Blonde person managing their APIs on their laptop.

Modern application development and IT infrastructure depend heavily on the use of APIs (Application Performance Interfaces) and API Management. APIs offer a standard set of rules for systems and applications to connect and interact. Whether you’re integrating a new application into an IT infrastructure or connecting the modular components of a microservices-based application, APIs are one of the fastest, most pluggable, and cost-effective ways to establish those connections.

While these advantages are clear, there is a significant disadvantage to APIs: The process of developing APIs and establishing and managing API connections can be tedious, time-consuming, and costly. 

This is where API management can help. An API manager offers a suite of API-related tools and services to dramatically alleviate the cost, time, and labor bottleneck surrounding APIs. In this guide, we’ll help you understand the fundamental aspects of API management with the following sections:

Overview of API Management

An API Management platform eases the burden of developing custom APIs and API connections by offering developers a catalog of prebuilt REST APIs and tools for quickly developing custom APIs as required. In turn, this empowers developers to rapidly incorporate services and features into their application and IT projects. 

The API Manager functions as a gateway that sits between the system you’re developing and the API for the service you want to call. When your system connects to an API, it only calls the API manager — not the individual APIs it needs to interact with. The API manager handles the call to the REST API, gets the response, and returns it to your system. It also adds a layer of security, stability, and control by limiting access to the APIs in the catalog, authenticating users, monitoring for problems, and logging data for troubleshooting.

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API in minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14 day hosted trial to learn how! Our guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example database provided to you as part of the trial!

Create and Manage Your APIs Now

Key Components of API Management

An API management platform will include the following services and features at a minimum:

1. Developer Portal

A developer portal is a platform where developers can browse, discover, adopt, test, and subscribe to different APIs for a variety of applications and microservices. Like a Swiss army knife of services and features, the developer portal puts everything you need at your fingertips to rapidly integrate new services — like authentication, language translations, map services, and endless other features — into your projects.

2. API Gateway

An API gateway mediates all of the connections and interactions between your system and the API manager’s catalog of APIs. By managing these interactions, your system only needs to call the API gateway, and the gateway manages the actual communication and sends back the results. 

3. API Lifecycle Management

API lifecycle management refers to the tools and services for creating, publishing, deploying, versioning, monitoring, discovering, and consuming custom APIs. Some API management platforms, like DreamFactory, include point-and-click API creation tools that automatically generate REST APIs from any database. These tools allow developers to create and publish custom APIs in a matter of minutes.

API lifecycle management helps the consumer of APIs as well, as they facilitate the API discovery and access, understanding API updates, and they help API consumers communicate feedback and special requests to developers. Ultimately, API lifecycle management reduces the time and cost of developing, publishing, discovering, and consuming custom REST API. 

Benefits of API Management

App developers and enterprises are flocking to API management for the following key benefits:

1. Build an Agile, Loosely-Coupled System

Since the API manager handles the connections between your system and the different APIs your system needs to use, it bypasses the need for tightly-coupled connections between the services and apps that comprise your architectural design. In this way, API management supports a more agile, flexible, and loosely-coupled architecture to achieve the following:

  • Minimize the chances of coding conflicts when making upgrades
  • Speeds up development and reduces time to market
  • Make updates and changes faster and more cost-efficient
  • Test new services/features faster and more economically

2. Standardize Connections for the Widest Variety of APIs

Whether you’re developing an app that needs to call different APIs or integrating different applications into your IT infrastructure, you may be dealing with a variety of API formats and protocols — such as SOAP, REST, XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and others. You may also need to connect with open APIs, partner APIs, and internal APIs with different authentication requirements and access restrictions. An API manager like DreamFactory automatically manages authentication and access for different types of APIs while performing the necessary protocol and format translations to integrate the widest variety of APIs into your projects.

3. Put the Most Useful APIs at Your Fingertips

An API manager puts a searchable API directory at fingertips to facilitate app development. In this way, the API manager is like a Swiss army knife of readily-available services. By searching through an organized catalog, developers can quickly discover, use, and reuse APIs for the services and features they want to incorporate into their projects. 

4. Advanced Monitoring and Logging

An API manager keeps tabs on your connections through advanced monitoring features that provide detailed logging and audit trails. This helps with detecting and troubleshooting problems because you can examine the exact administrator and user actions that triggered the abnormal event or malfunction. 

5. Streamline API Authentication

Advanced API management platforms like DreamFactory empower developers to quickly weave authentication services (like Active Directory, Okta, Google, and more) into their apps and projects. This allows you to implement role-based access controls, manage API keys, and deploy other security features.

6. Standardize Security

API management makes it easier to standardize security across an enterprise IT infrastructure. The API manager ensures that all of the connections passing through it conform to SOC2, CCPD, GDPR, or another security standard your organization adheres to.

