4 Types of APIs and Common Architectures
How do APIs work?
An API is a software interface that defines how different systems interact with each other through API calls; the process of making a request from one server to an API and returning the information or service to the originating server. Users can access an API through an API key which is a unique identifier that restricts and tracks access to API. The API key is also a safeguard from malicious use of the software.
Requests in API
Requests are written as URLs that communicate between servers. The requests follow a set of rules dictated by HTTP or HTTPS, hyper-text transfer protocol or hyper-text transfer protocol secure. HTTPS adds an additional layer of security as it uses TSL/SSL to encrypt the HTTP requests and responses. The basic requests to a server are,
- GET, retrieve a resource
- POST, create a resource
- DELETE, delete a resource
- PUT, edit an existing resource
The 4 Types of APIs
There are four common types of APIs that organizations and developers use.
- Private APIs are leveraged only by the developing company’s internal team to share data, information, or services more easily and increase efficiency of the organization.
- Partner APIs are most common in SaaS, or software as a service, industries. They are shared externally to partnering organizations and the originating business can control access and how the API is used.
- Open APIs are also known as public APIs and are easily accessibly with little to no restrictions. These APIs could be free or require registration.
- Composite APIs gather multiple endpoints or datapoints from one call and bundles the responses. They are typically used to reduce the load on the server and enhance application performance
The 3 Types of API Architectures
API architecture refers to the rules that govern how data is shared with the clients. There are three architectures to be aware of,
- REST, or representational state transfer, is the most common architecture for APIs due to the scalability and ease of implementation. REST may also be seen as RESTful. REST APIs follow the guidelines below,
- Client-server separation, client and server applications are independent from each other, or decoupled. The interaction between servers is limited to a request from the client and a response from the server. This allows for changes on either end to not impact the opposite, promoting scalability and flexibility.
- Uniform interface, all requests and responses belong to a uniform resource identifier (URI), meaning they are all formatted the same way and transmitted via HTTP protocols.
- Stateless, server applications cannot store data from client requests and every request is independent from the next.
- Layered system, since the server and clients are decoupled, requests and responses are sent through multiple applications requiring that they are consistently formatted. Furthermore, the REST API is designed so that neither the client nor server can identify if it is communicating with an end application or an intermediary.
- Cacheable, instructions included for how long resources can be stored on either the server or client side. The goal is to help lessen the constraints of statelessness, improve client-side performance, increase results on the server-side and overall reduce average response time.
- SOAP, or Simple Object Access Protocol, uses XML to transfer data via the World Wide Web Consortium. SOAP has strict guidelines for data transfer and therefore, makes them more secure than REST APIs but also more difficult to implement with more extensive code. This architecture is typically leveraged for internal data sharing.
- RPC, or remote procedural call protocol, while simple like REST differs as it calls for actions rather than documents. With RPC, multiple parameters can be sent and one result will return. There are two types of RPC encoding calls, XML and JSON, dubbed JSON-RPC and XML-RPC.
Understanding the basic framework of an API will help guide your decision when selecting which organizations to partner based on the intended use of the data or services. APIs are ever more essential to providing the best client experience, whether internally for employees or externally for customers.
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