Written by Reginald Chan on May 16, 2021

Introduction to API Gateways and How to Choose the Right One

An Applications Programming Interface (API) is a computing interface that allows applications to communicate and share information. In an API architecture, one of the most important yet less talked about pieces is the API gateway. It plays a very crucial role that contributes a lot to the successful survival of an API.

Over the past few years, we have experienced a growing number of clients accessing data. They do this from different IoT devices, mobile applications, websites, and other web applications. Businesses are also coming up with solutions using APIs, transforming how they operate. For instance, AI and ML have completely transformed marketing today. This would not have been possible without APIs. Such things have led to a tremendous increase in the number of businesses relying on APIs for their day-to-day operations. 

Due to this demand, the use of API gateways has also been on the rise. There are different types of gateways available with each coming with different types of features. It is not easy to get an API gateway that offers a solution to everything, but the right choice of an API gateway depends on the different needs of different organizations.

What is an API Gateway?

An API gateway can be defined as a platform that provides developers with a single point of entry to an organization’s backend services. The gateway is mandated with getting all the incoming requests and making sure that they end up at the right service. This setup makes sure that the backend services are protected by an abstractive layer and that all clients interact with a single interface. It also makes sure that the clients do not interact with any of the backend services individually.

Furthermore, an API gateway comes with more features that enhance the efficiency, monitoring, and security of APIs. Some organizations use multiple API gateways depending on their requirements. This is largely attributed to the fact that they have different teams working on different APIs in silos. Managing multiple API gateways has made sure that they are able to handle their increasing and changing requirements without any issues.

Choosing the Right API Gateway

As discussed above, it is not easy to get an API gateway that works as a one-stop solution for all of an organization’s needs. However, the right gateway depends on the needs of an organization. That notwithstanding, there are a number of things that one needs to look at when choosing an API gateway. They include;

Authentication

You need to know how an API gateway handles authentication before settling on it. A gateway is supposed to authenticate all incoming traffic to ensure that authentication on different services is eliminated. This will, in return, improve the performance of your API.

This means that you need to evaluate the authentication methods supported by a gateway. Some types of authentication supported include OAuth, basic authentication, LDAP, and API keys among others while other gateways might come with limited authentication options.

Authorization

An API gateway comes with policies set up in its configuration to make sure that a request has some restrictions on the services that it can access. This means that once a request has been authenticated, it is not just left to access any service that it feels like accessing.

When choosing an API gateway, it is important to make sure that you understand the levels of access that your API offers. If you, for example, have subscription plans that offer different access levels to people under different plans, and you need to limit access depending on those plans, you should choose an API gateway that allows you to do that.

Analytics and Logging

There are API gateways that allow one to add functionalities such as analytics and logging. This is important in limiting duplication in different services. Other gateways allow one to integrate them with other applications that perform these functionalities. This allows one to monitor their APIs from the gateway.

Make sure that you know the kinds of monitoring that you need for your API and choose the gateway that offers what you need. Also, you need to decide if you want to get gateway logs for integration with service logs or just rely on the service logs.

SaaS or Self-Hosted

Finally, you need to decide whether you will host your API gateway for yourself or you will use a cloud-hosted one. Even though there might not be many differences between the two options, a self-hosted API gateway provides more control and allows one to configure it the way they want. The only downside with it (though not quite an issue with experienced developers) is that you will need to configure it correctly and take full responsibility for maintaining it.

Conclusion

An API gateway is very important for any organization or developer that builds and depends on APIs for their activities. Apart from providing a gateway through which all requests go through and are directed, it also acts as a security layer and provides API owners with monitoring functionalities for their APIs.

Article written by Reginald Chan
A meticulous entrepreneur by nature and a serial entrepreneur. Founded a few awesome startups including Marketing Lancers, WP Maven and TheMarketingHuddle.com. Reginald is a sought-after success coach, digital marketing consultant and TEDx speaker from Asia. Currently, he teaches others how to make money online for free.

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