Paris API March 2017

Yesterday I was at the Paris API meetup at "La Maison du CrowdSourcing", where the KissKissBankBank office is located. The Paris API meetup is organized by Mailjet, and Grégory Betton, one of their developer advocates was the host.

The meetup historically had two talks per session, to keep the sessions short enough so people can still get back to their families without sacrificing on the networking time.

This time though, the sessions were exceptionnaly short has both speakers finished their talks earlier than anticipated. Content was still interesting, and we had plenty of time to discuss afterwards, so that's not a bad thing.

API First to the rescue of my startup

The first talk was by Alexandre Estela, from Actility. Where he explained how to conceive APIs and how to avoid the common pitfalls. His point was that, when working in a startup, we are often time-constrained. We have tasks to do, urgently, and not enough people to do it. So when comes the time to build an API, we tend to rush it and we end up with something that is half broken, hard to maintain and not usable. We also tend to rush into the development phase to have something in production and do not spend too much time thinking about the design.

He gave a list of tools that helps you focus on the design of your API, its specifications, and that will build all the plumbing around it for you. All his talk was focused around Swagger and the tools of its ecosystem. Following his approach, you always start with the specs of your API, spending your time thinking about the design.

Then, you use swagger-inflector on top of it. It will parse your specs and build all the plumbing and create the required endpoints for you. You need to follow some specification and the tool will take care of the rest. It will even create the mocks letting you test your API right away.

No code is finished until it is documented, you also run swagger-codegen-slate to generate the documentation, following the popular Slate framework (used by Stripe, to expose how your API is supposed to work.

swagger-codegen-bbt will let you do black box testing. It will re-use the examples you defined in your specs and will test changes to it to generate real-life test scenarios.

And to finish, the most well-known is swagger-ui, that will generate a full HTML playground, exposing your endpoints and letting people play with it. Having interactive demos for APIs is for me the most important part to discover what an API is doing. When confronted with a new API, most users will read the short description then they will try to play with an example and after that will they read your documentation. So having a live playground for them to do requests is key for the adoption of your API.

His approach was sound: you start with the specs, and then you let the tooling generate the rest around. The backend code will most of the time be generated in Java because that's where Swagger is coming from but I think you can also make it generate it in node or go (although I'm not sure all the plugins will be compatible).

In the end, it will save a lot of time in the long run, but you'll have a starting cost of bootstrapping all the tooling that might not be worth it if you plan to do one and one quick and dirty API. Having everything automated and being able to build tests, mocks, documentation and demos is invaluable, but you still need to spend time writing the specs and examples for everything else to work.

Short talk, but to the point.

PhantomBuster

The second talk was about PhantomBuster, by Antoine Gunzburger. PhantomBuster is a crawling API on top of PhantomJS. Its purpose is similar to what Kimono Labs offered. Not all websites have an API, and when you want, as a developer, to get content from them, you have to resort to crawling them.

Kimono Labs offered a GUI where you had to click on elements of the page you were interested in, and they created an API endpoint that used to expose the data you selected in JSON format. It was a way to make any website into a JSON API for easy consumption.

I'm talking into the past as Kimono Labs shut down end of February.

PhantomBuster is doing something similar except that instead of providing a GUI for you to click on the elements you need, it lets you write custom javascript code to crawl websites and extract content. It is packaged with many features already (like screenshots or captcha solving), but still requires you to write some code.

In the end I'm not sure I will use the project as I already have crawling scripts ready and using them often, but I see how this can be useful into prototyping and API for a POC.

Conclusion

It was my first time at the Paris API meetup. I will surely suggest a talk for the next session, I liked the mood of the meetup. Thanks to both speakers for the interesting content.


Tags : #paris-api

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