Why API Versions Matter with Kris Harrison :

Why API Versions Matter with Kris Harrison
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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Kris Harrison, Director of Product Management at Salesforce for data, integration, and metadata focusing on Enterprise API and External Services. We’ll dive into all those technical topics and more as we dive into APIs and how they affect everything that goes on in your org.

Join us as we talk about why you should be thinking about APIs and how to learn more.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Kris Harrison.

Why APIs are important for admins to understand

Kris is a Product Manager at Salesforce focused on the Enterprise API Product Suite. “The encompasses the REST, SOAP, and Bulk APIs that provide programmatic access to the core Salesforce data that we know and love and run so many important functions across many different businesses,” he says. That includes the API framework and specific API operations and resources, like the query operation.

While interacting with APIs sometimes feels like it’s out of the scope of your average admin, so much of what goes on happens either implicitly or explicitly through an API request. Even if you’re not writing code, tons of things you’re doing on your org interact with APIs, and it’s important to understand how they work and how they affect your day-to-day. “If you’re interacting with an org, there’s an API that’s part of making that magic happen,” Kris says.

New API changes in Spring ‘21

For Spring ‘21, Kris’s team has added the FIELDS() function to the SOQL query. This lets you pull back a pre-defined grouping of fields within the results set you can reference. You can return standard fields, custom fields, or even all fields in the resulting data to save on keystrokes and research to make that exploration on data within an org much easier. That means you can stay within the SOQL query and interpret that results without having to toggle back and forth—one of the most requested ideas on the IdeaExchange.

They’ve also created a plan to retire versions 7-20 of the SOAP, REST, and Bulk API. “Every new release we stamp out a new version of the API,” Kris says, “in Spring ‘21, we issued version 51.” So there’s now a plan to retire the oldest versions of the API (version 7 is from Summer ‘06, for example). There’s information in the Release Update tool in Setup on how to think about how to prepare for this change and what steps can be taken to ensure the org and it’s integrations won’t be impacted by the retirement plan. This helps you take advantage of the newest innovations that ship with every major release.

Adding to capabilities to your org

For admins, we’re always looking for areas of opportunity—ways we can make the environment better and more efficient. While we’re often focused on new declarative features, looking at API improvements can give users and developers access to new innovation.

“As the CLI capabilities are able to evolve and become more feature-rich, they’re plugging into new capabilities that are expressed through the API,” Kris says, “so there’s a win-win there. As you upgrade and make steps to take advantage of the capability that ships with every major release, that’s an opportunity to refresh the state of any older, pre-exisiting integrations with the org, take stock of them, and see if they would benefit from some of those newer capabilities that have been brought to market and question if they’re still needed and providing a viable service for the org.”



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Full Show Transcript

Mike Gerholdt: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins podcast, where we talk about product, community, and career to help you become an awesome admin. This week, LeeAnne is sitting in for Gillian, and the two of us are talking with Kris Harrison, who is the product management director for products at Salesforce within data integration, metadata, and focusing on enterprise API and external services.
That’s right. It’s the admin podcast, and we’re going to talk about APIs and it’s awesome. You should totally tune in. So let’s get Kris on the pod. So Kris, welcome to the podcast.

Kris Harrison: Thank you so much and I’m grateful to be here.

Mike Gerholdt: Ah, it’s exciting to always talk with new product majors and have guest interviewers on the pod. Why don’t we get started and tell us a little bit about what you do at Salesforce.

Kris Harrison: Sure. I’m a product manager within our platform services area, and my focus is on our enterprise API product suite that encompasses the REST, the SOAP, the bulk APIs that provide programmatic access to the core Salesforce data that we know and love and run so many important functions across so many different businesses.
That responsibility entails a few different things. Number one, we own the API framework that so many Salesforce product teams expose their objects and their business logic through, but we also own specific API operations and resources like our query operation that is expressed through the SOQL language.
So we have a pretty big scope and it’s a really exciting space to play in because I learn so much every day about what customers and partners are able to do with these API capabilities.

LeeAnne: So, Kris, I know that you’ve been working more and more with admins and you mentioned you’ve been working with a lot of our customers, and I know that many of our admins, myself when I was an admin, we didn’t really always view our role as intersecting with APIs, or that didn’t always feel like it was within our scope, but I know it is very much within the scope of the admin.
How do you see admins intersecting with your products most often? Maybe admins that are managing implementations or working with developer teams. Like what are some of the things that you’ve seen when you’ve been out in the field with our customers?

