We're transitioning Studio from Beta to Early Availability

What is an API endpoint? Examples and best practices

We aim to help you understand the critical aspects of API endpoints and the best practices for designing them for optimal performance.
Motunrayo Moronfolu

Written by Motunrayo Moronfolu

Jun 21, 2024
What is an API endpoint

APIs are the core of digital connectivity, and API endpoints are one of their fundamental components. In this article, we aim to help you understand the critical aspects of API endpoints and the best practices necessary to design them for optimal performance.

#What is an API endpoint?

API endpoints are the entry points for all API interactions and are crucial for enabling client-server communication. Acting as the channel or interface through which requests are made, and responses are received, the API endpoint allows clients to access resources by sending a request to a specific location, known as an API endpoint.

#API vs API endpoint

Though developers often use the terms interchangeably, API and API endpoints have a few key differences. An API is a set of rules and protocols facilitating communication between software and components. It also defines the methods and data formats necessary for systems to interact and understand one another.

On the other hand, an API endpoint is a specific URL or URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) where clients can send requests and receive responses for particular resources or operations based on the status of the operation.

To understand these differences practically, using the SpaceX API endpoint—https://api.spacex.land/graphql/—which retrieves information about previous SpaceX explorations, let’s look at how API and endpoint come together to form the API endpoint:

  1. https://api.spacex.land: This is the base URL representing the server address hosted by the API. It serves as the starting point for accessing the API's resources.
  2. /graphql: This path is added to the base URL to access the SpaceX information. It represents the endpoint where clients can access API resources.
  3. https://api.spacex.land/graphql/: This full URL is the API endpoint, which is a combination of the base URL (API) and the endpoint path. It is the specific address where requests are sent to interact with the API.

While not explicitly shown in the example above, the API sends requests using the POST method and adheres to specific protocols, such as HTTPS, to ensure secure communication.

To learn more about APIs, check out this beginner guide about how APIs work.

#How do API endpoints work?

Depending on the API architecture, an API may expose multiple endpoints for different resources, such as REST APIs, or just a single endpoint, such as GraphQL. The core of client-server communication is HTTP requests; when a client interacts with an API, an HTTP request is sent to a URL representing the API endpoint.

The request includes:

  • The HTTP method (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, etc.) specifies the operation to perform on the resource.
  • Any required parameters, headers, or request body data needed by the API.

When the client sends a GET request to either of these endpoints, the server receives this request at the respective endpoints, retrieves the list of products from its database, and sends the product data back to the response body.

The API server processes the request using the endpoint URL and HTTP method. It performs the requested operation and generates an appropriate response, which may include:

  • An HTTP status code showing success or failure.
  • Response headers with metadata.
  • A response body containing the requested data (e.g., JSON, XML) or an error message.

The response is returned to the client through the same endpoint URL where the request was received.

#Why are API endpoints important?

Now that we understand how API endpoints work, let’s explore their essential role in business growth:

  • Enhanced customer experiences: Businesses can integrate with third-party services through API endpoints. This allows them to add valuable features to their applications, improving customer experiences. For instance, a travel agency can integrate with a weather API endpoint to display real-time weather information for destinations, making trip planning smoother for their clients.
  • Competitive differentiation: By offering well-designed API endpoints, businesses can effectively differentiate themselves in the market and generate more revenue. This allows external developers to build innovative applications and services that complement other businesses' services.
  • Reduced development costs: By using pre-built functionalities exposed through API endpoints, businesses can avoid the time and expense of developing everything in-house. This allows them to focus resources on core competencies and bring products and services to market faster.

#Difference between REST and GraphQL endpoint

While there is more than one API endpoint paradigm, two of the most commonly used are REST and GraphQL. Both facilitate communication between client and server but do so in fundamentally different ways, each with its unique strengths and use cases.

In data fetching, each REST endpoint represents a specific resource, and clients interact with these resources using predefined endpoints. With GraphQL endpoints, however, clients can request exactly the data they need by specifying nested queries to fetch related data in a single request, reducing the number of round trips to the server.

Additionally, in the case of versioning, REST endpoints often rely on URL versioning to manage API changes. This can be cumbersome for developers who must keep track of different versions and update their integrations accordingly. GraphQL, however, provides a more flexible approach to versioning. The schema can be versioned, allowing for updates without breaking existing integrations as long as the core functionality remains compatible.

For a REST endpoint, consider the product API from Federate This, an API repository for federated data sources:

  1. /api/products
    • retrieves all the products
  2. /api/product/:id
    • retrieves specific product by id

As seen above, each of these predefined API endpoints serves different functions.

To replicate the same for a GraphQL endpoint, the user can write queries as nested as needed to retrieve the data of interest from a single endpoint. Like so:

query {
products {
id
name
price
description
}
}

#API endpoint examples with Hygraph

Understanding the differences between REST and GraphQL API endpoints is crucial, but seeing their practical application in real-world scenarios is even more valuable. Hygraph, a GraphQL-based headless CMS, provides an excellent example of how these concepts can be applied effectively.

Hygraph caters to various content management needs, from simple websites to complex applications with rich content requirements. It offers several endpoints that allow users to interact with their content in multiple ways:

  • Content API endpoint: This is the main endpoint for querying and mutating data in a Hygraph project.

  • Assets endpoint: Allows uploading, fetching, and updating assets (images, files, etc.) to a Hygraph project.

  • Management API endpoint: Allows users to manage and execute operations in a Hygraph project.

These endpoints support a range of queries and mutations, which enhances user interactions with Hygraph’s content management solution. For a detailed overview of supported queries, mutations, and functionalities, refer to Hygraph's comprehensive API documentation.

By exploring these examples, developers can explore how to build a GraphQL content endpoint with Hygraph instantly.

