An API is a collection of functions that assists Developers to access the data and features present on other applications to enhance their software. APIs enable them to create well-built complex software easily by combining independent applications. Moreover, in the previous decade, APIs have given rise to Web APIs which are responsible for sharing the capabilities of various applications over the internet.
A Web Service is designed to facilitate the interaction between various applications in a Client-Server system. It is a software system that supports machine-to-machine interaction over a network. APIs are often confused with Web Services and people use these 2 terms interchangeably. Although, these 2 concepts are not entirely mutually exclusive the mode of operation and final objective of Web Services differ from that of Web APIs.
This article will introduce you to APIs and Web Services along with their key features. Moreover, it will get into the details of various types of Web APIs and Web Services present today. The article will also weigh in on the Web Service vs API discussion in terms of aspects like Protocols, Accessibility, and Authentication. Read along to understand APIs and Web Services and learn how they differ from each other!
Table of Contents
What are Web Services?
Web Service is a popular and reliable means of propagating interactions between applications in a Client-Server system using the World Wide Web (WWW). It is a software module that is designed to complete specific tasks. Nowadays Cloud-based services are prevalent in the market. You can search for your required Web Services in Cloud Computing on the network and can call them directly.
Applications today are built on a variety of programming platforms and require a channel of communication among them. Web Service serves as that channel and is a standard tool that Developers use to exchange information and resources between applications. A Client node usually invokes a Web Service when it wants to use some feature of the Server node. The Server hosts Web Services that different Clients use according to their requirements. Now to invoke a Web Service the Client will issue a series of requests (calls) to the Server. These requests are called Remote Procedure Calls (RPCs). In return, the Server will allow its Client to use the requested Web Service.
Features of Web Services
The following features are responsible for the popularity of Web Services among Developers:
- Chaining: You can aggregate simple Web Services to create more complex software easily. Furthermore, Web Services can be combined (chained) to implement higher-level business functions. This greatly reduces development time and allows for top-notch implementations.
- No Language Restriction: You can deploy both Client and Server applications in different environments and they can still interact through Web Services. Moreover, any language can be used to implement Web Service Clients and Servers.
- Easy to Implement: You can seamlessly integrate existing applications into the pre-built service-oriented architecture. Furthermore, you can implement the Web Service as an additional interface with your application.
- Abstraction: A Client should know the interface of a Web Service only. The details of its implementation are not required.
Apart from these, Web Services also demonstrate the ability to support remote procedure calls, support document exchange, and is loosely-coupled with synchronous and asynchronous facility. To learn more about Web Services, visit here.
Pros and Cons of Web Services
Here are a few key advantages of Web Services:
- Each service exists independently of other services.
- Web Services offer faster communications within and across organizations.
- Web Services are particularly designed to be used as a web page request and help you receive data.
- It helps you exchange data between different platforms and different applications.
- In Web Services, interoperability is of the highest priority.
- Web Services serve as building blocks that make it easy to reuse web service components in other services. Web services can then be deployed on internet standards such as Axis 2, standard Apache. It also offers HTTP and WSDL-driven services.
- It allows applications to communicate, share services, and exchange data among themselves.
- With Web Services, you can easily solve interoperability issues by giving different applications a way to connect their data.
- By leveraging Web Services, your application can help you publish its function or message to the rest of the world.
Here are a few disadvantages of leveraging Web Services for your operation:
- Web Services do not leverage emerging Web developments (such as AJAX XMLHttpRequest, Semantic Web, etc).
- Web Services do not grant access to the user from the browser.
- The HTTP protocol isn’t that reliable, therefore, it doesn’t offer any guarantee of delivery for the response.
- Some Web Services might be very easy to use, but users might stumble onto some problems while trying to use them.
- Any time a user generates a service to take care of a vast multitude of customers, there is a demand for specialized machine requirements.
What are Web APIs?
Application Programming Interface (API) is a collection of rules, routines, protocols, and tools that are required to develop software applications. It is an interface that provides a set of functions to programmers. These functions enable you to access specific data or features of a different application, operating system, or software. Now, Web API is a Web-based API accessible through the HTTP protocol. It is an extension of the API concept and you can generate Web APIs using various technologies like Java, .NET, etc.
It will extend your browser’s functionality and simplify various complex functions involved in software development. Moreover, it can provide simplify the syntax of your code by providing direct access to the features of other applications. For example, Web APIs are required if an application runs on a distributed system and provides services to different devices such as laptops, mobile phones, etc. The Web API is considered a useful upgrade of Web Applications.
Features of Web APIs
The following features make Web API’s indispensable in the software development process today:
- Developer Friendly: Since Web APIs use HTTP protocol, you have greater control over messages sent and received during the software development process. Also, high abstraction is possible for your object-oriented code using Web APIs.
- Flexibility: Developers have great flexibility in building Web APIs through content negotiation and for ASP.NET routing. Moreover, Web APIs are easy to test since they require only unit testing.
- Ease of Use: You don’t have to define cumbersome configuration parameters separately for different devices when creating a Web API. Also, Web APIs are simple, scalable, and robust to use.
- Lightweight: Web APIs work on very light architecture, making them a perfect alternative for you when building applications for devices with limited bandwidth.
Apart from these, Web APIs also offer a wider reach, personalization, easy integration with GUI, and time effectiveness. To learn more about Web APIs, visit here.
Pros and Cons of Web APIs
Here are a few key advantages of leveraging Web APIs:
- With APIs, you can easily expose the service data to the browser.
