This technical report has been prepared as part of the study ‘APIs4DGov —digital government APIs: the road to value-added open API-driven services’ and will contribute to the study’s final outputs in early 2020. Performed by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, in collaboration with the Directorate-General (DG) for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, the study will last for 2 years and is being conducted in the context of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy. The work aims to improve the understanding of the current use of APIs in digital government and their added value, as well as to assess the feasibility of establishing a European API framework for digital government.
This report addresses many different aspects of this topic, with the focus of this report being directed mainly at professional practitioners, providers, consumers and technical users working within the API digital universe. For this audience, the list of Web API standards and technical specifications on which we have based our analysis must be considered as an integral part of this report. Because we want the list to be a live document and a single source of truth, we have published a dynamic table to the JRC data catalogue rather than a fixed table in the appendix. The introductory sections, the glossary, and the list of European initiatives will be of interest to a broader audience; particularly those working on API adoption in organisations who need to ensure interoperability issues are addressed.
As an interim output of the study, this work should be useful for supporting the technical implementation of APIs. Based on workshops, interviews and meetings (as well as online fora) held as part of the study, involving both private and public sector actors, data on specific subjects such as API-related concepts, terminology, standards and European Commission related initiatives have been gathered and reviewed. We have found challenging to develop such an understanding of these topics and answering questions such as ‘What is an API?’, ‘What is REST?’ ‘What is a web service and how is it different from an API?’ and ‘How can APIs be secured?’, as well as ‘What are the main ways to document and design an API?’.
This technical report, therefore, also aims to clarify and disseminate our understanding of crucial API subjects, namely API-related concepts and terms, and the list of technical specification standards we have uncovered so far. It is important to note that the documents examined do not include domain-specific standards or technical specifications. In addition, we aimed to be as neutral as possible (i.e. by not expressing preferences for a certain technical specification or standard) in the selection of and definitions used in relation to the topics presented. Equally, we do not give specific recommendations or details of trends in relation to how to adopt APIs in organisations, an area we aim to address in another part of the study. To allow all readers to find out more about their topics of interest, we have paid particular attention to providing references and links for each of the concepts, terms and standards presented.
Finally, our intention is that readers will contribute to further work in this area. While explaining each subject, we tried to be as precise and rigorous as possible, but we know that some issues remain unclear. For example, several definitions exist for the same subject and some terms are associated with different definitions. Both of these issues should be resolved by further work. For this reason, we encourage readers to provide us, through the contact email address provided, with their insights and feedback. This will both improve our knowledge and contribute to the final report of the APIs4DGov study.