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Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and microservices both have a different role in software development. Since there is an overlap between the two, it is confusing to understand the differences. In this blog post, we will define API and microservice and explain the similarities and differences.
What is an API?
An API, or Application Programming Interface, allows your application to interact with an external service using a simple set of commands. Rather than having to create complex processes yourself, you can use APIs to access the underlying services of another application which can save you time and resources.
Many applications that you use every day rely on APIs in some capacity to function, since there are APIs for almost every category imaginable. For example, some of the most popular APIs on RapidAPI include API-FOOTBALL (an API that allows you to access data on hundreds of football teams leagues and live scores) and Skyscanner (an API that allows you to access flight schedules and flight prices).
What is a Microservice?
A microservice architectural pattern is a modular application development technique that organizes loosely coupled services. Microservice architecture is like an assembly line, where every service has a specialized role. Together, the services create a complete application.
These services can be independently deployed and tend to serve a specific purpose. For example, an eCommerce website might have a service for customer information, a service for payments, and a service for shipping logistics.
To illustrate why you might use a microservice architecture, it is helpful to understand the alternative — a monolithic architecture. A monolithic architecture is more centralized and self-contained.
Microservice architectures have grown in popularity recently due to their scalable and flexible nature. However, using a monolithic architecture is still an acceptable style of developing applications. The choice to use a microservice architecture or monolithic architecture depends on the needs of your project and your available resources.
What is the Difference Between an API and Microservice
Trying to compare the difference between APIs and microservices is a bit misleading because APIs are actually an essential part of a microservice architecture. Each microservice in the architecture will have its own API. The API sits in front of the microservice and allows communication between the different components of the microservice architecture.
A microservice architecture likely contains many APIs, though APIs can also be used for other purposes without being a part of a microservice architecture. This is likely where the confusion comes from when comparing the two.
It can also be confusing because APIs and microservices can seem to accomplish similar goals. For example, if you could use an email API in your application like SendGrid to deliver emails. Alternatively, it is also possible to have an email service within a microservice architecture.
Microservices and APIs are similar, but both have distinct characteristics. Understanding the differences and how the two interact together can help you choose which one might be best for your project. Review the chart below for a review of the key points.
|Purpose||Allows communication between two components||A style for building applications that organizes loosely coupled services|
|Characteristics||Lightweight, fast, usually specialized||Decentralized, scalable, modular|
|Use Cases||Used to add specific functions to an application. Also used within a microservice architecture to allow communication between the different components||Used instead of a monolithic architecture to create applications|