What is an API Gateway?

Companies are increasingly relying on application programming interfaces (APIs) to provide their services to customers. As a result, API security solutions, such as an API gateway, have become a vital part of a corporate application security strategy.

What an API Gateway is and How it Works

An API gateway sits between an organizations’ APIs and their users. It operates as a reverse proxy, providing a single point of contact for all API requests and routing them to the correct services behind the scenes. When an API gateway receives an API request, it identifies the service or services needed to fulfill those requests. The API makes requests to the appropriate services, aggregates the results, and returns a single response to the user.

Why Use an API Gateway?

API gateways provide several different benefits to an organization. These include:

  • Consolidation: One of the primary functions of an API gateway is to provide a single point of entry for an organization’s APIs. By deploying a gateway, a company can consolidate multiple APIs into a single customer-facing interface.
  • Security: An API gateway sits between a company’s APIs and its users. This allows them to secure these APIs against abuse or overuse. Additionally, an API gateway can inspect the contents of API requests to filter out malicious requests or attempted abuse of the API.
  • Authentication: Different APIs may require user authentication by use. Rather than forcing users to authenticate to each API or try to share authentication data across applications, the API gateway can implement authentication and expose API functionality to verified users.
  • Billing: Some APIs bill customers based on their usage, which can be complex to manage if an organization exposes several different APIs. With an API gateway, billing can be centralized on the gateway rather than being distributed across all of the services.
  • Analytics: Information about API usage can be valuable to a company when developing and marketing its services. An API gateway provides a centralized location for collecting analytics data, providing deeper context, and facilitating data analysis.
  • Flexibility: If all APIs are directly exposed to the client, adding, removing, or modifying services can require significant re-architecture. With an API gateway, services can be added, removed, or switched out simply by updating the configuration of the gateway.
  • Performance: API gateways may include caches. This enables them to respond more quickly to common requests and decreases the load on the backend services.

API Gateway Use Cases

As its name suggests, an API gateway can be used with any type of web API including:

  • WebSocket APIs

However, the benefits of an API gateway are not limited to these services. API gateways can also be used to support DevOps by integrating microservices and to help with the deployment and management of cloud-based workloads.

How an API Gateway Supports DevOps

DevOps is focused on rapid, agile development practices with short development cycles. Organizations following DevOps principles commonly use a microservices architecture, where each application performs a single, distinct function. Accomplishing a task in such an architecture requires calls to multiple microservices.

An API gateway can help turn an array of microservices into a cohesive API. When the gateway receives a request, it will make requests to each of the microservices and create a single response based on the results of these requests. This provides a simple, user-friendly interface to API users while enabling DevOps practices and a microservices architecture behind the scenes.

How API Gateways Support Workloads

With the rise of cloud computing, cloud-based workloads have become a common choice for organizations looking to take full benefit of the cloud’s capabilities. Using containerization, serverless functions, and Kubernetes, cloud-based applications can be designed to be more adaptable and scalable than traditional applications.

In the modern cloud, APIs are commonly used for provisioning infrastructure. In a serverless architecture, serverless functions can be deployed in the cloud and managed via APIs by the API gateway.

API Management vs. API Gateways

API management and API gateways are related but distinct concepts. API management is a collection of tools, policies, and processes that an organization uses to control its API. This can include API configurations, management, security, and other considerations.

An API gateway is one of the tools that an organization may use to implement API management. By acting as a gatekeeper between an organization’s APIs and their users, an API gateway enables the company to enforce its policies and to modify its backend services more easily and without causing disruption to its customers.

API Gateway Security with Check Point

APIs make up a growing percentage of organizations’ Internet-facing assets, making them a vital part of corporate application security strategies. To learn more about securing cloud-based workloads, check out Check Point’s Application Security eBook.

Check Point CloudGuard offers a wide range of application security functions, including the ability to act as an API gateway to improve application security and management. To learn more about how Check Point CloudGuard can improve your API security, request a free demo. You’re also welcome to try it out for yourself with a free trial.

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