SLR: From Saltzer & Schroeder to 2021...: 47 years of research on the development and validation of Security API recommendations

Nikhil Patnaik, Andrew Dwyer, Joseph Hallett, Awais Rashid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Producing secure software is challenging. The poor usability of security Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) makes this even harder. Many recommendations have been proposed to support developers by improving the usability of cryptography libraries—rooted in wider best practice guidance in software engineering and API design. In this SLR, we systematize knowledge regarding these recommendations. We identify and analyze 65 papers, offering 883 recommendations. Through thematic analysis, we identify seven core ways to improve usability of APIs. Most of the recommendations focus on helping API developers to construct and structure their code and make it more usable and easier for programmers to understand. There is less focus, however, on documentation, writing requirements, code quality assessment, and the impact of organizational software development practices. By tracing and analyzing paper ancestry, we map how this knowledge becomes validated and translated over time. We find that very few API usability recommendations are empirically validated, and that recommendations specific to usable security APIs lag even further behind.
Original languageEnglish
Article number60
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
JournalACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2022

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