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What Is an API Proxy, and How Do You Set It Up in 6 Steps?

When you hear the term API proxy, what comes to mind? Web scraping uses proxies to bypass IP-based limitations and access geo-targeted content.

However, handling proxies can be challenging depending on the destination site and the project’s specifics. You will need to deal with Captcha solving, JavaScript rendering, anti-bot technologies, and proxy management.

An API proxy is your best bet if you’re new to this and want to enhance your productivity.

So, what is an API Proxy? How does it compare to an API Gateway? This article will discuss these and other questions. Let’s dive in.

What Is an API Proxy?

An API proxy serves as a bridge between users and their backend services. There are many ways to implement it, from a simple overlay to a complex piece of code that handles everything, such as:  

  • Data transformations 

  • Security 

  • Routing  

  • Traffic shaping

For example, it can provide a customized user interface and then call consumer and back-end services on behalf of the user.

data icons

An API proxy separates the front-end from the back-end implementation details, allowing the front-end to interact with a bespoke interface instead of the backend service. 

Some benefits of using an API proxy include doing data transformations, disguising complex requests for many services, and conquering extensive or delayed results. Notable API Proxies include:

  • Apigee

  • Nginx (Open Source)

  • Mashery

  • Traekif (Open Source)

How Do You Setup an API Proxy?

It’s critical to approach API proxy design and development in a structured way. The reason being it’s simple to make a mistake that compromises the initial goal of decreasing dependency between two software components. If possible, follow these steps:

1. List the APIs to Use

It is uncommon to create an API proxy or gateway without at least one of the related APIs. To create an effective API proxy layer, you must first compare the APIs and determine which properties the API proxy should sync.

You should know whether adding simple features to an existing API (backend facing) of the API Proxy is enough to develop a scalable, readily available implementation.

2. Create a Roadmap

Expect messages to flow between an API proxy's front-end and back-end parts. To maximize both performance and cost, host the API proxy server.

Proxy scaling can sometimes be crucial when the front-end elements are scalable. If the backend element has limited capacity, you can queue work as it comes in.

3. Pick a Framework That Works With the APIs and Hosting Service

Different languages, data formats, and middleware technologies provide front-end and back-end services. Examples of these include XML and JSON.

Choose a language, data structure, and middleware combination suited for front-end and back-end development approaches. If policies need to support the application's features, determine how complex those policies are. Be ready to use abstract development concepts if the API proxy has to be flexible.

4. Use an API Proxy Tool That Supports the Policy

Pick a vendor or toolkit that provides built-in support for API proxy policies if you need it. If a toolkit’s features become strained to their breaking point, it’s time to switch to a more powerful one. The API proxy won’t have to be redone if the specifications change in the future.

5. Test the API Proxies Performance

API proxies are extremely sensitive to the unique interfaces of each component since they act as translators between their APIs. Testing every combination of data structures and parameters is crucial to guarantee that the API proxy acts do not negatively affect the user experience.

6. Add the API Proxy to the Front-End and Backend API Dependencies

API changes could make an API proxy unusable or worse. They can cause data or parameter issues that make one or both components work incorrectly. So, it’s essential to monitor them.

digital graphic icon illustration

API Proxy vs. API Gateway: What’s the Difference?

An API proxy is nothing more than a bridge that connects two different APIs. Although it can convert the API itself, it does not provide security, scalability, or resilience to the API. The proxy API will have the same limits in terms of use as the original backend service.

API gateways add a lot to this simple concept. There is no restriction to accessing backend services and also the features the "gateway" gives to service in software. Since an API gateway is a program that sits between an API and a set of backend services, you can view it as a single entry point. 

A “gateway” performs the same restricted functions as an “API connection,” but it’s a part of a much larger plan. An API gateway can:

  • Create a front-end API that hides the backend services’ API
  • Enforce security or compliance policies by verifying or encrypting access rights
  • Give front-end processes access to a backend service through queuing
  • Support multiple backend services with load-balancing and fault recovery incase of a backend service instance failure
  • Convert data formats, including decoding fields and data validation for backend services
graphic illustration of web data transformation

The distinction between API proxies and API gateways has become increasingly unclear because of standard industry practices. The term “proxy” is now used to describe any component that links two APIs. 

A front-end system connects to a back-end service. It’s independent of the functionality supplied, provided you implement the features using policy rather than proprietary code.

Why Use an API Proxy Instead of an API Gateway?

An API Proxy has the benefit of being a simple and lightweight API Gateway. An API Proxy is probably the best option if you already have an API and want to add some simple security and monitoring features.

Companies often integrate API Gateways into more prominent API Management platforms. The reason being they are a part of the greater API lifecycle. As a result, they can be more challenging and expensive to operate.

If you want to take advantage of all the extra functionality, maintain the gateways like any other piece of code. Considering the cost difference, many prominent API Proxies are free to source, but most API Gateways are private.

What Is an API Proxy Revision, and How Does It Work?

API proxy revisions are a simple way to keep track of changes to your API proxy pattern as you go through iterations. It makes it possible to roll back changes by installing an earlier version of the API proxy.

In a test environment, you can continue to develop new revisions of an API proxy while deploying it to production. Once you're ready, you can move your API proxy's to a higher revision from test to production.

What Is an API Proxy Policy?

By using policies, it's easier to regulate API behavior without the need to write code. If you look at the proxy server request or API calls, policies are like modules that implement a single, narrowly defined management function.

Policies make adding standard management features to an API reliable and straightforward. You don't have to write and maintain your security, rate-limiting, transformation, or mediation capabilities using policies.

data code in layers

Bottom Line

As the name suggests, the API proxy is a simple API gateway. Basic safety and monitoring features come built-in to the system as standard fare. An API proxy will do if you currently have an API and have modest requirements.

However, an API proxy can only do so much. It cannot do any advanced content or routing functions. And it can’t perform any mediation, orchestration, or transformation.

About Dusan Stanar

I'm the founder of VSS Monitoring. I have been both writing and working in technology in a number of roles for dozens of years and wanted to bring my experience online to make it publicly available. Visit https://www.vssmonitoring.com/about-us/ to read more about myself and the rest of the team.

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