The Driving Forces of API Evolution
Conference contribution, 2015
Evolving an Application Programming Interface (API) is a delicate activity, as modifications to them can significantly impact their users. The increasing use of APIs means that software development organisations must take an empirical and scientific approach to the way they manage the evolution of their APIs. If no attempt at analysing or quantifying the evolution of an API is made, there will be a diminished understanding of the evolution, and possible improvements to the maintenance strategy will be difficult to identify. We believe that long-standing software evolution theories can provide additional insight to the field of APIs, and can be of great use to companies maintaining APIs. In this case study, we conduct a qualitative investigation to understand what drives the evolution of an industry company's existing API, by examining two versions of the API interface. The changes were analysed based on two software evolution theories, and the extent to which we could reverse engineer the change decisions was determined by interviewing an architect of the API. The results of this analysis show that the largest driving force of the APIs evolution was the desire for new functionality. Our findings which show that changes happen sporadically, rather than continuously, appear to show that the law of Conservation of Organisational Stability was not a considerable factor for the evolution of the API. We also found that it is possible to reverse engineer change decisions and in doing so, identified that the feedback loop of an API is an important area of improvement.