Kris Harrison: So much of what takes place in interacting with the data on an org happens either implicitly or explicitly through an API request. So it’s important to keep tabs on that notion of how interactivity with the org and the form of exchange of data or enablement of functionality takes place.
It happens at its core through API calls and there are so many different applications of API consumption that are conceptually important to be aware of. Developers that are working with an org will interact through APIs as a contract. Apps that are installed through the app exchange enable their functionality through API calls.
So their APIs are what I like to call digital glue that make so much of what happens in an org possible. So just having good awareness of that touch point with the org is important.
A number of admin functions are making API calls behind the scenes. So anyone who makes use of the data loader client that is a product that makes API calls into the org in order to load or to extract the data that’s of interest. So APIs are what are making that happen, and it’s part of the day to day, even if you’re not writing code or making an explicit call to an API directly.

LeeAnne: So APIs are very much are in the domain of admins, even if they’re not necessarily writing scripts or writing code that is calling those APIs. All of the things that admins are doing within Salesforce is interacting in some way with the APIs.

Kris Harrison: I think it’s safe to say that if interacting with an org, there’s an API that’s part of that, making that magic happen.

LeeAnne: Awesome. And I think that that’s one of the things we think about a lot for our admin community out there. They do a lot of building and they are often using the declarative tools to build out customizations and to build these experiences. But really the scope of what they’re making decisions on or helping make prioritizations on, it extends beyond, well beyond what is being built declaratively.
And so I know that there’s some updates coming for admins that are really important to have on the radar that your team has been working on. And the first one I want to ask you about is something you shipped this past spring 2021. So it’s GA, it’s fields function. I know this was something that was incredibly popular on the idea exchange. Do you want to give us a little more information about that for maybe our audience members who haven’t yet dove into this part of the release?

Mike Gerholdt: Absolutely. So the fields function is the latest enhancement to the SOQL query language that I made mention of. So as owners of query operations on Core, you perform those query operations by writing a SOQL query. And so one of the things that we’ve done to make interacting with data through SOQL more approachable for admins who are writing those queries through the CLI or any number of places where SOQL comes into play.
The fields function allows an author of a SOQL statement with very few keystrokes and with very little need to reference what’s going on the org, pull back a predefined grouping of fields within the results set with which to reference. So the fields function allows you to return standard fields, custom fields, or even all fields in the resulting data very, very quickly and save on keystrokes, save on research to make that exploration of data within an org, a lot more seamless and less intensive with the research and the typing that’s associated with that.

LeeAnne: So this means like in a practical application, if I was writing a SOQL query and previously maybe as an admin, I would have been going into the object record and set-up and looking at the fields and pulling the API names. But now that can just happen where I’m writing the queries. Is that what you’re saying?

Kris Harrison: That’s right. You can stay within the context of writing the SOQL query and interpreting the results without having to toggle back and forth or do a lot of that research.
So the initial request was to have Salesforce offer the SQL equivalent of Select Star, which is a useful tool to very quickly understand the shape of a table or an object in the context of the underlying data.
So we thought about that request and considered the true nature of the problems that are solved with Star, and we thought that we could do better. We built a function that will lend itself to future extensibility of other groupings of fields that the admins or developers care about and really take advantage of additional constructs on the platform that can plug right into SOQL.

LeeAnne: And this is something that was very much a major request from the community. I think this was one of the top idea exchange ideas.

Kris Harrison: Within our area of ownership, yes.

LeeAnne: It’s awesome, and it just reinforces the importance of everyone who’s listening, if you haven’t participated in prioritization, like this is, it’s so important. We love hearing your ideas. We want you to vote on ideas because often they get delivered and they get that visibility with our product teams.
Let’s talk a little bit more about other updates that are coming for admins and ways that admins really should be paying close attention to API updates. I know that there is some incoming news and changes coming with API version. Can you talk a little bit about that for admins and really what it means for their planning and their long-term planning of their orgs?

