By on October 21, 2015

10 API tools released this year – 2015 roundup

Last year I wrote a review of API editors available on the market named “A review of all most common API editors”; this year however, I decided to concentrate on API-focused tools released in 2015. A list of tools that made an impact on the way I work and play with APIs.

In the breakdown below, I’ll explain what each tool does, what you can use it for and how it fits in my workflow. If you don’t have time to read the whole article just read the “What it replaces in my workflow” part of each tool to get the gist.


1. Gelato — Tasty technical docs (visit)

I discovered this tool while I was in Barcelona (Spain) — it was still invite only then and I emailed the generic info@gelato.io to get access. Today, anyone can join and build beautiful technical docs. It’s super simple to get started.

What it replaces in my workflow:

I know rendered markdown is oldschool, but I want more.

So here’s why I think Gelato is stronger than your typical readme file, Slateor your home-made/hand-made dev portal:

  • I get analytics that track portal views over time so I know activity and engagements levels. That’s right, I can track developers so I know who they are and what they do on my docs.
    I still use Google Analytics on the side but it’s an extra bonus when I wake up in the morning and opening my portal I can check if there have been any significant traffic spikes. That would usually happen if you got featured somewhere like HackerNews, ProductHunt or similar.
  • A legit guide-driven portal (github markdown-enabled ) with syntaxhighlighting: clear, concise, pretty — works well with long detailed guides.
    I wish I had this when I was helping out a few startups like Mailjet.com setting up and writing API docs.
  • Don’t have to build a custom portal using custom html/css — I spend time doing stuff I’m actually interested in
  • Imports API specs directly and generates docs, such as Swagger & other formats. If something gets updated it’s a one click job.
  • Interactive API console, test the endpoints on the fly without leaving the doc page — always been a great fan of this since Mashape started using this technique a couple of years ago
  • Having a little independent portal of my own makes me feel like I am the king of the hill. Example:https://raygun.gelato.io/reference/docs/raygun-sidekick.
  • I can go into as many details as I want in my documentation and still look classy!

Outcome:

Last year Readme.io was my dream startup.

This year Gelato comes in to empower API docs and also provides a premium feature where a team of experts will review your API and write the docs for you.

There’s a feature in the making according to the site, where you’ll be able to upload rich media (screencasts) to make your portal even more awesome and helpful.

Although Readme.io did not let me down with their product so far, this year I’m gonna get myself some Gelato, and pour me a some real coffee too ☕️


2. KONG — Open source API management (visit)

KONG is literally the one tool that keeps coming back into my life, over and over.
It’s been developed entirely in the open (yes it’s another opensource project by the same people that brought you apiembed.com and mockbin.org), pull requests and ideas are welcome and there is a very active community on Gitter and Github that engage and help you getting started. The documentation is neatly laid out and there are examples to support it.

What it replaces in my workflow:

With KONG I can modularly add functionalities to my APIs without having to write a single line of code.

My top 5 favorite features are:

  1. Oauth
  2. SSL termination
  3. Rate Limiting
  4. Analytics
  5. CORS headers injection

On top of it all, it’s built on nginx (openresty).
It uses a REST API to set up each module and API that I want to proxy. Sweet! Did I hear someone is building an open-source web-ui too?

Outcome:

A few keystrokes away and I have KONG running on Digital Ocean in a container. Bam.

It saves me tons of time.


3. APITransformer —Magically Convert API designs (visit)

With a cute retro logo and a very “to the point” website, this web-based tool will allow anyone to convert their API specs files across different formats.

Hailing all the way from New Zealand (APIMATIC.io built this) APITransformer wants to set the record straight:
The importance of having well-defined and up-to-date API design is a high priority in a world where products are built using API-driven and API-first approaches.

What it replaces in my workflow:

“A dozen poor attempts at parsing different languages and then losing my shits because I did a poor job.”
No but seriously..
Working with different clients and having to learn RAML, APIBlueprint and IODocs is not required anymore. The Swagger domination continues.

Write once, Transform to everything!

Outcome

No more excuses to not design or model your APIs. We can all be friends!


4. POSTMAN Team Sync — The cURLinator (visit)

Since its release Postman has been surfing an incredible wave of success, featured on the Chrome App Store Development tab multiple times and highly recommended to API developers in heaps of conferences and on the web.