- Web APIs also support traditional CRUD (Create Read Update Delete) actions since it works with HTTP verbs PUT, GET, POST, DELETE.
- Since APIs are based on HTTP, it is easy to define and expose in a RESTful manner.
Here is a list of disadvantages you might run into while trying to work with Web APIs:
- Generating an API is a time-consuming process. On top of this, you need to have programming knowledge to be able to create a functioning Web API.
- A fixed scale is necessary for the proper functioning of a Web API.
- Another drawback of working with Web APIs is imprecise boundary delineation.
- The maintenance cost of handling a Web API is a little too high.
- A Web API might crash when testing it.
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Web Service vs API: Type of Web Services
To understand the concepts of Web Service vs API discussion, it is important to learn the various Web Services that are popular today. All the Web Services can be broadly classified into the following 2 types based on the structure they use:
- SOAP Web Services: SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is an XML-based protocol that allows you to access a certain Web Service. Its interface is described in a machine-processable format called WSDL (Web Service Definition Language) document. A Web Service based on SOAP contains a standard, XML notion that included message format, protocols, and destination address. Since SOAP works on XML to transfer payloads, it requires more bandwidth to work. Furthermore, SOAP resides in a closely coupled structure with the Server and has a strong communication contract with it. This makes it difficult to make changes or updates in a current SOAP Web Service.
- REST Web Services: These Web Services work on the REST (Representational State Transfer) software architecture. The data format uses JSON schema notation, and it implements the HTTP transport protocol. In terms of performance REST Web Services are slower and less secure than Web Services based on SOAP. However, you need to allot significantly less bandwidth and resources while using REST Web Services.
Web Service vs API: Types of Web APIs
Since you have now understood the classification of Web Services, you must also grasp the various types of Web APIs prevalent today. Then only you will be able to appreciate the Web Service vs API discussion.
Web APIs can be classified according to the following 2 parameters:
1) Level of Communication
At the level of communication, Web APIs are of the following 2 types:
- High-Level APIs: At the level of code, these APIs provide high abstraction. So, the High-Level APIs are popular in situations where programmers need to develop modules with constrained and limited functionality.
- Low-Level APIs: Low-level APIs are detail-oriented. Programmers prefer to apply such APIs to govern features inside a utility module or hardware at a granular stage. For example, Low-stage APIs are utilized in sending the real-time video or media feed over a network.
Ownership decides the ease with which a Web API will be available. Based on ownership, Web APIs are classified as follows:
- Public APIs: Public APIs are also called Open APIs and are available for use by any 3rd party developer or business without any restrictions. A company that works on a strategy that requires it to share its applications and data with other businesses deploy Public API.
- Partner APIs: A Partner API is important to promote business-to-business activities. You can restrict the Partner API so that only those authorized by your company can access it. Partner APIs play a major role for businesses that provide paid services to customers. Moreover, partner APIs work on stronger authentication and security mechanisms.
- Private APIs: A Private API also called Internal API is designed to cater to the needs of employees within an organization. For example, you can use Internal API to connect your staff’s payroll and HR systems. Since the APIs are used internally, the security and authentication mechanisms involved with them are weak. Private APIs can enable your internal teams to use services developed by each other.
- Composite APIs: Composite APIs are designed to combine various APIs to fulfill interdependent tasks. This way, you can speed up the execution of processes that require multiple co-related sub-processes. Composite API is formed as a consequence of task execution rather than in response to the Client’s request.
Web Service vs API: Key Differences
An important point to remember is that all the Web Services are APIs but all the APIs are not Web Services. The 3 main aspects of Web Service vs API discussion are:
1) Web Service vs API: Network and Protocols
Web Services, always require an online network. Furthermore, they can use only the direct application of HTTP protocol. Web Services are mostly built using SOAP architecture but REST structure is also popular in certain situations.
On the other hand, you can host a Web API online and within an application in offline mode. Moreover, a Web API supports the HTTP protocol in various forms like URLs, Request/Response Headers, Versioning, Content formats, etc. Also, it allows you to use any design structure while deciding its form.
2) Web Service vs API: Accessibility
Web Services are not available as open source but any Developer that has an understanding of XML can use them as a communication medium in their Client-Server architecture.
Web APIs are fully open-source and any Developer with a basic understanding of JSON or XML can implement these APIs easily.
3) Web Service vs API: Authentication
Web Services do not provide open records. They are selective and offer specific data and functions to authorized partners only. Thus it is difficult for intruders to hack into a Web Service.
Most of the Public Web APIs are transparent and contain open documentation and self-service portals. This allows a new Developer to quickly get accustomed to the working of these APIs. Moreover, the modern-day APIs can seamlessly facilitate interactions with foreign applications.
The above 3 aspects are key to concluding the Web Service vs API discussion. Once you have understood them, you can definitely work with Web Services and Web APIs.
This blog introduced Web Services and APIs and discussed their key features. It further explained the various types of Web APIs and Web Services that Developers currently use. Furthermore, it listed down the key points relevant to the Web Service vs API discussion. These 2 concepts were differentiated based on Network and Protocol, Accessibility, and Authorization.
Web Services and APIs both have simplified the application development process. However, you as a Developer must understand the fundamentals of the Web Service vs API discussion. Only then you will be able to harness the features offered by them. Using Web Sevices and Web APIs you can easily lend the functionalities of popular applications into your application.
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