Third-Party Integrations: Everything You Need to Know
APIs have changed the way web apps are developed, and today it’s hard to imagine a software project without any third-party integrations. In this article you’ll learn everything about the types of APIs, their pros and cons as well as software integration best practices.
Web and mobile solutions have become required for businesses of all types and domains, and as the number of software products increases, it’s becoming more important for businesses to optimize their development process.
APIs are exactly what helps programmers to accelerate the development process, improve security and get access to ready-made features without having to develop them themselves.
What is third party API integration, why are APIs so good for development, and what you should know about the API management? Learn this and more in this article.
What are APIs: types and purpose
Application program interface or API is an intermediary program that allows developers to connect different pieces of software and allow them to interact. Each time a user interacts with an application, it sends data to a server through internet connection.
The server gets that data, interprets it, performs certain actions and sends back a response. Then, the app interprets the response and presents it to the user in a way they can understand. This whole process happens via API.
Businesses use APIs for many different purposes, from data integration to process automation, and there’s a vast variety of APIs available. For example, the largest API database called the Programmable Web features over 15 thousand APIs.
APIs are a flexible and powerful way to link both internal and external parts of software and allow them to speak to each other. This is a generic definition that can be completed with characteristics of a modern API.
- Modern APIs adhere to HTTP and REST standards that are easy to implement and are known by all developers
- APIs today are products rather than pieces of code. They have detailed documentation, version control, and advanced maintenance. API providers target specific groups of developers and understand their expectations.
- Modern APIs are secure and have high standards for performance and scalability. They are also more standardized.
- Every modern API has its own lifecycle of designing, building, testing and versioning.
Let’s talk about the types of third party integrations and how they’re used in modern software development.
Types of APIs
APIs can be classified into four main types: public, partner, private and composite based on how they’re used and what level of permissions they offer developers.
Public APIs. They are available for any developer or business to use, and are often monetized based on the number of users or calls to the server. One of the third party API examples is Google Maps charges you based on how many searches were made through their API. Public APIs are used for sharing data with other businesses and offering different services like payments, maps, or social media authentication.
Partner APIs. These APIs are only available for selected developers and are used for interaction between certain businesses. They are used to share semi-sensitive data with other businesses like CRM companies. Partner APIs give limited access to data, and partners need to go through a strong authentication process to get access to other company’s data through an API. They typically have stronger security as well.
Usually partner APIs aren’t monetized directly: businesses pay their partner companies for the services they provide, and APIs are just a tool to provide these services safely and conveniently.
Internal APIs. Internal or private APIs are used within a certain company to connect systems within a single business. They can connect different parts of their software and make them work as a unified ecosystem.
Often internal APIs have poor security, because they’re meant for internal use. However, this is starting to change as companies become more aware of potential security threats, and governments require compliance with their security regulations.
Composite APIs. They usually combine different APIs to manage interdependent operations or facilitate complex processes while also keeping great performance and speed.
In this article we’ll be talking about third-party APIs that are usually either public or partner APIs, and describe the third-party API integration best practices.
Third-party integrations: benefits and challenges
A third-party API integration means adding the API of another company to gain access to their data, functionality and features. Third-party integrations allow developers to benefit from a ready-made solution without having to develop their own software for the same purposes.
For example, if you’re building a food delivery app, you’ll need maps and routes in it. Developing your own map application isn’t feasible, because you’ll have to somehow get all that data and functionality that took Google and Apple years to develop and gather. It’s way easier, cheaper and effective to just connect to their software via APIs and pay them for a number of requests from your users.
So, the pros of third-party APIs include:
- Fast production. Third-party integrations save you lots of time on developing something that already exists.
- Lower costs. APIs are relatively cheap and fast to integrate, so you can invest that saved money on developing unique features that will make your software product stand out from the crowd.
- High-quality features. With APIs you can benefit from data and functionality of those companies who worked for a long time to develop and test their products.
APIs are probably the best thing that happened to software development, but does it have any cons? Of course, there’s nothing perfect. You need to beware of potential drawbacks before adding APIs to your software, so let’s review the cons of third-party integrations as well.
Cons of the third-party integrations include:
- Overcomplicated infrastructure. Though adding functionality to your app through APIs is very convenient, too many third-party integrations can make your app’s infrastructure chaotic and hard to manage and maintain. Different API providers have different agreements and latency time, and these inconsistencies can lead to poor performance and issues with receiving data.
- Going over budget. Fixing issues caused by integrating too many APIs can lead to spending more money on a project. Also, note that a provider has full control over their service and API policies, so they can change them any time. This can lead to losing some functionality and harming user experience. To fix these issues, you’ll need to hire developers and pay them.
- Lack of customer support. If something stops working, you can’t always rely on your provider to quickly fix the issue. Here you’ll have an option to wait till the issue is fixed, or hire developers and find a workable solution.
- Lack of control over functionality. You have no power over what functionality is being developed by your API provider, so you need to take it or leave it when it comes to their set of features. Don’t expect a third-party integration to suit all your personal needs and preferences: in most cases you’ll need to adapt your project and find compromises.
To be fair, most popular API providers strive to adapt their products to the developers’ and business needs, so they’re convenient to integrate and use. Pay attention to the smaller APIs that aren’t that popular, as they may not be tested well enough.
How do APIs work: protocols and architectures
For APIs to work correctly, they need certain rules, constraints and structures that are enforced with the help of protocols and architectures. Modern APIs use three main protocols and architectures: REST, SOAP and RPC. They are also called “formats”, and have different characteristics suitable for specific purposes.
REST (Representational State Transfer). This is the most widely used architecture for APIs. The client/server approach that separates the API’s frontend from its backend is what makes this approach flexible.