It’s been rated FIVE ☆and has over 2 million installs (including all versions): that’s pretty impressive. Considering the amount of API Devs in the world, that means Postman is doing really well!

I had the luck of testing the new client which is still in BETA at the time of writing, POSTMAN Team Sync.
The newest feature that comes within Team Sync is the ability to, you can guess it, collaborate on whole new level with your team.

If you want to get the team features it’ll cost you 5$ per month, per user.

What it replaces in my workflow:

If you are part of a small or large team, you can use the client’s new feature to work more efficiently together by enabling everyone (tech support, marketing, engineering, sales) to share API related details.

As you might know: in the old postman you could save collections of endpoints.
With Sync however, Postman is evolving from being a repository of just snippets: Collections (the entities that users share) can be anything such as but not limited to: documentation, workflows (API use cases), tests snippets.
No set up required for the rest of your team! One click share, and you’re ready to have everyone on the same level

  • Your tests
  • Your endpoints
  • Your documentation
  • Your authentication details

If you’re working with a remote engineering team this works brilliantly, especially if you do a lot of integrations with 3rd party APIs and you don’t have a way to efficiently share APIKeys and an authentication token and you want to test your backend quickly.

You can organise the different collections using the Dashboard so that your team mates are always on top of the game whenever an API changes.

Outcome:

This tool is pretty awesome, its popularity is deserved.
All technology demographics can use it and it reveals itself as an especially helpful tool for those who within your team might be less familiar with the CLI.
Postman is features-packed, don’t be afraid — this product is evolving in a direction that I like, battling to find its market fit fighting with CLI tools, Runscope itself and few more..
Looking forward to see how the tool will evolve, I predict it will be taken out of the browser ecosystem and made into a stand-alone binary. Let’s wait and see how it will deal with the amount of amazing features it packs now and what will be out there tomorrow.


5. APIAnalytics (Galileo) – Mixpanel of APIs (visit)

In April on ProductHunt, APIAnalytics (now known as Galileo) was launched and the premise was that it was going to change the way API developers would track the usage of their APIs.

No more having to parse the logs or build your own in-house analytics modules — every aspect of your API can be tracked by just dropping in an agent with a couple of lines of code.

If you’re a data-driven person, you want to lock down API eventing as early as possible in your development lifecycle. If you’re prototyping in your API you might have one or more business questions to answer .

Personally:

  • I want to be able to tell which of my endpoints is the most used and by whom.
  • I want to know whether and how many errors are being generated by the API
  • I want to know how healthy my API is
  • I want to know if the system is undergoing load, if latency appears and affects my customers, and if there’s a particular trend causing it.

What it replaces in my workflow:

Well mainly Splunk. Oh boy.

The days of parsing logs is over.

The free tier (the plan I am on) is loaded with features.
Splunk is great (don’t get me wrong) but pricey.
It does everything, but as an API developer I prefer to use something more focused on APIs. I have one tool that does this well.

Through the GUI, I can cruise through all my API and zoom in and outbuilding custom reports. It’s pretty, if you’re a Technical Product Manager you’ll probably fall in love with this tool.

I can filter through:

  • headers
  • response codes
  • latencies
  • request paths
  • etc…

..and depending how you developed your API you can mix and match any of the above filters to understand what particular accounts/users do with your API.

Outcome:

From the management all the way to the developer, you can find individuals that will understand and appreciate the power of this tool. Throughout the last couple of months the app has been redesigned and refined to better serve its purpose.

Honestly, if you’re into APIs and know how important Google Analytics and Mixpanel are for Marketing and Data people, you’ll understand why I’m excited about Api Analytics / Galileo


6. Blockspring — Output APIs in Excel etc. (visit)

What if you could consume hundreds of APIs in your everyday’s business applications?
Such is the goal of Blockspring — democratization of API consumption so that anyone with access to Excel or similar “every-day” desktop applications will have the power unleashed by the consumption of APIs.

The above might sound like a Blockspring is a tool aimed at the less tech savvy (you’re right, it is in fact mainly aimed at that demographic) — but as an API consumer there are days where I just want to get results worry-free.

Whether you’re in a big enterprise or in a small startup you can create blocks that consume an API. You can publish them and let anyone in the world access your API without any training.

There are over a billion Excel users in this world. And only a fraction of the 35M+ Developers in the world consume API.

