APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) provide a platform for applications to communicate and understand each other. They dictate how information that passes through platforms is structured for the applications to be able to exchange information and data seamlessly. To fully understand the basics of APIs and how they work, these specific API tutorials have got you covered on everything that you need. In this article, we are going to discuss the basics of RESTful APIs.
How Do APIs Enable the Exchange of Data Between Applications?
You must have heard about the TCP/IP protocol for applications that specifies how applications communicate and exchange data. Just like the TCP/IP protocol, APIs are stateless. This means that all the requests that use the API should have as much information as possible to make it possible for the server to know the client. APIs provide specific rules that allow applications to interact with each other. Most APIs will have sufficient documentation that will include the structure and nature of the responses they sent when a person makes a request, as well as all the necessary information required for an application to make a successful request.
APIs are designed following a number of patterns that have different requirements, history, and give different experiences to users. The designs are interconnected with each other and allow developers to make a sound decision when choosing a pattern to address their specific issues. The common API patterns include;
SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol): SOAP is more of an API communication protocol since it comes with defined security protocols and communication rules. SOAP APIs are preferred due to their advanced features when it comes to security, ACID features, compliance, and transactions.
Tunneling Style: Tunneling style works like the old technology of RPCs (Remote Procedure Calls) that are organized in an XML format. Tunneling is not very common with APIs but is used by SOAP in some cases.
REST: REST APIs are based on the HTTP protocol and Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs). They can exchange data in XML or JSON format. The JSON format is the most common format when sending data. REST APIs are best suited for systems that require high speeds but minimal security. They are mostly used in web services due to their minimal security requirements, browser client compatibility features, scalability and discoverability.
RESTful API Security
We said that RESTful APIs have minimal security requirements above. However, this does not mean that security should be totally ignored when it comes to RESTful APIs. There are two perspectives of security with RESTful APIs; authorization and authentication.
Authorization: Authorization is more like an answer to what a person is allowed to do with an API. Authorization is very useful when designing endpoints that access sensitive information that only a select few can access or specific data to a particular person.
Authentication: Authentication is used to verify the person that wants to use an API. There are several ways of API authentication, with the most common one being the use of a username and password. Other common authentication methods include the use of a token to identify a user or even a secret key for integrating applications.
Even though this is not a guide to designing APIs, it gives a beginner the basics of RESTful APIs and the confidence to dive into API design tutorials before starting the actual design of a RESTful API.