API Management 101:
Definition, Benefits, and Tools

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An Application Programming Interface (API) defines how different software components should interact with each other, allowing developers to build complex applications that integrate multiple services and data sources. APIs have already become an integral part of software development, and their adoption will only continue to grow.

This article explores the topic of API management, its importance, and its benefits. We’ll also go deeper into relevant terms and definitions and API management tools.

If you want to learn more about APIs, we have a few resources that you’ll find helpful.

What is API management?

API management refers to the process of discovering, designing, developing, testing, securing, monitoring, and analyzing the APIs of an organization. According to Gartner, API management is key in improving the “composability, security, and business resilience” of an organization while it also helps orgs accelerate growth.

While the  API management term definition encapsulates the full lifecycle of APIs, Gartner highlights the three core aspects of API management: the developer portal, the API gateway, and policy management and analytics capabilities. We will discuss those in more detail later on when we explore API management tooling and its key components.

components of api management

API management vs. API governance

API management is concerned with the full lifecycle of APIs and API management platforms provide tools for designing, testing, and deploying APIs, as well as monitoring usage and performance. This enables organizations to ensure their APIs are secure, reliable, and meet the needs of their users.

API governance, on the other hand, is the set of policies, procedures, and standards that govern the use of APIs within an organization. API governance ensures that APIs are used consistently across different teams and projects and are developed in a way that aligns with the organization's overall strategy and goals.

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API management tools

API management software allows users to publish, monitor, and control their APIs. Here are the core components of API management platforms, according to Gartner.

API gateway
An API gateway is the single entry point for your applications that routes client API requests to your backend microservices, and it is undeniably the most critical component of an API management platform for a number of reasons. They are not just the door to your entire application; they also ensure your API connections as secure, provide authentication and authorization for users, and load balance incoming user traffic.

API portal
The more you scale your API usage, the more difficult it is to keep track of which group has access to which APIs, maintain readability and testability standards across all your APIs and workflows, as well as discover existing APIs that are at your disposal. The API portal is the single source of truth of your organization's APIs for both API providers and API consumers.

Managing API policies and access control
One of the key functionalities of API management tools is providing access control policies for APIs, defining which APIs are accessible by certain user groups (e.g., internal APIs are accessible only by the internal development team, while customer APIs are accessible by each customer, etc.). By implementing policies like rate limiting and quotas policies, you minimize the risk of being affected by attacks like Denial of Service (DoS). Using access control policies, you can also implement proper authentication and authorization, securing your applications from attackers that aim to steal access tokens and credentials.

API analytics
The centralized monitoring and analytics capabilities of API management software are also critical. API management platforms aggregate the data collected from all your APIs and utilize user-friendly dashboards to present data in the form of ready-to-consume reports. By collecting and analyzing API usage data, you can quickly and effectively diagnose and troubleshoot API issues and adopt a data-driven approach to decision-making and growth. API health analytics give you insight into how well your APIs perform, while usage analytics help you determine who uses your APIs and the level of usage, both crucial metrics in API monetization.

Being Kubernetes-native in the simplest possible way is not a given and this is not a feature commonly offered by most API management solutions. The term Kubernetes-native refers to a design approach where the API ecosystem — from microservices to API gateways and portals — is built and deployed as a native Kubernetes workload, using Kubernetes primitives and features. For instance, by defining everything in Kubernetes Custom Resource Definitions (CRDs), your environment can be configured and managed using standard Kubernetes tools and APIs — the supporting microservices and API gateway instances can be automatically scaled up or down based on the demand for API calls, and microservices can be auto-discovered so you can expose them as APIs to the outside world. By adopting the Kubernetes-native approach, API gateway and API management systems can benefit from the scalability, resilience, and flexibility of the Kubernetes platform, while also enabling seamless integration with other Kubernetes-native services and tools.

