An API gateway is an API management tool that takes API calls sent by clients and routes them to the correct microservice with protocol translation, composition, and request routing. It basically invokes multiple microservices and aggregates results to get the right path when handling the requests sent.
Why is an API Gateway Needed?
In the past few years, technology has advanced with the use of APIs that have become the building blocks that power communication and the exchange of data between applications. APIs have become the new norm when building applications and have changed how we run our day to day lives, helped to reduce business administration costs, and streamlined business operations.
A few years ago, developers served their applications in production using HTTP servers. Today, with APIs becoming the new norm when building applications, they serve their APIs in production using the API gateway.
The API gateway is very important when it comes to helping developers deliver APIs with scalability and availability to both their partners and customers. The gateway sits in front of the APIs and is involved with other additional tasks such as rate limiting, authentication, routing endpoints to the right microservices, load balancing among others.
What Necessitated the API Gateway?
Initially, developers faced a lot of challenges when it came to creating integrations. They were building XML and SOAP based APIs that had both unstructured and structured data and lacked a unified interface that could link different legacy applications. This is when the API gateway was born.
The gateway has the capabilities to apply data transformation to legacy SOAP services and transform the SOAP services to REST. Even though these transformations are not automatic, the API gateway has made them simple and straightforward.
Benefits of Using the API Gateway
Businesses and developers using the API gateway have reaped quite a number of benefits that have made it easy for them to meet their requirements. Some of these benefits include:
- Security: API Gateways come with a centralized server that developers can use to manage authentication, bot detection, cross-origin resource sharing, and rate-limiting among others. They will also be able to create a datastore for all the API’s session information.
- Decoupling: The API Gateway allows developers to decouple their public endpoints from any underlying architectures. They do this by creating routes based on hostname, path, headers, and other information depending on their requirements. This helps in solving issues that arise when some clients communicate directly with different services making it difficult for developers to move or rename these services.
- Cross-Cutting Issues: Cross-cutting issues such as caching and logging should be handled from a centralized location. The API gateway eliminates the possibility of developers having to deploy cross-cutting issues to every single microservice.
- Reducing Round Trips: There are situations that require developers to join data for their endpoints across different services. It gets quite difficult to do this without employing the API Gateway which makes sure that the number of round trips is reduced.
- API Key Management: The API Gateway helps in the management of developers’ API keys. It also offers a consistent and uniform way through which authentication and authorization should be handled.
- Monetization: The API Gateway offers billing and rate-limiting solutions for developers working on monetizing their APIs. It also offers a portal that partners and other API consumers can create and deprecate API tokens.
There are multiple API Gateways available for developers today. However, one is supposed to choose an API Gateway that meets all their requirements as well as those of their customers. There are a number of things one is supposed to put into consideration when choosing the right API Gateway for their APIs.
When choosing an API Gateway, you need to make sure that it has all the functionality that you need. However, in a situation where you are not able to get one with all the functionality, you should make sure that you choose an API Gateway that can increase its functionality by using either open source or proprietary plugins.
Complexities in Deployment
When choosing an API Gateway, developers need to choose one that is easy to deploy or rather one that does not bring along a lot of complexities.
They need to establish whether the API Gateway they are choosing requires multiple types of nodes or just a single node to set up the database. This is because some API Gateways might require many databases that might be complicated to set up.
Developers need to make a decision on whether to host their API Gateway in the cloud or on their premises. They need to understand that even though hosting on their premises adds time when it comes to maintaining and deploying their APIs, they get more latency with cloud hosting. Cloud hosting becomes tricky especially when the provider is facing downtime.
API Gateway Features
Developers need to be very careful when choosing API gateways because some of them are basically modified servers that meet some basic API requirements.
They need to choose API Gateways that come with features such as security and developer portal features with good design and user experience. If the gateway does not have these features, then they should be able to easily modify it to meet their requirements.
Even though pricing depends on the financial resources available to developers or a company, one needs to choose an API Gateway that is affordable while at the same time exhibiting all the features that they need.
It is essential to choose a provider who offers a free option that one can use for testing. With this, you will be able to find out if the gateway meets your requirements and has the features that you need before upgrading to the paid options with more features.
As technology continues to advance and change consumer expectations, developers are coming up with APIs every day to address the new demands. As such, API Gateways usage has continued to grow and has become an integral part when it comes to managing APIs and making sure that the APIs meet all their requirements.