Kris Harrison: Of course. So in December of 2019, we announced a program to retire versions seven through 20 of the SOAP, REST and bulk API. Every major release, we stamp out a new version of the API. In spring 2021, we issued version 51 of the API.
And so we’ve made a plan to retire and take out of service some of those really, really old versions of the API. For reference, version seven of the API shipped in the summer 2006, really. So we carry around these versions and maintain backward compatibility for a number of releases. And we’re embarking upon a plan to tighten up the number of supported releases that are live in any one given time.
And so we’re going through the steps of raising awareness of these retirement plans. We have issued knowledge articles. We also just recently posted information to the release update tool within set-up to provide greater visibility around how to consider this retirement program and what steps can be taken in order to ensure that the org and any integrations that are taking place with that org are able to continue on without being impacted by the retirement.

LeeAnne: So this is something that is very important for our admins, especially admins with older, more established environments to be really cognizant of. Because this is something that could impact their integrations, and it’s something that’s within their scope to be keeping track of and to ideally include updating the API versions in their prioritization and their project planning. Correct?

Kris Harrison: That’s right. At every major release, there’s additional API based capability to take advantage of, and that newer capability will only ever be able to be accessed by upgrading integrations to consume that latest version. For example, the fields function that we just talked about in SOQL, you cannot access that function if your query operation is going against an older version of the API.
And so we want to encourage all of our customers to take advantage of the newest innovations that ship with every major release that will not be back ported to these older versions. So there’s a lot of incentives to consume those newer versions of the API that we stamp out with every major release.

Mike Gerholdt: Well, to me this sounds like the perfect opportunity to have a discussion with your IT. Like what are we integrated? What had been integrated in Salesforce? I mean, if you’re running an API from 2006, do we even need that Legacy system anymore? Are we pulling 14 year old data?

LeeAnne: Well, anything to what Kris was just explaining is even if you have some architecture from, or an integration that was built in like 2011, so you’ve got five years before, or you’ve got a period of time before that API version’s retired.
However, there is a motivation there, as there are new features and new capabilities released with these APIs that if you do have space on your dockets, as you’re doing your project planning to optimize your environment and to give your users the best experience. Like being really forward-thinking in finding those areas of opportunity to update the API version for some of those older implementations, even if they’re not at the end of their usability would help you take advantage of all these cool new features that are coming out.

Mike Gerholdt: So, what you’re saying is I should have switched off FireWire a long time ago to USB-C and stay ahead of the different Apple plugs, because that’s what it sounds like.

LeeAnne: Yes, always upgrade the hardware as well. I think this is for admins presents a good opportunity, because I think our admins are often out there thinking about the three, six, nine month plans for their environments and doing both tech debt management prioritization of maybe different business schools. But also a lot of our admins are out there, very often trying to find these areas of opportunity. To make the environment better, to make it more efficient, to solve different problems.
And we often spend a lot of time talking about really focused on the declarative features that are coming out like new field capabilities, things like that, that are coming out for admins to take advantage of. But this is really widening the breadth of areas that our admins can build out new innovation or give their users and the developers access to new innovation, if they’re also tracking these API updates as well.

Kris Harrison: Definitely. I mean one really handy tool I made mention of data loader before, but the Salesforce CLI, another great tool to take advantage of and to help managing and extend what’s going on with an org.
So many of the commands that are invoked through the CLI are making API calls on behalf of the user. And as the CLI capabilities are able to evolve and become more feature rich, they’re plugging into net new capabilities that are expressed through the API.
So there’s a win-win there, as you upgrade and make steps to take advantage of the new capability that ships within every major release. As Mike intimated, that’s an opportunity to touch and refresh the state of any older pre-existing integrations with the org. Take stock of them and see if they would benefit from some of those new capabilities that have been brought to market and question if they’re still needed, if they’re still providing a viable service for the org.

Mike Gerholdt: Kris, for some of our newer admins who maybe are still listening, because it’s interesting and they want to ask their IT. They know they’ve got an integration. How do they go about verifying what version of the API that integration’s on?

Kris Harrison: Yeah. So there are a number of touchpoints and solutions are available through event monitoring, primarily, that report on the calls coming into an org and part of that information includes the version of the endpoint that is being called.
We’re making changes in the summer 2021 release to make that visibility available for free through event monitoring. So there’s some ability to keep tabs on that as an admin. We’re enhancing that visibility to make it more readily available, and the steps to go through to make that check are available in the knowledge article that I just made mention of.

Mike Gerholdt: Cool, and we’ll be sure to link that in the show notes.

Kris Harrison: Yes.

