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What Makes APIs Hard to Learn? Answers from Developers

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1 Author(s)
Martin P. Robillard ; McGill University

The paper discusses the application program interface (API). Most software projects reuse components exposed through APIs. In fact, current-day software development technologies are becoming inseparable from the large APIs they provide. An API is the interface to implemented functionality that developers can access to perform various tasks. APIs support code reuse, provide high-level abstractions that facilitate programming tasks, and help unify the programming experience. A study of obstacles that professional Microsoft developers faced when learning to use APIs uncovered challenges and resulting implications for API users and designers. The article focuses on the obstacles to learning an API. Although learnability is only one dimension of usability, there's a clear relationship between the two, in that difficult-to-use APIs are likely to be difficult to learn as well. Many API usability studies focus on situations where developers are learning to use an API. The author concludes that as APIs keep growing larger, developers will need to learn a proportionally smaller fraction of the whole. In such situations, the way to foster more efficient API learning experiences is to include more sophisticated means for developers to identify the information and the resources they need-even for well-designed and documented APIs.

Published in:

IEEE Software  (Volume:26 ,  Issue: 6 )