by Tony Harris
• March 24, 2021
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are everywhere, and with good reason. These bits of software join apps and microservices together in spite of different programming languages, operating systems, and data formats. An API can integrate services that otherwise can’t communicate with each other. They lay the groundwork for most successful digital transformation strategies and composable enterprises. In this article we’ll give an overview of the different types of APIs and what that might mean for your organization.
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Most of the APIs you’ll encounter can be broken down into four main types: Open API, Partner API, Private API, and Composite API.
Also called public APIs, these are your completely public access APIs, with no restrictions on who can use them. Businesses often favor these as they allow third parties to introduce new and innovative ideas to improve user experience. Sometimes businesses will encourage this sort of innovation by tailoring their APIs to developers.
A good example of an open web API was released by Facebook. You’ve likely used at least one app before that allowed you to make an account with your Facebook credentials rather than a separate login, despite that the company wasn’t owned by Facebook. In this case, the company used Facebook’s API as part of its login process.
Another example is with Google Maps. Their open API not only allows Maps integration with third parties. Game developers can use realistic terrain in their designs.
This type of API is not open to the public, and access is restricted through the use of certain licenses. These can be used in business partners or used between a business and a client as part of a paid online service. An example of a partner API could be a recurring subscription service.
Also called internal APIs or enterprise APIs, a private API is used only within a company by employees. These are often used to integrate different services that a company uses and streamline workflows. A company intranet could make use of a private API.
Composite APIs are a combination of data and service APIs, used to speed up the execution of certain tasks and improve performance. If a task uses multiple API endpoints, a composite API can enable these calls to run together as a single service. An example of this could be a shopping cart for an ecommerce web application.
REST is short for “representational state transfer” and refers to an architectural style of API. There’s a wide variety of protocols on the market, here are a few to start.
While REST APIs can work with SOAP, this is not a true RESTful protocol and is often treated as a competitor. SOAP (short for Simple Object Access Protocol) web services are callbacks to Web 1.0 days, often used by enterprises and government systems for their strict, more defined security protocols. But most businesses today would benefit more from the flexibility and simplicity, and reduced bandwidth that REST provides.
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XML stands for “Extensible Markup Language,” and RPC stands for “Remote Procedure Call.” XML-RPC makes use of XML to encode API calls and HTTP to transport them.
The use of XML format is designed to be both human and machine readable, which could be useful if you have minimal code knowledge and are willing to learn more. WordPress is one company that makes use of XML-RPC in its platform.
Designed by Facebook, the Thrift protocol is part of Apache’s open-source software lineup. It can work with JSON or binary notation, and can be adapted to a number of use cases.
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If you’re still feeling lost, or want to add more microservices and functionality to your API, there’s a wealth of information in the included resources, tutorials, and blog.
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