7. Implement API Rate Limiting

Most apps and systems can only handle a certain number of requests before they get overloaded, experience slowdowns, or need to shut down. To prevent traffic overload, an API manager can use API rate limiting, API quotas, and spike arrests to throttle and slow down requests from overly-active IP addresses. These features can also trigger higher fees, cancel requests, or send an error code to abusive IPs.

Read this article for more information on the benefits of API management: 6 Reasons to Use API Management in the Age of Loosely-Coupled App Design.

Best API Management Tools

The API management vertical features a wide range of platforms. Here are some of the best API management solutions on the market right now:

1. DreamFactory

DreamFactory was designed to be the fastest, securest, easiest-to-use API manager for connecting the widest variety of apps, data, and services. One of the most impressive features of DreamFactory is its automatic REST API generation tool. DreamFactory allows you to automatically generate custom REST APIs for any database in minutes (not the weeks it normally requires). DreamFactory streamlines all aspects of API lifecycle management to achieve the most time-efficient and cost-effective development cycle possible. 

Here are the most noteworthy features/characteristics of DreamFactory:

  • Support for REST, SOAP, SFTP, MQTT (for IoT), SQL, XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and email
  • Automatic REST API generation tool
  • GDPR, HIPAA, CCPA compliant
  • Live API documentation
  • Support for the most widely-used authentication solutions
  • Role-based access control (RBAC)
  • Runs on the cloud or on-premises

Here’s what one user says about using DreamFactory:

“Think of the true cost of DIY APIs & the cost of other API Management tools. For us, DreamFactory cost in a year what an API team would have in a month, and what slower API Managers would cost in two months.”

“APIs are built for you — and not just any APIs. Fully documented, fully secured (OAuth, LDAP, Active Directory, SAML Integration) and accessible through a 3rd party client. Very easy to import Active Directory. Very easy to create roles with appropriate limits. Logging functionality great as well.”

“For us, it was a question of what was the best way to build our new apps. Our APIs would honestly have taken 6-8 (expensive) developers a few months to build or was going to take me and my organic team longer – but we would have to stop everything to do it. I have built APIs in the past and it is messy and never finished on time – so DreamFactory’s solution of instantly creating and deploying the APIs for a fraction of the cost of that development team, and a fraction of the cost of what we would be giving up to do organic development, was a no-brainer.”

2. Dell Boomi

Like DreamFactory, Dell Boomi offers an API management solution for building and integrating applications and services. It supports full API lifecycle management with tools to build, publish, and control API connections. Unlike DreamFactory, Boomi does not include an automatic API generation tool, so coding custom REST APIs will take longer with Boomi compared to DreamFactory. 

Boomi includes a range of integration services in addition to API management — such as an ETL platform for large-scale data extract, transform, and load operations. These services make Boomi more expensive than DreamFactory, so unless you need an ETL platform — in addition to an API management solution — Boomi could be unnecessarily expensive for your needs. Boomi also comes with a steep learning curve, and developers require training and certification to use the platform.

Here’s one customer’s experience using the Dell Boomi API management solution:

“While I like most of the features and functions, the training cost is huge compared to the training content. I recently got certified for Dev I & II, where the content does not have Find Changes and web services covered. As a developer, I would expect these basic things to be covered for the huge money I am paying.”

3. Mulesoft Anypoint Platform 

As a “kitchen-sink” integration solution, the MuleSoft Anypoint Platform serves virtually every integration use-case you can imagine — including ESB, API Manager, API lifecycle manager, and ETL platform. 

Although MuleSoft is one of the most popular and widely-used API management platforms, its many services and features come with a high price tag and steep learning curve. Successfully operating the platform will require one or more Mulesoft engineers. When you consider that a Mulesoft engineer costs approximately $100,000 a year in wages — and when you consider its exorbitant licensing fees and other costs — most small-to-medium-sized businesses will not be able to afford the platform.

MuleSoft is one of the best API management solutions available, but if you don’t need its wide range of services, you may find that you can achieve your goals with a more cost-effective solution like DreamFacotry.

Here’s what one customer says about MuleSoft after two years of using the Anypoint Platform:

“The Anypoint Platform has matured significantly since its inception. It now has API management, analytics, dashboards, self-discovery, and multiple deployment options. As the feature set has gone up, so has the price. It’s starting to price out small to mid-level customers.”

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API in minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14 day hosted trial to learn how! Our guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example database provided to you as part of the trial!

Create and Manage Your APIs Now

Try the DreamFactory API Manager: It’s Free!

DreamFactory allows you to rapidly create and connect APIs for your application and IT development projects. With DreamFactory’s automatic REST API generation features and full API lifecycle management tools, we’re confident that you’ve never experienced anything like it in terms of development speed, cost-effectiveness, and ease of use.

Want to see how DreamFactory can blow through your API-related bottlenecks and help you achieve faster development cycles? Contact DreamFactory for a free, hosted trial of the platform now!