That is another feature not commonly available in API management tools. GitOps-ready API management solutions allow for fully automated management of your APIS — no human in the loop is mandatory, and all processes can be automated and auditable — the GitOps way. Managing Kubernetes infrastructure and applications using the GitOps method involves using Git as the single source of truth for configuration and automation. Being GitOps-compliant means that all changes to the configuration and deployment are made through Git repositories. Investing in GitOps-ready API management tools helps you:

  • Improve security By using Git as the single source of truth, access control, and version control become much easier to manage, reducing the risk of unauthorized changes or data breaches.
  • Increase reliability GitOps automation ensures that all changes to the API gateway are repeatable, and tested before being applied, reducing the risk of human-introduced errors and downtime.
  • Increase transparency and collaboration GitOps enables full visibility and traceability of all changes to the API configuration, making it easier to audit and troubleshoot issues.
  • Simplify maintenance GitOps automation reduces the need for manual intervention in the deployment and management of the API ecosystem, streamlining maintenance and freeing up resources for other tasks.

Who uses API management tools?

API management ties into the day-to-day tasks of many teams within the tech department of an organization. Namely:

  • DevOps Engineers: Enables them to standardize and automate deployment patterns to ensure consistent and secure API usage and API gateway infrastructure.
  • Backend Developers: Enables them to implement and manage cross-cutting concerns such as access control and encryption across multiple APIs.
  • System Administrators and Platform Engineers: Enables them to scale and maintain a large number of APIs and microservices.
  • IT Executives: Provides them with visibility into API usage and ensures their security and compliance in a microservices architecture.
  • IT Managers: Enables them to standardize practices across environments and applications and achieve high Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Service Level Objectives (SLOs).

What are the benefits of API management?

API management enables developers and organizations to effectively and efficiently handle processes that are crucial to successfully running microservice architectures.

Enabling data-driven decisions and data-driven growth

APIs log their activity (requests received and responses sent) but the format of these logs is difficult to read and does not provide an overview of API usage on the spot. API management software provides comprehensive tools for metrics and analytics on API usage in a highly readable and ready-to-consume format. The data collected through metrics are also available in the form of reports which can be widely available to members of your team and organization. This free and rich source of API usage analytics facilitates data-driven decision-making, innovation, and growth.

APIs are vulnerable to a number of attacks, with the most common API security threats potentially leading to extensive data breaches, as highlighted in the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) API Security Top 10 2019. Data leaks often expose company and customer data to the public, leading to potentially detrimental consequences for businesses. By using unified solutions to manage the lifecycle of your APIs, you empower your development teams to implement API security best practices at scale, and reliably protect the entire application service chain.

Automating workflows

Controlling the entire API catalog of your organization using a centralized platform allows you to streamline, simplify and automate mundane tasks across your workflows. The benefits that come with automated workflows are virtually endless — you free up time for your developers to focus on more important, business-critical tasks, eliminate the need for tedious, manual tasks and, as a result, accelerate delivery and scaling, and so much more!  

Creating detailed API documentation

If it’s not documented, it doesn’t exist! Documentation is important for every process — even more so in software development. By managing your APIs through a centralized platform, you enable the automatic generation of detailed documentation for all your APIs.

Providing centralized visibility

API management gives you centralized visibility into all your API connections, which reduces the risk of becoming vulnerable to security threats, identifies possible gaps in your API strategy and execution, as well as helps developers avoid duplication of work by giving them visibility to the full catalog of the organization’s APIs.

Improving API user experience

What better way to improve API user experience than having a central control, management, and monitoring platform? API management does not only benefit your internal API users but greatly improves the API user experience for your customers as well by using the API developer portal of your API platform to create a single source of truth for all your customers’ APIs.

Enabling collaboration

Another benefit driven by the API portal is that it facilitates collaboration among the members of your development team, as well as between your organization and your customers. The API portal can act as a repository for your APIs where your developers store documentation that they can share within the organization and selectively allow access to customers and external partners.

Summing up

Microservices and APIs are closely related as microservices often use APIs to communicate with one another and can be transformed into APIs themselves. API gateways simplify the process of working with multiple microservices, while API management and governance provide a framework for designing, publishing, and managing APIs at scale. Together, these concepts form the foundation of modern software development, allowing organizations to build complex, distributed applications at speed, that meet the needs of their users.

Traefik Enterprise is a unified solution that brings an advanced API gateway with all the core features of API management, cloud native ingress controller, and service mesh under one roof. If you want to learn more about how Traefik Enterprise can help you publish, secure, and manage your APIs at scale, watch a demo today or sign up for a free 30-day trial.

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References and further reading

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