API Longevity

How long should an API, once released, be honored? This is a topic that comes up again and again in the OpenStack world, and there are strong opinions on both sides. On one hand are the absolutists, who insist that once a public API is released, it must be supported forever. There is never any justification for either changing or dropping that API. On the other hand, there are pragmatists, who think that APIs, like all software, should evolve over time, since the original code may be buggy, or the needs of its users have changed.

I’m not at either extreme. I think the best analogy is that I believe an API is like getting married: you put a lot of thought into it before you take the plunge. You promise to stick with it forever, even when it might be easier to give up and change things. When there are rough spots (and there will be), you work to smooth them out rather than bailing out.

But there comes a time when you have to face the reality that staying in the marriage isn’t really helping anyone, and that divorce is the only sane option. You don’t make that decision lightly. You understand that there will be some pain involved. But you also understand that a little short-term pain is necessary for long-term happiness.

And like a divorce, an API change requires extensive notification and documentation, so that everyone understands the change that is happening. Consumers of an API should never be taken by surprise, and should have as much advance notice as possible. When done with this in mind, an API divorce does not need to be a completely unpleasant experience for anyone.


Leave a Reply