#How to test API endpoints

Testing API endpoints is essential for both the provider and the user. Testing allows the provider to make proper documentation and optimization to confirm that the API works as expected. It also allows users to verify the API endpoint's reliability, security, and function.

In this section, we will explore some ways to test API endpoints. First, let us examine some of the available API endpoint testing types.

Types of API endpoint testing

  • Performance testing: This involves measuring the performance of API endpoints through the responses and load time.
  • Security testing: Security testing is a crucial form of testing as it enables the checking of common vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection. It also allows verifying that proper authentication and authorization mechanisms are in place.
  • Unit testing: This involves testing a single endpoint simultaneously to ensure it returns the correct data and performs the intended actions.
  • End-to-end testing: This involves chaining multiple endpoints in complex scenarios to verify that they can work with different user journeys and operations.

Here are some recommended ways to test API endpoints:

  • Setting up a testing environment: Several tools, including Postman, Insomnia, or Apidog, are available for testing API endpoints.
  • Defining test cases: The first step in testing any API endpoint is creating test cases in a testing environment or suites. This involves making the scenarios the testing exercise needs to meet, the happy scenarios, and the potential errors. This could also involve testing queries with invalid arguments, missing fields, or exceeding data limits.
  • Test error handling: When testing endpoints, it is imperative to check with invalid parameters and inputs to see how well they handle errors and the responses they give.
  • Analyze testing: After satisfying and executing all test queries, it is crucial to analyze the responses by verifying that the returned data structure, content, and error messages align with the business expectations.

It is important to integrate automated pipelines to carry out these tests. As the API endpoints get larger, routine manual testing may be time-consuming, and detecting failing endpoints may take a lot of work.

#Best practices for developing API endpoints

All API endpoints are only as good as their design, and building a well-thought-out design is crucial and not always easy. Here are some recommended best practices for developing good API endpoints:

  • Naming clarity: While APIs have methods for accessing resources, it is also recommended that descriptive nouns like **/products**, **/users** be used as API endpoints. This, at a glance, gives users insight into the resource types to be accessed through the endpoint.
  • Versioning: A versioning strategy should also be implemented to manage API changes without breaking existing integrations. The ease of versioning varies per API architecture, as REST APIs are backward compatible, and GraphQL provides versioning out of the box.
  • Implementing proper authentication and authorization: Ensure industry-standard authentication mechanisms like OAuth 2.0 or JWT are immediately added to the API design. Also, role-based access control (RBAC) should be implemented to restrict access to sensitive endpoints and operations.
  • Providing meaningful error messages: Rather than using a generic error message like "Bad Request," it is recommended that clear and concise error messages be returned so users can understand what went wrong and how to fix it.
  • Documenting the API: API documentation should be provided for users and developers because, like every human, API developers forget things over time. As a result, it is advised that API developers use tools like SwaggerHub or Redocly to provide good, comprehensive, and up-to-date documentation that explains how to use the API, including endpoint descriptions, request/response formats, and example calls.
  • Validating and sanitizing inputs: Users cannot be trusted with input fields. Therefore, continuously validating and sanitizing incoming data is recommended, especially for endpoints that perform update functions to protect against common vulnerabilities like SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS). This can involve using validation libraries to check input formats, enforce constraints, and sanitize inputs to remove potentially malicious code.
  • Implement caching: Leveraging caching mechanisms as necessary can help improve performance and reduce server load for frequently accessed or computationally expensive endpoints.
  • Enforce automation tests: Testing API endpoints should be a routine activity. As the number of endpoints grows, manual testing becomes increasingly cumbersome. Therefore, establishing automated tests to detect errors or areas for improvement is essential for quality assurance. This can be achieved by setting up continuous integration and continuous deployment pipelines using tools like Jenkins or GitHub Actions.

#Common mistakes and how to avoid them

Even the most experienced developers can develop inefficient API endpoints. Here is a breakdown of some common pitfalls and how to mitigate them:

Overlooking security considerations

  • Mistake: Neglecting security best practices can lead to vulnerability attacks, data breaches, and potential legal repercussions.
  • Solution: Prioritize security from the beginning. Implement secure coding practices, user authentication and authorization mechanisms, and regular security audits.

Inconsistent error handling

  • Mistake: Inconsistent error handling can make it challenging for clients to understand and handle API responses effectively.
  • Solution: Implement standardized error codes, messages, and HTTP status codes to provide clear and consistent feedback to clients when errors occur.

Inconsistent endpoint design

  • Mistake: Lack of consistency in endpoint naming, structure, and behavior within the API can lead to confusion and difficulties in understanding and using the API.
  • Solution: Establish and follow consistent naming conventions, design patterns, and best practices. Also, use descriptive names that accurately reflect the purpose of each resource, parameter, and response field.

Inadequate documentation

  • Mistake: Incomplete or poorly written documentation can hinder developer adoption.
  • Solution: Create comprehensive and up-to-date API documentation explaining each endpoint's purpose, expected input parameters, response formats, authentication requirements, and examples.

Insufficient input validation

  • Mistake: Failing to validate input data properly can cause security vulnerabilities, such as SQL injection or cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.
  • Solution: Always validate input data at both the client and server sides to ensure it meets the expected criteria and is safe for processing.

#Conclusion

This article introduced some best practices for crafting good API endpoints and how Hygraph can be leveraged to build GraphQL content endpoints.

Join the Hygraph developer community to connect with like-minded people who, like you, are using Hygraph to develop better API endpoints and to converse with the Hygraph team.

Blog Author

Motunrayo Moronfolu

Motunrayo Moronfolu

Technical writer

Motunrayo Moronfolu is a Senior Frontend Engineer and Technical writer passionate about building and writing about great user experiences.

Share with others

Sign up for our newsletter!

Be the first to know about releases and industry news and insights.