Understanding the Connection Between Databases and APIs

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Worldwide government IT spending is forecast to total $589.8 billion in 2023, an increase of 7.6% from 2022, according to Gartner, Inc. As technology integration becomes more prevalent in society, the government, organizations, and businesses must begin the process of digital transformation. When it comes to successful digital transformations, APIs and databases are at the core. The connection between databases and APIs is that APIs are often used as intermediaries to facilitate the retrieval and manipulation of data stored in databases by various applications.

Here's the key things to know about the connection between databases and APIs:

  • A database is an organized collection of information, used by organizations to store, maintain, and access data, aiding in informed business decisions.
  • Databases improve business processes, track customer data, and help keep data secure through proper security measures like controlled access, encryption, and anonymization.
  • Common types of databases include relational, object-oriented, centralized, distributed, NoSQL, hierarchical, network, and cloud databases.
  • Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) enable communication between software components, acting as translators or middlemen, with common types being REST APIs and SOAP APIs, as well as browser and iOS/Android APIs.
  • APIs facilitate communication between applications and databases, supporting cloud computing, working with any type of database, and adding a layer of protection to databases.

What Is the Function of a Database? 

A database is an organized collection of information stored in a way that makes it easy for users to access, manage, and update. In general, databases are utilized by organizations for storing, maintaining, and accessing any sort of data. Overall, the primary function of a database is to allow organizations to make more informed business decisions based on well-organized data and information. 

Organizations primarily use databases to: 

  • Improve Business Processes: Databases help improve business processes through collecting and analyzing information from sales, order processing, customer service, and more. 
  • Track Customer Data: Databases are a repository of valuable business and customer information, including social media use, contact information, purchase history, and more. 
  • Keep Data Secure: On its own, a database is not secure. With proper security measures, such as controlled access, encryption, and anonymization, businesses can keep the information in their databases out of the hands of cybercriminals. 

Common Types of Databases  

There are various types of databases. Some of the most common types of databases include: 

  • Relational
  • Object-oriented
  • Centralized
  • Distributed
  • NoSQL
  • Hierarchical
  • Network
  • Cloud

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Understanding Application Programming Interfaces

An application programming interface (API) allows multiple software components to communicate with each other using a set of definitions and protocols. Therefore, the primary purpose of an API is to allow multiple applications to communicate with one another. To better understand APIs and how they work, it's best to think of an API as a type of translator or "middleman" between applications and servers. Check out the two examples below to get a deeper understanding of how private and public APIs work.  

  • Example One: You walk into a restaurant and are seated at a table with your friends. A waiter comes over and takes the orders of everyone at the table. The waiter then takes these orders to the kitchen, where the cook begins to prepare the meals. Once the food is ready, the waiter then brings the food out for you and your friends to enjoy. In this situation, the waiter can be thought of as an API as the waiter is allowing you to communicate with the cook without ever having to directly talk to them. An API does the same thing, allowing multiple applications or servers to send messages back and forth without having to directly communicate or even understand one another. 
  • Example Two: Imagine you walk into an important meeting. Everyone in the room speaks Swedish, except for you. Luckily, there is a translator in the room who speaks both Swedish and English. The translator is able to translate your presentation from English to Swedish, allowing your business contacts to understand your message. In this situation, the translator can be thought of as an API. The translator is allowing you and your business associates to communicate without understanding one another's language, just as an API allows multiple applications or servers to communicate without having to be based on the same language. 

Common Types of APIs 

When it comes to APIs, there are a variety of different types that organizations can utilize in their API management. However, two of the most common types of APIs that organizations use are REST APIs and SOAP APIs. 

  • REST APIs: A REST or Representational State Transfer API delivers data using the lightweight JSON format. In addition, JSON is a text format that uses conventions similar to that of the programming languages of C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, Perl, and Python. REST APIs are known for their reliability, scalability, and ability to perform quickly. 
  • SOAP APIs: A SOAP or Simple Object Access Protocol API uses XML to transfer data and information between applications. In comparison to REST APIs, SOAP APIs are a bit more complex and require more upfront data to function properly.