REST is stateless, and this means that the API doesn’t store any data between requests. APIs built with REST are called RESTful APIs, and they can both communicate directly or use API gateways and load balancers for that.
SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). SOAP is usually paired with XML to create web APIs, and supports lots of protocols such as HTTP, SMTP, TCP and others. Compared to REST, SOAP is more structured and standardized.
RPC (Remote Procedural Call). RPC is a simple way to send parameters and receive results. While REST APIs are used for data and resource exchange, RPC is more suitable for processes and actions. RPC is compatible with JSON and XML for coding, and depending on the language, the APIs will be called JSON-RPC or XML-RPC.
How to choose the right API protocol for your third-party integration
An API format defines the way your application works, so it’s important to choose wisely and take your needs into consideration. Here’s what influences the choice of an API protocol:
- The complexity of data to be exchanged
- Level of security needed
- Speed and performance requirements
While a certain API protocol may be easier to implement and maintain, it may not be secure enough. The protocols that offer high security may require longer integration and quality assurance processes. It’s important to find balance between security, performance and simplicity of implementation.
Let’s talk about REST and SOAP, for example. Both these formats use HTTP protocols and the same commands. Both of them can use XML in requests and responses. However, while SOAP only uses XML, REST has more options like JSON, HTML and plain text. This makes SOAP more restrictive than REST.
SOAP is used by enterprise software products, as it’s easier to manage complex data exchanges when the rules are limited and standardized. SOAP is popular in internal and partner APIs.
A more flexible REST format is used for simple data exchanges, scalability and active user base support. Most public APIs choose REST format.
|Works with XML, JSON, HTTP and plain text||Works with XML by design|
|Flexible, architecture-based rules||Strict, standardized rules|
|Medium security||High security|
|Suitable for data||Suitable for processes|
|Highly scalable||Limited scalability|
What about RPC? RPC is close to SOAP with its structure and ability to work well with processes. It can work with both JSON and XML and supports different programming languages like Python, PHP or Java, just like SOAP.
RPC isn’t the best option for enterprise APIs however, because it has limited security and data type support. Internal composite APIs however, can benefit from the RPC format, as it allows to make calls without waiting for a response, and supports asynchronous calls.
Top 5 most popular third-party APIs for businesses
Let’s look at five most popular third-party services that can be integrated into your mobile and web products through APIs.
Google Analytics is one of the most popular analytics tools that allows you to track and collect data about your website visitors. At Mobindustry we always recommend our clients to integrate some sort of analytics into their apps and websites so they know how to develop their online presence. Google Analytics is used by marketing and SEO specialists, and allows them to analyze their audience, get valuable insights on user behavior and learn how effective their marketing campaigns are.
Logistics apps, taxi services, delivery, online games, ecommerce and social media websites — almost all modern software uses maps. Google Maps not only show maps, but also allow users to build routes, estimate the time of going from point A to point B, analyze traffic, and find locations and information about them.
Offering users several ways to log in has become a standard in modern user experience. Social login is one of the most popular and convenient ways for users to access their profiles on any apps and websites. Facebook Login is great for sharing information and authentication. Other popular social media networks for logging in include Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.
PayPal and Stripe
Stripe and PayPal are two most popular payment processors that are integrated into both websites and apps for instant and convenient payments. They allow businesses to issue invoices, track transactions and keep financial records.
Twilio is a communication API for text, voice and video messaging. It’s integrated into websites and apps to help businesses communicate with their customers, provide customer support and online consultations. Other similar services include Zendesk, Zoho and Chatsdk.
Let’s now talk about how to implement third-party services into your software in the best way possible and avoid all the potential pitfalls of API integration.
Third-party integration best practices
Search for a high-quality documentation
When choosing an API, pay attention to their documentation, and choose a provider who gives extensive information about their API, instructions for its integration and use. A good documentation should include pricing, implementation details and restrictions, so there’s no surprises for your development team or for your business during and after the integration.
Make sure your API is well tested
API errors may cause anything from loss of some functionality to significant downtime, where every second costs you money. Make sure that the quality assurance culture in your provider’s company is strong, and you get a well-tested API. You need to work on third party integration testing yourself as well.
Take care about security
Good APIs usually offer their own security measures, so make sure you incorporate them into your product. If they don’t have security features available, you need to take care of this yourself. In any case I recommend implementing your own security measures like encryption.
Choose scalable APIs
You need to think about how your business will change in the future before you implement APIs, otherwise you risk having to rewrite the code and change the third-party integrations you made when your audience was smaller, and your product had fewer features.
Make sure your APIs are easy to scale, so that you’re ready when your product is on peak of its growth and popularity.
Be ready for a change
As I stated earlier, your API provider has full control over how their APIs work. They may change the way your software connects to the API, implement or remove certain features. You need to be ready for these possible changes. My recommendation is having a plan “B” — choose several alternatives for your current API with similar features, and should anything happen, you can quickly shift to the new API without having to deal with downtime.
Learn everything about pricing
API pricing structure can sometimes be confusing, and many businesses end up paying more for specific API usage they didn’t know about. To avoid this, learn all the ins and outs of the pricing logic of your API, estimate your expenses and compare them to your actual spendings. If the estimate is far from reality, contact your API provider and gather information about your current price tier.
Third-party integrations through APIs have become a convenient and fast way to add functionality to software for many different businesses. The majority of modern software products use APIs for online payments, social logins, maps, embedded videos, analytics and hundreds of other services.
We at Mobindustry also use APIs extensively, integrating payment processors and analytics services into our client’s websites and applications without having to reinvent the wheel. In this way we help to save both time and money and also get functionality that was proven with time.
If you need third party API integration services for your existing product, resolve issues with APIs or build a new product from scratch, don’t hesitate to contact us.