API governance

Learn what API governance is and how it fosters collaboration, promotes API consistency, and enables organizations to maximize the value of their API portfolio.

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What is API governance?

API governance is the practice of defining policies and processes that foster effective collaboration, promote API consistency, and enable organizations to get the most value out of their API portfolio.

A successful approach to API governance involves advocacy, enablement, and training, which helps establish a governance-oriented mindset across the organization. This cultural shift increases productivity, streamlines API workflows, improves the consumer experience, and reduces risk. The resulting APIs are reusable, stable, secure, compliant with legal regulations, and aligned with the organization's goals.

Here, we'll discuss the role that API governance plays in an API-first world—and clarify the relationship between API governance, API security, and API management. We'll also review four key steps that leaders can follow to create and apply an API governance strategy, and explore some best practices that will help ensure its success. Finally, we'll highlight several features of the Postman API Platform that support effective API governance at enterprise scale.

What role does API governance play in an API-first world?

Today, more and more teams are designing and building applications as a collection of internal and external services that are delivered through APIs. This approach, which is known as API-first, has led to the widespread proliferation of private, partner, and public APIs that help organizations unlock new features and advance their business goals. But as APIs multiply, it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure that each one is scalable, secure, and cost efficient. Some organizations also struggle to prevent API redundancy, in which several teams implement similar logic for common workflows instead of reusing existing code.

API governance, as a discipline, has emerged in response to these challenges. It enables strategic leaders and other API stakeholders to establish consistent standards while raising awareness of governance-related issues across their organization. API governance reduces API sprawl, promotes API quality and security, and helps ensure that every API—whether it's private or public—can deliver its maximum value at scale.

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What is the relationship between API governance, API security, and API management?

API governance involves defining policies that enable organizations to make the most out of their APIs, and these policies may relate to how APIs are managed and secured. For instance, an organization's API governance strategy may require teams to use a centralized tool for developing and testing APIs throughout the API lifecycle. It may also require the use of security headers or method-level authorization checks to protect the API and its data from common threats. Therefore, API governance encompasses both API management and API security.

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What steps should leaders take to create an effective API governance strategy?

Some people mistakenly believe that API governance creates unnecessary red tape that slows down API development. It's true that API governance initially requires careful consideration and calibration, but an effective strategy will ultimately reduce friction, increase productivity, improve the consumer experience, and accelerate delivery cycles. The following steps will help leaders ensure that their organization will reap these benefits for years to come:

Step 1: Take inventory of your API artifacts

Before leaders can devise an effective API governance strategy, they must first get a complete view of their organization's API landscape. This involves taking inventory of every API in circulation, charting its lifecycle, and identifying the owners for each stage. It's also important to evaluate each API's use case to get a sense of how it supports the organization's business goals. Through this process, leaders will come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their API portfolio, and they can use this knowledge to begin setting API governance goals that are realistic and appropriate.

Step 2: Define API governance policies and processes

As their organization's API landscape comes into view, strategic leaders can work with the identified stakeholders to define API governance policies for the entire API lifecycle, as well as the processes through which they will be applied. This requires a clear vision of each policy's intended outcome, which will ensure it supports the overall business strategy in a measurable way. Once established, these policies and processes should be thoroughly documented and made broadly available. It's important to note, however, that API governance policies should never be considered "final," as they must constantly evolve to meet the needs of teams and the organization.

Step 3: Provide support to teams

After API governance leaders define and distribute API governance policies, they should make themselves readily available to the teams that are implementing them. This can happen during design, code, and security reviews, as well as through training sessions, workshops, and advocacy. A supportive environment will help team members gain a more meaningful understanding of the policies, which promotes self-sufficiency and establishes API governance as a defining aspect of an organization's culture.

Step 4: Monitor impact and iterate accordingly

API governance is an iterative process, and it is unlikely to be perfectly executed on the first try. Governance leaders should start by defining some initial standards, which will only be applied to certain APIs or teams. They should then monitor the impact of these policies, identify areas in need of improvement, and iterate accordingly. With each iteration, leaders will be able to enhance their policies and expand their impact.

What are some API governance best practices?

