The developers'

API Guide

Everything you need to know about building, purchasing and integrating with APIs.


What are HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) APIs?

An HTTP API is a type of application programming interface (API) that enables communication between a client and a server using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). It allows clients, such as web browsers or mobile applications, to send requests to servers on the internet and receive responses.

HTTP API example: 

curl -X GET '' \
     -H 'Authorization: Bearer {ACCESS_TOKEN}'

HTTP API characteristics:

  • Communication protocol: Uses the HTTP for client-server communication.
  • Standard HTTP methods: Employs methods like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE for various operations.
  • Lightweight: Generally more lightweight and flexible than other API types, such as SOAP APIs.
  • Data interchange formats: Commonly uses formats like JSON or XML for data interchange.
  • Stateless: Operates statelessly, meaning each request from the client contains all the information needed to process it.
  • Ease of implementation: Simpler and more straightforward to implement and use, especially for web-based services.
  • Internet-based services: Ideal for internet-based applications due to their compatibility with web technologies.

HTTP API use cases

The use cases for HTTP APIs span a wide range of applications, particularly those involving web-based services, mobile apps, and the Internet of Things (IoT). 

Here are some examples:

  • Web services: HTTP APIs are extensively used to build web services, such as RESTful services, where they manage the interaction between a client (like a web browser) and a web server. They are ideal for retrieving web page content, submitting form data, and conducting server-side operations based on client requests.
  • Mobile applications: Many mobile apps rely on HTTP APIs to communicate with a server. For instance, a social media app might use an HTTP API to upload photos, fetch new posts, or send messages. These APIs are crucial for providing dynamic content and real-time interactions in mobile environments.
  • E-commerce platforms: Online shopping platforms use HTTP APIs for various functionalities, including product catalog management, order processing, payment gateway integration, and updating user profiles.
  • Real-time applications: Applications that require real-time data, such as stock trading platforms, news feeds, or sports scores, often use HTTP APIs to continuously update information.

HTTP API advantages

HTTP APIs offer several benefits that make them popular for web-based services and applications. These advantages stem from their inherent design and functionality within the HTTP framework. 

Here’s a list of their key benefits:

  • Efficient performance: They offer quick data transfer, enhancing performance, particularly in web and mobile applications.
  • High scalability: Their stateless nature allows for efficient handling of increasing loads, making them highly scalable.
  • Broad interoperability: Thanks to standard web protocols, HTTP APIs can easily integrate with many internet-based services and technologies.
  • Rapid development and testing: The simplicity of their design allows for faster development, testing, and debugging, speeding up the software development lifecycle.

HTTP API disadvantages

While HTTP APIs are advantageous in many scenarios, they also have certain drawbacks to consider when choosing an API type for specific applications. These disadvantages are related to security, state management, and more. 

Below are the main disadvantages:

  • Security concerns: Additional security measures are often required, as HTTP APIs lack the built-in security standards found in protocols like SOAP. 
  • Not ideal for complex transactions: They may not be as effective in handling complex, transactional operations requiring advanced features like transaction compliance and detailed error handling.
  • Exposure to web vulnerabilities: Being internet-based, HTTP APIs are susceptible to common web security threats, necessitating strong security measures.
  • Network dependency: Their performance depends highly on network conditions and issues like latency and bandwidth can significantly impact their efficiency.

HTTP API components

1. Client

A client is a software component or user interface that initiates communication by sending HTTP requests to a server. Its primary function is to request specific actions or information from the server, acting as the initiator of interactions within the HTTP API. Additionally, clients are responsible for managing authentication credentials ensuring secure access to the API. 

Here’s what you need to know about the client:

  • Role: The client’s role is to request information or perform actions from the server. Examples include web browsers, mobile apps, or software applications.
  • Actions: Clients use actions like “GET” (to fetch data), “POST” (to send data to the server), “PUT” (to update existing data), and “DELETE” (to remove data).
  • Customization: Clients can personalize their requests by adding extra information in the form of headers, including authentication details or preferences.
  • Handling responses: Once the server responds, clients are responsible for processing and displaying the information or taking appropriate actions based on the server’s response.

2. Server

The server is a software component that listens for incoming HTTP requests from clients, processes those requests, and sends back appropriate responses. It is the central hub for handling data, logic, and resources on the backend. The server is the backbone of an HTTP API and is responsible for receiving, processing, and responding to client requests while ensuring the security, performance, and reliability of the API’s services. 

