API definition & meaning
API stands for “Application Programming Interface” which is a software intermediary that establishes the connection between two applications, enabling them to communicate via data transmission. One of the most important benefits of APIs, they allow developers to integrate new application components into the existing architecture. Thus, it simplifies application development and allows developers to save time and money.
APIs also help organizations quickly adapt to the constantly changing digital markets to stay competitive. APIs are also an essential part of cloud-native application development, which generally relies on connecting microservices through APIs. An organization can connect its infrastructure through cloud-native application development with APIs. It also enables organizations to share the data with their customers.
How an API works?
An API is a set of rules that determines how the applications communicate with each other. It acts as an intermediary layer between the application and the web server. The communication starts when the client application sends a request to retrieve information. The request includes a request verb, headers, and a request body. It is processed from an application to the web server via the API’s Uniform Resource Identifier.
When it receives a valid request, API calls the external application. The server sends the response, which includes the requested information, to the API. Finally, the API transfers the data it has received to the first application that made the request. The communication mostly includes authorization credentials to protect the data, applications, and server.
What are examples of an API?
One of the most popular examples of API is a function that allows users to log in to various websites by using their social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google. This feature, also known as universal logins, uses the API from these social media services to authenticate the user, simplifying the process by eliminating the need for creating a new profile for every website a user wants to register to. Another popular feature is third-party payment processing, mostly used on e-commerce websites. It allows users to make the payment via a popular service’s API, such as Paypal.
Another example of API usage we come across almost every day is the Google Maps service. Its API allows users to display static or interactive maps and also uses other APIS to provide directions or points of interest. Its API can provide directions by using the user’s geolocation even on the move. Booking flights online also requires using the airline company’s APIs to get the information from its database, allowing users to compare prices and even see the available seats in real-time.
What is an API gateway?
In basic terms, an API gateway is an API management tool located between the client and backend services. It is responsible for accepting all API requests and routing them to the related microservices with request routing, composition, and protocol translation. API Gateways are capable of translating between web protocol and web‑unfriendly protocols.
API gateways can handle tasks that are used across a system of API services, including user authentication, rate limiting, and statistics. Organizations prefer authentications services and rate-limiting to protect the APIs against overuse and abuse. Analytics and monitoring tools can be added to better understand how users use the API. For monetized APIs, they should be connected to a billing system. The API gateways break the incoming requests into multiple requests to route them to correct microservices to overcome this complexity.
What is the difference between API and Webhook?
The difference between API and Webhook is APIs are request-based and Webhooks are event-based. This means an API operates when a request comes from the client, Webhooks runs when an event occurs in the source app. Webhooks don’t need a request to get a response, they send automated messages or information to other apps. Webhooks can also be used as an addition to an API-based application integration for better efficiency. Although both solutions are designed to transfer data between two services, they have different use cases.
Webhooks are more suitable for smaller data and extract real-time updates. Webhooks are mostly preferred to sync data for integration with a third-party system and to build custom content workflows. It is also ideal for clearing and managing a custom cache in an external system. However, every application doesn’t support webhook integration. Additionally, APIs are better for getting specific data instead of every event. To make a change based on new information, APIs are the only option.