LeeAnne: So one thing I’d like to just do a quick plug for. I know we talk about Trailhead of course a lot for admins, but if you’re hearing some of this and if elements of it do feel a little intimidating, like the CLI, if you haven’t used the CLI before.
I had actually never used the CLI before we started working with Salesforce DX, and I entirely learned how to work with Salesforce through the CLI on Trailhead. So just a quick little plug here, if you’re not sure if that is for you, it is for you. And there’s definitely content on Trailhead to help you get hands-on step-by-step with how to use the CLI to work with your orgs.
And I highly recommend it because I think these tools that we’re talking about are, like I said, very much within the scope of admins and things that we can do to build out our environments and to really create those awesome user experiences.
Kris, I really appreciate how in-depth you’ve gone on some of these different tools and what it means for admins and how they should view API versions in the context of their existing builds and those opportunities to take advantage of new innovations.
Are there any other things that you want to make sure we share with admins today as they’re, maybe some of them are getting started with exploring how their orgs are using APIs and maybe what API versions they’re on?

Kris Harrison: So definitely review the release notes of every major release that comes out and study the API section to see if there’s any capability that is of interest. I wouldn’t shy away from considering the API section of the release notes as for developers only.
Because as I mentioned, some of the capabilities that are made available through the Salesforce UI or through other products on the platform that happens through the API. So there’s something that is of interest to hook into for bespoke integrations or projects. Check out the API release notes to see what those opportunities are.
The second thing is absolutely Trailhead. We’re working with many stakeholders internally to provide more and better Trailhead content that addresses the concept and the capabilities of APIs. There’s actually a really useful trail that we can include in the show notes that brings a lot of that Trailhead knowledge together in a nice package.
The third is to look out for that additional API version consumption visibility that we’re going to be launching in the summer 2021 release. So definitely keep an eye out for that in the release notes, and we’ll update the knowledge article with those additional details as well.

LeeAnne: So we’ve got lots of awesome API content for our awesome admins, it sounds like.

Kris Harrison: Absolutely.

Mike Gerholdt: Fabulous. Well, I want to thank you Kris for being on the podcast and enlightening us on APIs. I feel like it’s the current in our walls that runs along and never makes sense to me when I plug something in. It pops a fuse, but I do it anyway.

Kris Harrison: There are so many great API metaphors out there. One of the…

Mike Gerholdt: Oh, tell me your favorite. Tell me your favorite, please.

Kris Harrison: I can’t take credit for it, and I don’t know who is the originator of it, but the metaphor of APIs in the context of going to a restaurant, giving an order to a waiter and having the waiter go to the kitchen to fulfill that request and bring the food or drink back to you.
I think that’s a really useful and helpful metaphor that explains what APIs are and the benefit that they can provide. Rather than stepping into a restaurant and having to go into the kitchen to cook your own meal, APIs provide that exchange of information back and forth between the table and the kitchen in a reusable context.
So that’s one I like, but you can go out there and search for any number of other metaphors that connect with you to help explain what APIs do and what value that they offer.

Mike Gerholdt: I like it.

LeeAnne: I really like that metaphor. I’m not on many podcasts, but when I am, we always seem to end up talking about…

Mike Gerholdt: That’s because you’re on podcasts with me, LeeAnne. That’s all.

LeeAnne: Maybe it’s just because we record at lunchtime. I don’t know.

Mike Gerholdt: Yeah, that was great. Thanks Kris.

Kris Harrison: My pleasure.

Mike Gerholdt: Well, it was a great discussion about APIs with LeeAnne and Kris. There’s so much that an admin knows and does and interacts with the API. And I love the analogy that Kris gave us of a restaurant server, taking your order and going back to the chef. That’s a neat way to think about it.
If you want to learn more about all things Salesforce Admin, go to admin.salesforce.com to find more resources. You can stay up to date with us on social. We are at Salesforce Admns on Twitter.
Our guest today was Kris Harrison. You can find him on Twitter @GETkharrison, link is in the show notes. Of course, Gillian, my co-host who is @gilliankbruce on Twitter. And don’t forget to follow LeeAnne. She is @Leeanndroid. Of course, I would appreciate it. I am @MikeGerholdt.
And with that stay safe, stay awesome, and of course stay tuned for the next episode. We will see you in the cloud.

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March 18, 2021 at 05:30PM
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