Updated on by Philip Bryan
An API, or Application Programming Interface, is a set of rules and protocols. These allow different software applications to communicate and interact with each other. APIs play a fundamental role in modern software development, facilitating the integration of disparate systems, and enabling the creation of third-party extensions or applications. As well as driving the interoperability that underpins much of today’s digital technology and services.
To make your API as easy to use as possible there are some basic concepts that you should consider:
- What format should be used?
- How should the data be structured?
- How can flexibility be introduced?
For simplicity, we can consider that there are three flavours of API – SOAP, REST and Graph QL. Here Cyclr Founder Philip will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each.
SOAP (Simple Object Access) APIs
SOAP APIs have certain advantages, particularly in enterprise and highly regulated environments.
Firstly, SOAP uses a well-defined and strict message format, typically XML. This ensures a high level of message integrity and security through features like encryption and digital signatures. This makes SOAP suitable for applications with stringent security and compliance requirements.
Secondly, SOAP supports complex operations and protocols, including two-way communication and transactional processing, making it suitable for enterprise-level systems and distributed computing scenarios.
SOAP APIs have several drawbacks. They tend to be more complex, and heavyweight compared to alternatives like REST or GraphQL and are harder to implement and maintain. The XML-based message format can be verbose, leading to larger message sizes, increased network overhead, and certainly less human-readable. Additionally, because of its strict standardization, SOAP may not be as flexible as REST or GraphQL in handling changes or evolving requirements.
REST (Representational State Transfer) APIs
REST is a software architecture that imposes conditions on how an API should work. It was initially created as a guideline to manage communication on a complex network like the Internet. This is the most common type of API that you will encounter. RESTful APIs offer several advantages for web service architecture.
Firstly, they utilize a well-defined and standardized set of HTTP methods (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, etc.), which simplifies the understanding and usage of the API. This makes RESTful APIs easy to learn and work with for developers.
Secondly, they promote a stateless client-server interaction, which enhances scalability by allowing each request to be independent and self-contained. REST’s resource-based approach encourages a clean and structured design, making it easy to organize and manage resources.
Overall, RESTful APIs offer simplicity, scalability, and compatibility, making them a solid choice for building web services.
REST APIs have some limitations relating to security can also be a concern, as REST relies on external standards for authentication and authorization, which can lead to inconsistencies and vulnerabilities if not properly implemented. Despite these issues, REST remains a popular and versatile choice for many API implementations when used appropriately.
GraphQL (Graph Query Language) APIs
GraphQL is an open-source data query and manipulation language for APIs and a query runtime engine. It was developed by Facebook in 2012 and publicly released in 2015. It was created to address the limitations of RESTful APIs for modern web and mobile applications, where over-fetching or under-fetching of data was common due to fixed endpoints. GraphQL introduced a flexible query language that allows clients to request only the data they need, reducing unnecessary data transfer and improving efficiency.
It offers several benefits as a query language for APIs. Firstly, it provides clients with the power to request exactly the data they need, reducing over-fetching and under-fetching of data and improving efficiency.
Secondly, it enables multiple queries in a single request, reducing the number of round trips between the client and server, which is particularly advantageous for mobile applications.
GraphQL APIs offer powerful features but come with some challenges. One issue is the potential for overly complex or inefficient queries, as clients can request deeply nested or numerous data points, leading to performance problems.
While GraphQL allows clients to specify their data requirements precisely, it also puts the onus on clients to make efficient queries, which can be problematic if not managed carefully. Moreover, GraphQL’s introspection capabilities can expose sensitive schema information, potentially posing security risks if not properly secure.
Adopting GraphQL can require a shift in mindset and tooling for both server and client development, which might entail a learning curve and additional development effort. Despite these challenges, GraphQL’s flexibility and fine-grained control over data retrieval make it a compelling choice for many applications when implemented thoughtfully.
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