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This guide contains a summary of best practices and ideas to consider when designing libraries.

To be effective, a library must achieve certain fundamental objectives. Specifically, it should:

  • Define its problem domain and implement a set of related functional requirements that solve the problems it defined. For example, an HTTP client may aim to support all HTTP request types and understand the various headers, content types, and status codes.

  • Meet the non-functional criteria appropriate to the problem domain. These typically involve performance, reliability, security, and usability. The relative importance of these criteria varies widely. For example, a library designed for batch processing may not require the same level of performance as one intended for day trading.

The main focus of this guide is to explore the characteristics that a library must have to stay relevant and popular with its users. These characteristics include:

  • Minimal mental complexity: All developers must consider the readability and maintainability of their code. It's crucial to reduce the mental effort required for others to read, understand, and use your APIs. Achieving this involves creating libraries that are clear, consistent, predictable, and easy to debug.

  • Backward compatibility: When releasing a new version of an API, ensure the existing API remains operational. Clearly communicate and document any breaking changes well in advance. Provide a straightforward, clear, and gradual pathway for users to adopt the new API or design changes.

  • Informative documentation: The documentation that accompanies the library needs to do more than repeat function and type declarations. It should be comprehensive and specifically tailored to the library's audience. It should accurately reflect the needs and scenarios of various user roles, ensuring it provides essential information without being overly simplistic or complex. Always include clear examples, balancing explanatory text with practical code samples.

The following sections dig deeper into these three characteristics, with practical advice on how you can provide the best possible experience to users of your libraries.

What's next

Last modified: 13 June 2024