In addition, browser APIs and iOS/Android APIs are also quite common. Browser APIs use JavaScript to manipulate HTML to create a unique user interface within a browser.

API Use Cases 

To better understand how APIs function, let’s look at some popular API use cases.

  • Database APIs: This popular API use case allows easy communication between applications and database management systems. A real-life example of a database API can be seen with Firebase, a mobile web application platform owned by Google. The platform lets developers efficiently sync and store data in real-time. 
  • Operating Systems APIs: The Windows API and the Linux Kernel User-Space API are two real-world examples of operating systems APIs. 
  • Remote APIs: These types of APIs interact through a communication network. Most Remote APIs are designed based on web standards because the internet plays such a critical role as a communications network. However, not all Remote APIs are Web APIs.
  • Web APIs: The most common use case of APIs are Web APIs. Web APIs are responsible for sending requests from a web application or web service and responses from servers using HTTP protocol. In addition, Web APIs are used extensively in mobile apps and websites to increase their functionality and make them practical for users. Facebook, Netflix, Google, Chrome, and Amazon all use web APIs in their daily functions. 

What's the Connection Between Databases and APIs? 

Now that we have a solid understanding of both databases and APIs, it's time to take a deeper look at the connection between the two. When looking at the connection between databases and APIs, we discover that they are two distinct mechanisms that can work in tandem. Essentially, developers can communicate with databases by writing queries to access data, change tables, and more. In turn, APIs allow communication between an application and a database management system. 

Overall, APIs allow developers to talk to a database and extract information. So, why would a developer choose to use an API to communicate with a database rather than just query the database? Well, there are three primary reasons that developers benefit from utilizing APIs to talk to databases rather than just query the database:

  • APIs Aid the Rise in Cloud Computing: Cloud computing and the serverless trend is on the rise. If a developer wants an application to tap into a cloud database, using an API would be the most efficient way to accomplish the task. 
  • APIs Work with Any Type of Database: An API is an additional layer of abstraction on the DB Query. Ultimately, this allows programmers on both the back end and front end to not worry about breaking everything through versioning or about what type of database is in use. In addition, APIs allow users the choice not to communicate with the database directly. 
  • APIs Help Protect the Database: Utilizing APIs to access information in the database also provides an added layer of protection to the database. If a malicious user had direct access to the database table, they could ruin the database entirely. In comparison, APIs allow for controls to be put into place that ensure that only valid users have access to the database and that only valid requests can modify the data within the database. 

API Generation for Databases

API Generation helps businesses move faster by enabling the rapid deployment of APIs. This quick turnaround is a big advantage, letting companies stay ahead of market changes and meet customer needs more effectively.

DreamFactory has many security features like API key management, role-based access controls (RBAC), and OAuth support built right in. This means APIs are secure and easy to manage without needing extra development work, saving valuable time and keeping data safe.

DreamFactory’s provides real-time dashboards and alerts, making it easy for administrators to keep an eye on API performance and security, quickly spotting and addressing any issues that arise to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Whether a business needs to deploy on-premises or in the cloud, DreamFactory fits right in with minimal hassle. This flexibility allows companies to choose the deployment method that works best for them, integrating seamlessly into their existing systems.

The platform’s architecture supports scalability and performance through its N-tier design and optional caching layers, ensuring APIs can handle increasing loads efficiently. This focus on scalability and performance helps businesses grow without technical Bottlenecks.

Getting Started with Databases and APIs with DreamFactory

Overall, implementing API usage is a great way for organizations to better protect the valuable data that resides within their company databases. Are you interested in learning more about how an API could help add an additional layer of security to your organization's database? Register today to start your 14-day trial in our hosted environment, discover DreamFactory's new features and API management platform, and test the user experience for yourself.

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