When deployed, an API gateway is the single-entry point that sits in front of an API to accepts API calls and aggregates the requests to the various required services. API Gateways also enforce API security for microservices and prevent unnecessary exposure.
An API gateway acts as a reverse proxy, sitting between a collection of backend services and a client. The gateway accepts client API requests and directs them to the appropriate microservices. In a nutshell, the API gateway accepts API calls and aggregates the requests to the various required services. It serves as a bridge between internally used web unfriendly protocols and web protocols that users understand.
For example, an e-commerce site might use an API gateway to invoke and combine the results from various services. Like combining customers reviews and product info for users to provide a more seamless shopping experience.
At the enterprise level, most APIs are deployed using API gateways. API gateways generally handle typical tasks for various API services across a system, such as rate limiting and user authentication. They can also decrease errors and make coding easier, making mobile application development more efficient.
The API gateway is the single-entry point that sits in front of an API. It enforces API security for microservices (which can be both internal and external) and defined back-end APIs. The API gateway also ensures high availability and scalability.
An API gateway decouples the backend implementation and the client interface on the server side. It determines which services are needed to respond to client requests. The API gateway receives and responds to client requests by breaking them down into multiple, more manageable tasks. It routes those requests to the appropriate services, and tracking the response produced.
An API gateway is a critical API management tool. Let’s review just a few of the most notable reasons this is the case.
An API gateway separates internal microservice APIs and external public APIs, enabling users to change boundaries and add microservices. This in turn lets users gradually adjust and improve microservices without affecting external clients negatively. And by providing a single point of entry for all microservices, it hides versioning and service discovery details from the client.
API gateway microservices are more secure. They have an additional layer of protection from malicious API security attack vectors. Things like XML parser exploits, SQL injection, and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. This enhanced security is among the most important benefits.
Possible communication protocols may include AMQP or ProtoBuf, or service integration with JSON-RPC, SOAP, or XML-RPC. Although internal microservices may benefit from using different protocols, external-facing APIs typically offer just REST-based or an HTTP-based API. With an API gateway, teams can select the protocols that best suit the internal architecture.
Microservices share common issues, and each may require development and implementation time per service. These concerns include access control enforcement, API gateway authorization using tokens (also called API gateway token validation), and rate limiting. An API gateway allows microservices to manage just their own tasks by taking over these code concerns.
The team can virtualize and mock up services to assist in service integration testing. Or they can validate design requirements because the gateway separates the external API and the microservice APIs.
Despite the list of benefits that API gateways provide, there are a few setbacks that you should be aware of before blindly deploying an API gateway. Here are a few of the key challenges you should consider.
Since API gateways have multiple layers of functionality, which can cause latency issues when too many requests are coming in at once.
It’s likely that your organization manages thousands of APIs. However, for a myriad of reasons, not all of them are routed through an API gateway. Which means you don’t have complete visibility.
For the same reason that API gateways make it easier to connect to microservices by being the single point of contact, they also can become the single point of failure if infiltrated.
Both an API gateway and an API proxy allow access to backend services. An API gateway may actually serve as a simple API proxy. But an API proxy cannot replace the more robust range of features of the API gateway. This is particularly true around monitoring and API security.
Load balancers smooth out demand across multiple resources. Load balancers are also used in a cloud architecture setting to decouple clients and services.
Horizontally scaled infrastructure clusters are the traditional home of load balancers, where they are used to distribute requests. Inside this type of infrastructure cluster, a single server lacks power sufficient to handle all the demand. This is because systems are replicated across multiple servers.
API gateway can also balance and smooth out network traffic, but not in the same way the load balancer does. A user can configure direct requests to specific resources based on requested endpoints.
However, the API gateway serves its own critical purpose in microservices architectures. It routes each request to the appropriate backend service on-demand. And it allows users to map multiple services to particular HTTP endpoint representations and connect.
Despite being used interchangeably, an API gateway is not the same as API management.
An API gateway is a software that provides a single point of entry for all the traffic coming to an application. It is an intermediary between the backend services and the application or client that needs to access them.
API Management on the other hand, refers to the holistic practice of managing APIs and their associated data, the security, performance, and availability of these APIs. Things like:
The key difference to understand is that API gateways are a component of the API management process and provide critical information to management platforms.
The primary difference between monolithic applications and those that pursue a microservices architecture is that backend services are decoupled from the application and operate independently. For scale this is great, but routing API requests can get a little interesting.
For the reason, the API gateway was created. An API gateway alleviates this routing issue by acting as the single barrier/point-of-contact between the client and the microservices. That way, clients are sending requests to an API gateway versus hundreds of backend services.
Here are some things to consider when trying to remember the different between these two:
Oftentimes, when you inquire about the API security tools an organization uses, they will cite that they have an API gateway and a web application firewall. However, though API gateways provide very much needed basic API security controls, they unfortunately are not enough to adequately protect your business from API specific threats. As we mentioned above, an API gateway is critical for API management, not security.
For example, Broken Object Level Authorization (BOLA) attacks appear as normal API traffic to gateways. This lack of contextual awareness between API requests and responses enables these attacks to pass through undetected and access critical backend services. This gap can leave you vulnerable not only to BOLA exploits, but other attacks and business logic abuse. Ones that simply cannot be easily identified using standard API gateways.
Another gap in visibility involves maintaining an accurate API inventory. Enterprises manage thousands of APIs, many of which are not routed through a proxy such as an API gateway. The are referred to as rogue or zombie APIs. These APIs were likely deployed by previous employees and/or before your organization got serious about API security. Without visibility into how many APIs you have, it becomes easy to underestimate just how big your API estate really is.
Yes, the Noname API Security Platform integrates with your existing API gateways, web application firewalls, and other legacy infrastructure. From code to production, Noname encompasses all aspects of API security and has crafted our portfolio around the four recommended strategies solidified by Gartner:
Our API discovery tool finds and inventories all your APIs, including RESTful, GraphQL, SOAP, XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and gRPC. The discovery module also uncovers legacy, rogue, and shadow APIs that were likely deployed before your existing AppSec team was in place.
The Posture Management module provides a clear and accurate picture of your vulnerabilities and potential exposures. It uncovers what your true attack surface looks like across APIs and web applications. It also uncovers the type of sensitive data that traverses your APIs so you can remain compliant with data privacy regulations.
Our platform uses automated AI and machine learning detection to conduct real time traffic analysis. It also provides contextual insights into data leakage, data tampering, data policy violations, suspicious behavior, and API security attacks.
Our suite of API-focused security tests can run on-demand or as part of a CI/CD pipeline. These tests ensure that APIs aren’t implemented with security vulnerabilities in them.
Click here to learn more about how the Noname Security platform integrates with your existing API gateways to provide holistic API security.
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