Here’s what you should know about servers:

  • Functionality: Servers are remote computer systems responsible for handling client requests. They contain the data and logic necessary to fulfill these requests.
  • Decision-making: Servers decide how to respond to each client request, whether fetching data, storing data, or sending a response back to the client.
  • Authentication and authorization: Managing user access and ensuring clients have the necessary permissions to perform certain actions or access specific resources.
  • Error handling: In case of errors or issues, servers communicate with clients by sending specific messages, such as “404 Not Found” or “500 Internal Server Error.”
  • Security: Implementing security measures to protect against common web vulnerabilities, such as authentication mechanisms, encryption (HTTPS), and input validation.

3. HTTP methods

HTTP methods, also known as HTTP verbs, are standard actions that clients can use to interact with a server when making HTTP requests. These methods define the type of operation the client wants to perform on a specific resource hosted by the server. These commands help maintain clarity and consistency in web communications.

  • GET – an HTTP method used to retrieve data from the server. It’s like requesting information without changing the server’s data. Typically includes a URL specifying the resource to retrieve.
  • POST – an HTTP method used to send data to the server for processing or storage. It’s like submitting new information or making a request that might lead to changes on the server. It often includes a request body containing data to be processed.
  • PUT – an HTTP method used to update existing data or resources on the server. It’s like editing an item or resource that already exists. Typically provides the complete updated data for the resource.
  • DELETE – an HTTP method used to request the removal or deletion of a resource on the server. It’s like asking to remove something from the server’s records. Typically includes a URL specifying the resource to be deleted.

4. Data format

In the context of HTTP APIs, data format refers to the specific structure and encoding used to represent information exchanged between clients and servers. It defines how data is organized, formatted, and transmitted in a way that both the client and server can understand. Data Format is a standardized language or template that clients and servers agree upon to package and understand the information they exchange. 

Here’s what you need to know:

  • JSON – It’s like speaking in a simple, universal language. JSON is easy to learn and use, making it a popular choice for data exchange.
  • XML –  Think of XML as using a more structured and detailed language suitable for complex data. It’s like having a formal conversation.
  • Agreement – Clients and servers agree on one of these formats to ensure they can understand each other’s messages.

5. Stateless

Statelessness, in the context of an HTTP API, refers to the design principle where each client request to the server is treated as an independent and self-contained interaction. The server does not retain any information or context about previous requests from the same client. Statelessness is like having a conversation where each sentence you speak is self-contained, and you don’t rely on what was said before. 

Here’s what you should understand about statelessness:

  • Independence: Each client request is independent, and the server doesn’t retain information about previous requests. It treats each request as a fresh start.
  • Scalability: Stateless design simplifies the scalability of APIs because new servers can be added without complications.
  • Client responsibility: Clients must include all the necessary information in each request, as the server doesn’t keep track of previous interactions.

How to use HTTP APIs (step-by-step)

To use an HTTP API, follow these steps:

Step 1 – Identify the API 

First, you must identify the specific HTTP API you want to use. This includes knowing the API’s base URL and the available endpoints.

Step 2 – Authentication 

Obtain the necessary credentials, such as API keys or access tokens, if the API requires authentication.

Step 3 – HTTP requests: 

Decide which HTTP methods (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, etc.) are appropriate for your intended operations. Construct HTTP requests with the required headers and parameters.

Step 4 – Send requests: 

Use a programming language or a tool (e.g., cURL or Postman) to send the HTTP requests to the API’s endpoints. Include any relevant data in the request body if needed.

Step 5 – Handle responses: 

Receive and process the responses from the API. This may involve parsing JSON or XML data returned by the server.

Step 6 – Error handling: 

Implement error handling to manage any errors or unexpected responses from the API gracefully.

Step 7 – Security: 

Ensure you follow security best practices, such as using HTTPS for secure communication and protecting sensitive data.

Best practices to build a secure HTTP API integration

To build a secure HTTP API integration, consider the following best practices:

  • Authentication and authorization: Implement strong authentication mechanisms and only grant authorized users or applications access. Use OAuth or API keys for secure access control.
  • HTTPS: Always use HTTPS to encrypt data in transit and protect against eavesdropping and tampering.
  • Input validation: Validate and sanitize user inputs to prevent common security vulnerabilities like SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.
  • Rate limiting: Implement rate limiting to prevent abuse and ensure fair usage of your API resources.
  • Error handling: Provide meaningful error messages to clients without revealing sensitive information about the server’s internal structure.
  • Data encryption: If the API deals with sensitive data, consider encrypting it at rest using appropriate encryption algorithms.
  • API versioning: Use versioning in your API to ensure backward compatibility when making changes.
  • Logging and monitoring: Implement comprehensive logging and monitoring to detect and respond to security incidents promptly.
  • Third-party security: If your API relies on third-party services or libraries, regularly update them to patch known vulnerabilities.
  • Security testing: Conduct regular security assessments, such as penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, to identify and address security weaknesses.