, which is crucial for maintaining a high-quality API ecosystem within your organization.
Organize API endpoints
Always group endpoints logically according to their functions or the parts of the application they serve. This will help your organization in managing the APIs of an application more effectively.
Never underestimate the power of automation. To maximize efficiency, your organization should employ automation capabilities. Automating API tests can significantly enhance API test coverage.
APIs are an indispensable part of any modern organization. Introducing API testing into an organization is a crucial step towards enhancing the quality of the application under test. For teams new to this domain, it is crucial to follow well-established best practices. With the right approach, API testing can yield significant benefits, making it an indispensable component of application development.