Building API “blocks” that can be run within every day’s business apps sounds like a clever idea to empower people to retrieve data in a self-serviced way, without having to know how to code or consume precious engineering time

What it replaces in my workflow

Sometimes you just want to quickly extract data from one source and to then feed it onto another process: Blockspring allows me to do that with their Excel integration or through the CLI.

As a developer Blockspring feels like AWS lambda (and it’s free): it’s a nice tool to have especially because of the fact that you can build whatever you want that will run on demand (one API call away). Calling in external APIs to process the data can be extremely powerful.
From the fine handling of errors to the parsing of inputs, you can literally do tons of stuff on Blockspring.

For example I use Blockspring and Firebase as the backend of a mobile app: HTTPS termination, docker containerisation management and hosting – all handled for me.
Feels good to be in 2015!

Outcome

A good tool to keep in mind especially when you want to quickly do data-manipulation without worrying about having to authenticate, read the documentation of an API or getting the syntax right. On Blockspring you can’t make up parameters or inputs, they’re explained in front of your eyes, they are available right there on the platform, often pagination works out of the box and all the data will be returned neatly into spreadsheets. Sweet! Definitely keep an eye on Blockspring — especially if you work with less techy people 😉


7. APIBoard — Docs and Workflows (visit)

Another player in the documentation space has joined the game.
APIBoard is a tool that allows you and your team to track recent changes to APIs and document it. Additionally, and this is where it gets interesting, APIBoard lets you create workflows.

A workflow is a series of API calls run in sequence to complete a certain action. You can inspect the output of each call and using Javascript pass parameters to the next API call.

What it replaces in my workflow

I can see how teams can use APIBoard to test chains of events that occur in their API by just running workflows.
Unlike other tools where you take a more unit-test approach to the problem with APIBoard you take an event driven approach: “Do this, then do that with the output from this. ”
For example: Before being able to query and end-point you need to authenticate to the service and request a token.

The tool also allow you to keep track of all the changes you’ve done to your documentation in a Google Docs fashion. Editing and going back in time is never an issue. Especially handy if you want to see how your documentation has evolved.
Personally I believe the workflow functionality could be used to automate API requests when triggered manually or by an external event (a bit like a more advanced Zapier for the enterprise). I don’t believe this is the direction the team building this tool is going for. Oh well…

Outcome

Interesting concept, reminds me a little about the paid testing feature provided by Postman — but I believe this will be another opponent facing Readme.io, Gelato.io etc.
This tool seems quite mature to be openly available for anyone to signup. You should consider this: If you’re looking for a quick way to run API tests and if you haven’t yet paid for Postman’s testing framework add-on you should give this a try — it’s free.


8. APIStudio — Sandbox + Swagger (visit)

If you remember last year, I reviewed the Studio tool by Restlet
It’s a graphical user-friendly interface to build APIs, auto generate server code and client libraries.
Well other than the name given to this tool, which sounds very similar to Restlet’s — there are interesting overlaps.

The idea here is that you can create auto-generated APIs by writing, or rather designing using Swagger specs, the interface.
You can understand that there is a lot of usefulness to a tool like this one, especially as it is using a mix of tools to achieve that in the back.

What it replaces in my workflow

Healthy API building comes with a healthy API design process, that is why we see so many companies spending resources and engineering time to support different blueprint formats and write material on best-practices of API design.
In my opinion, the essence of a tool like this one is pretty obvious: deliver a quick way to design APIs without the overhead.
That’s because the best way of getting an API design right is being able to quickly iterate and mock your API and repeat the process until the team and a selected user agree that a baseline has been reached.

Outcome

Because this tool then generates for you a Node server infrastructure package which you can run straight out of the box and will match your designed API — it’s a great tool for beginners and/orsmall projects to get started with.

If used correctly this tool can help you get started with API design in the correct way.


9. AWS API Gateway — Knock Knock its AWS (visit)

One of the big revelations this year has been Amazon’s API Gateway. The platform lets you operate with one click a complete API management solution in the cloud. As such it offers a tons of features for the API developer, which I’m not going to go into details because the site has a nice marketing page anyone can read and get a feel for.

If you’re a developer you probably understand that AWS wants you to use their other offering (AWS Lambda) in conjunction with their API Gateway.
Why? Because it’s ridiculously easy to create APIs.

There are a few gotchas, but the idea of server-less applications is pretty cool.

