Web services and APIs are technical terms that are sometimes misinterpreted. You may have even heard these terms used interchangeably, but in fact, they are not similar.
Although they have some similarities, web services and APIs are distinct concepts. Today, we'll explain the differences between web services and application programming interfaces (APIs), as they serve varied purposes based on your software's requirements. This guide will define APIs and web services separately, then compare and contrast them to show their differences.
In this article, VNEXT Global, a top web app development company in Vietnam, will give you a tutorial about this topic:
- What is an API
- What is a Web Application
- Why these two definitions overlapped?
- Why API and Web Application are different?
- How to use API and Web Application in different cases?
1. What is an API
In definition, API is an abbreviated phrase for “Application Programming Interface”. If you break that phrase down, you can gain a thorough understanding of its meaning. By definition, an API is a programming interface that allows the software to connect with an existing application. In practice, an API is "a collection of methods and processes" that enables access to the data and functionality of an existing program and its extensions.
APIs have been in existence for decades. The Application Programming Interface (API) was born shortly after the first computer application was launched when developers realized that tying different apps together would allow users to get much more out of each.
Today, when we refer to APIs, we often mean web APIs, which expose the data and functionality of an application over the internet. If you take a closer look, you will notice that web APIs power our daily lives:
- When you check in to a website using your Facebook profile, you are identified as a Facebook user.
- When new Netflix material is published, the bot will tweet about it.
- Grammarly: Identifies common grammatical errors committed by its followers.
From a technical perspective, online APIs often exchange data via HTTP requests. Typically, these calls return textual data as a JSON or XML response.
2. What does a web service mean?
A web service is a resource that is made accessible over the internet. Therefore, Web services require a network by definition. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines the phrase "web service," which means it technically adheres to a wide variety of standards.
Many developers believe that the majority of online services use SOAP, a communications system in which XML data is exchanged via HTTP requests. Others disagree, arguing that web services are not required to use SOAP,. However this is primarily a semantic problem.
Web services are typically connected with a service-oriented architecture. Service Oriented Architecture, or SOA, is a design paradigm for software programs in which functionalities are separated and made available as network services.
3. Why API and Web Apps are often misinterpreted?
Modern software architecture requires both web services and APIs, but developers must realize that despite some overlap, these phrases are essentially distinct.
APIs and web services are both technologies that facilitate the movement of data between applications. API is an interface that exposes an application's data to external software, whereas web applications are an API subtype with more stringent criteria. Included in these requirements are network connectivity, SOAP as the principal protocol, and reduced public accessibility.
Although these definitions may appear to be quite sophisticated, it is necessary to understand the tiny but significant differences between web technologies. This information will equip you for interactions with developers and help you comprehend your product's integrations.
4. Why API and Web Applications are different?
Although both APIs and web services can ease data transfers between programs over the internet, they are distinct and should not be used interchangeably. The primary distinction is that web services are a subset of APIs, but not all APIs are web services.
API is the more inclusive term since, by definition, it encompasses any software component that acts as a middleman between other isolated programs.
Web services qualify as APIs since they are designed to share data with other disconnected applications. A web service is only a method for implementing an API. Let's examine what distinguishes a web service from other APIs in use today.
A. Networking Communication
Web services and API communicate differently, which is a major distinction between the two. Web services employ a network, which is a mechanism connecting two or more software programs on different machines, to communicate. Internet is usually the network in question.
However, APIs are not necessary for network usage. Certainly, but they can also operate offline. APIs may allow two applications on the same computer to integrate, for instance. Data transfer is still possible without a network.
B. Bounded Accessibility
APIs can be classified by the number of users they support. Some APIs permit developers to tinker with them with minimal control, whilst others are confined to paying customers. In contrast, web services are restricted to authorized partners only. This gives online service owners better control over who has access to data, how users utilize the service, and the service's capabilities.
C. Structure and Format
An API may adhere to several designs, such as REST, SOAP, XML-RPC, or JSON-RPC. In contrast, web services often adhere to SOAP since it is typically more secure and better at maintaining data integrity than other protocols.
The primary disadvantage of SOAP is that its requirements are more stringent than those of RESTful design, making it more code- and process-intensive. Therefore, a web service may incorporate REST or XML-RPC principles. Still, it is generally accepted that SOAP is the preferred protocol.
5. How to use API and Web Application in different cases?
Every day, each individual encounters hundreds of API and website use cases. Our everyday lives are at the core of a digital revolution. As consumers in the digital era, we immediately turn to supply chains, e-commerce platforms, and other services to receive whatever we require for survival and prosperity. The ability of industries to gather, provide, and/or manage real-time information that provides the ultimate competitive edge is crucial for meeting our requirements quickly. To learn more about API and Web App scenarios, please refer to our blog post entitled:
In a nutshell, a web service is a network-based resource that does a certain activity, whereas an API is an interface that allows you to build on the data and capabilities of another program. However, we know that all web services are APIs, but not all APIs are web services.
To conclude, web services and APIs are fundamentally useful and widely employed nowadays, while web services connected with SOAP and/or Service Oriented Architecture are declining in popularity.
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