Every organization has unique needs that will require a tailored approach to API governance. Nevertheless, the following best practices can help ensure the success of any API governance strategy:

Apply governance throughout the API lifecycle

Traditionally, API governance reviews have occurred after the design and development process is complete. At this point, issues are likely to be deeply ingrained and difficult to fix. Strategic leaders should instead identify governance owners for each stage of the API lifecycle, who will be responsible for defining specific policies and processes for their field of expertise. Applying API governance throughout the lifecycle will ensure alignment and streamline the implementation process.

Augment manual reviews with automated checks

API governance policies are often applied during a manual review, which can be time-consuming and error-prone. Instead, teams can automate certain governance checks to confirm adherence to cut-and-dry rules, such as a requirement that all property names are camelCased. Automated checks can't fully replace manual reviews, but partial automation can accelerate the review process by enabling experts to focus their bandwidth on more nuanced issues. Automated checks also provide a hands-on way for new team members to learn about their organization's policies.

Use a private API catalog

One of the main goals of API governance is to facilitate API reuse, but this can be difficult to achieve if internal APIs are not easily discoverable. API governance leaders should therefore adopt a private API catalog, which will provide centralized access to every API artifact across their organization. Private API catalogs not only reduce code redundancy, but also make it easier for API governance leaders to assess the overall effectiveness of their strategy.

Prioritize enablement to promote self-sufficiency

In order for API governance to be effective, API developers, designers, and other stakeholders must be empowered to apply governance standards on their own. Governance leaders need to prioritize enablement so that every team member truly understands the policies and the reasons they exist. Over time, adherence to API governance standards will become second nature to every stakeholder, which will streamline policy implementation and help organizations avoid governance-related bottlenecks.

Other common questions about API governance

Why is API governance necessary?

APIs are essential components of all modern software, and they play a crucial role in helping organizations achieve their goals. API governance promotes API quality, consistency, security, and compliance, which helps ensure that every API in an organization's portfolio is able to deliver its maximum value.

What types of APIs do you need to govern?

Every API can benefit from governance—regardless of its purpose or functionality. However, APIs that are used in finance, healthcare, and government may be subject to additional regulations and compliance requirements, which makes API governance even more important in these contexts.

What is API management vs. API governance?

API management refers to the process of designing, deploying, and maintaining APIs while ensuring they remain secure, scalable, and reliable. In contrast, API governance is the practice of defining policies and procedures that dictate how APIs are managed. API governance therefore encompasses API management.

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How can Postman help you with API governance?

The Postman API Platform, which was ranked the best tool for API design by G2, comes equipped with several features that enable leaders to implement API governance at scale. With Postman, you can:

  • Establish and apply an API governance strategy: With Postman API Governance, leaders can select and configure pre-built API governance rules from our in-app library. These rules can be applied to any API definition in Postman, and violations can be reviewed from within the platform.
  • Define custom API governance rules: Teams can strengthen their API governance strategy by creating custom rules that follow Spectral guidelines. These rules will be executed on JSON and YAML OpenAPI v2 and v3.x specifications.
  • Automate API governance checks during CI builds: The Postman CLI enables teams to execute API governance checks within their CI/CD pipelines, which helps ensure that violations do not slip through the cracks. The results can be reviewed in their CI tool, the console, or the Postman API Platform.
  • Fine-tune API governance rules: Leaders can adjust their API governance strategy by hiding violations that may not be relevant for a specific API. They can also include a reason for hiding the violation—and unhide it if business needs change.
  • Consolidate internal APIs in a private API catalog: Postman's Private API Network enables teams to build catalogs of internal APIs, workspaces, and collections. Private API catalogs support collaboration, facilitate code reuse, and enable API governance leaders to monitor the impact of their policies.
  • Get full visibility into internal API landscapes: Leaders can track internal API trends on a reporting dashboard, which enables them to see which APIs are undocumented, untested, or unmaintained. The dashboard also includes Security Audit reports that consolidate the findings of the Postman Token Scanner to give you a quick view into whether your organization has accidentally exposed any tokens.
  • Enforce security rules on API definitions and requests: Teams can augment their API governance strategy with Postman API Security, which includes a set of default rules that will automatically surface common security vulnerabilities and violations in their API landscape.

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