What it replaces in my workflow

In a world where elastic and on-demand APIs are going to become the standard I love the fact that I don’t have to spend time setting up and hardening servers.

In the same way Heroku is a platform to easily deploy and serve web-apps, it is my understanding APIs have a similar need — the ability of just being launched as tiny functions and scaled automatically.
I like node.js so I find it rather easy to launch functions on AWS Lambda, ran on demand every time there’s an API call being initiated.

Features like request throttling, importing JSON (swagger) api specs are cool but I feel like there is a lacking on the authentication, versioning and testing front.

Outcome

Although AWS Gateway provides a lot of features I feel like it has still a bit of rough edges that need to be polished. I am sure that for the pricing its being offered it’s going to be a startup-killer for many of the people who thought they could build and sell their own api management solution.
On the other hand some of the api management solutions out there now should be worried that Amazon is catching up with them. Who will win? Jeff Bezos the ball is in your court!


10. APIGarage — A wrench for API calls (visit)

I was fortunate to chat with the founder and main person working on API Garage. At first, API Garage might seem like Postman’s little brother but once you get to know the tool better you’ll understand there’s a very different approach being taken in its development. The idea behind APIGarage is to increase developer productivity by building a tool that integrates with developers’ workflows.

First and foremost, unlike Postman which is built and relies on the Chrome/Chromium ecosystem, this project has taken a diverse approach: Built on top of Electron and Angular.js, it is a multi-platform API console that doesn’t have to worry about the big (Google) brother doing its thing.

Postman is extremely rich of features, sometimes you might think there aretoo many. Today Postman is healthy but looking carefully ahead, it might not be a surprise that tomorrow Postman becomes too crowded: Prioritising is hard and sometimes when there are many features planned on the roadmap or implemented it gets hard to retain the king of the hill crown.

API Garage is aiming to take a different path and not make the same errors – it has been built for the developer that consumes APIs in mind just like Postman — but has a different roadmap in mind in the way it’ll approach the release of new features and how they’ll all fit in the product.
The roadmap is more developer focused: Feedback from the community of developers using this tool is taken into extremely serious consideration and is the primary source of inspiration that drives and leads the feature roadmap.

What it replaces in my workflow

I forecast APIGarage to directly compete with Postman. Right now I use APIGarage for mostly keeping track of API calls that I need to run to achieve this or that in the apps I develop. I like the collection feature and the fact that it has a low footprint and a simple, to the point, UI.

The app is young and I was happy that I had been given access to the beta and fortunate enough to have had the time to discuss it personally with the mastermind that develops it.

Outcome

Speaking with the developer/founder of this app it is clear that he’s going to make every moment matter. I had the luck of being revealed some of the details behind the roadmap of APIGarage that I have been asked not to reveal, that’s super fair-game because it’ll be exciting to watch.
Today the tool might feel young, and lacking all of the features that Postman has, but things will change: As I write this I have APIGarage running in my launch bar because I was exploring some APIs earlier, let’s see how things evolve !


*BONUS* Stoplight.io — The secret contender (visit)

Stoplight is a TechStar-accelerated company hailing all the way from Austin, Texas.

The tool is in private beta, so only few lucky ones had the chance to play with it so far. Luckily I am one of these lucky bunch.

Here are my findings:

Stoplight is aiming to become a complete API studio with a capable proxyat the core of it all.

  • In Stoplight you organise your work in workspaces — each workspace has projects.
  • You can collaborate in real-time with your colleagues or friends on the creation of documentation and mocking of APIs.
  • Stoplight hosts a version of your mock API on their server so you don’t have to set up a server. The hosted mock API updates as you updateyour local one.
  • API documentation is only one of the cool features you use Stoplight for.
  • Stoplight plans to support Swagger and RAML, there will never be a lock-in.
  • It supports the creation of schemas. This way you don’t duplicate models: You can select between writing your own schemas or use the JSON Schema which describes your JSON data format.
  • You can mock your API with simple Javascript-like coding, handling requests’ complexity is on you.
  • You can create functions and scripts to re-use, the so called utility functions let you add latency, validate responses and requests, etc..
  • Stoplight supports variables

There is much more going on, but I don’t want to spoil it all, in a short time Stoplight will probably shed more light on features and capabilities of their tool.

(This article was originally written and posted on Medium.com)