API portal is the top-most layer within the API management tech stack. It hosts the user frontend applications for an API management platform. It is also known as the API developer portal, without which the platform would be a headless system. The API portal facilitates a seamless API experience for the API providers and API consumers to create a harmonious API ecosystem.
In this blog post, we get a low down on API portals. You will learn the essential aspects, along with the desired features in a good API portal. We also explore Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub’s portal features, which offer an internal API portal for enterprises to manage their API programs.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is an API Portal?
- 2 What Makes a Good API Portal?
- 3 API Portal Workflows
- 4 Unique API Portal Features
- 5 Get Started with Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub Portal Apps
What is an API Portal?
Let’s begin by answering what is an API portal. API portal serves the needs of the users. These users refer to the key stakeholders interacting with the APIs. API providers and API consumers are the two main stakeholders. API providers aim to publish APIs as per their predefined business goals. API consumers want an easy way to search, test, and subscribe to APIs to fulfill their needs. All these user-to-API interactions translate into a set of pre-defined operations.
The API portal provides the user interface to perform these operations, such as:
- API Publishing: An operation performed by API providers to expose an API for external consumption. This operation also includes publishing supplementary content related to API documentation and other information to educate API consumers.
- API Discovery: An operation to help search for suitable APIs based on popularity, keywords, and other information.
- API Subscription: All the steps performed by API consumers for generating client keys and additional steps to get authorized access to the APIs.
- API Testing: Options to verify the API functionality by performing a test drive with the APIs.
All these operations are tied together in the form of workflows. These workflows are covered in a later section.
What Makes a Good API Portal?
The chief purpose of the API portal is to drive API adoption. This objective is achieved via a web application that maps all the key stakeholders’ operations to the API life cycle progressions. Behind the scenes, these operations are under the API management layer’s control and are enforced at the API gateway.
Therefore, the API portal shields the user from API management’s innards, thereby fostering a pleasant user experience. However, since multiple stakeholders interact with an API, a good API portal features a tailored experience that takes on a multifaceted role.
Superior Developer Experience
Developers are the primary consumers for an API. Therefore, the portal design needs to prioritize developers’ convenience above anything else. Some of the leading developer-centric features include:
- API Catalog: Ability to quickly search for APIs based on predefined catalogs for easy categorization.
- API Test Console: Ability to test drive the API endpoints without actually subscribing to it.
- API Metrics: Ability to assess APIs performance metrics.
- API Code Generation: Ability to generate embeddable code snippets or SDKs to invoke the API, additionally supported through various programming languages.
- API Documentation: Access to the API documentation in the form of standard OAS specification along with other valuable information such as API endpoints, request/response parameters, API version information, and changelogs.
Rakuten RapidAPI’s portal has built-in options for generating code snippets, supporting over ten programming languages. Developers can either copy the working code snippet for invoking APIs or follow the SDK installation steps for popular REST API client frameworks.
Progressive Ecosystem Engagement
Nurturing an API ecosystem is very important for gaining adoption and effective monetization of APIs. API portal facilitates it through a multitude of engagement options between API providers and API consumers, such as:
- CMS: Ability to host blogs and articles to showcase the API capabilities, for example, use cases and demo apps.
- Tutorials and FAQs: Enlisting tutorials and FAQs to help in the onboarding of API consumers.
- Discussion Forums: Hosting discussion forums to address queries and discuss issues related to the APIs.
- Review and Rating: Facilitating a review and rating system to capture testimonials for APIs. This feature also extends to social media sharing to garner social proof.
Rakuten RapidAPI’s portal supports multiple engagement channels through a dedicated API console for each API. Developers can see tutorials and other helpful information about APIs. They have instant access to the API subscription tiers, along with a dedicated discussion forum to address issues and the option to contact the API provider.
Comprehensive Administrative Oversight
Administrative oversight is a common requirement among API providers, API consumers, and the API governance teams. However, the functions differ for each one of them.
- Admin functions for API consumers: API consumers have to keep track of API subscriptions, API access credentials, and billing. The API portal aids in:
- Managing the API subscriptions.
- Securing all change events concerning API credentials.
- Providing reports on API usage, billing, and usage statistics.
- Admin functions for API providers: API providers have the maximum touchpoints with the API lifecycle stages. Therefore, the API portal has to take care of all the needs of API providers, such as:
- Providing options for API packaging and productization
- Provisioning API pricing tiers, traffic, and access policies
- Provisioning API related artifacts such as content, documentation, search keywords.
- Managing API lifecycle events related to deprecating and retiring APIs.
- Admin functions for API governance team: The governance team has an all-encompassing role in administering the APIs. In many cases, there is a separate API portal only for this purpose. Some of the significant functions of API governance include:
- Policy definitions and change management
- API visibility controls through users, roles, groups, and more
- Standard definitions for API subscription tiers
- Traffic throttling, enforcement, and alerts
- Monitoring APIs and keeping a tab on periodic API usage metrics
API Portal Workflows
Apart from providing a good user experience, one of API portals’ fundamental design objectives is to make the API producers and API consumers more productive in carrying out their day-to-day chores. That’s why workflows are essential.
Like any process workflow, API workflows play a pivotal role in enhancing API portals’ overall user experience. They guide the users through a series of steps to achieve a specific goal. They are templatized. They can also be customized to alter the sequence of steps.
Let’s take a look at the most commonly used API workflows.
API Publishing Workflow
This workflow applies to API providers. The goal of the API publishing workflow is to lead the API provider to publish a new API.
Before initiating this workflow, the API provider should have completed the API design such that the API specification is frozen and the backend implementation is ready.
- API Creation: As the first step, the API provider registers the new API.
- Spec Upload: The API provider uploads the API specification in one of the standard formats, such as OAS3. The API endpoints are then mapped to the backend API gateway. Some API Portals allow API providers to design mock APIs if the API specification is not available.
- Subscription Tier Settings: In this step, the API providers create the subscription tiers they want to offer to API consumers. API portal may also provide a set of pre-defined templates for the subscription tiers.
- Artifact Upload: In this step, the API provider uploads additional content, graphics, and other artifacts that constitute the supplementary information. If the API portal supports discussion forums, a new discussion thread can also be created for the API.
- Test and Publish: Finally, the API provider performs a quick verification of the API endpoints and publishes the API. As part of this step, the API portal also facilitates configuration settings to let the API providers decide the API’s visibility, based on whether it is exposed internally or externally.
This API publishing workflow is more or less repeated in a similar fashion when a new version of an API is released.
With Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub, organizations can set up an internal API marketplace. Different departments and teams can publish their APIs by uploading the OpenAPI specs to add the new API.
API Subscription Workflow
As the name suggests, this workflow leads an API consumer to choose and subscribe to an API. Here are the main steps involved in it.
- Discovery: The API portals offer various means to discover APIs. API consumers can search based on keywords, tags, additional metadata, the popularity score, or browsing through catalogs or collections. Once they decide on an API, the API portal also facilitates a peek into the API endpoints and stats.
- Authorization: This is the step where the API consumer subscribes to the API. It is tied to the API portal’s backend authorization module to ensure that the API consumer is a registered portal user and is authorized to use the API.
- Payment: Upon initiating an API subscription in the previous step, the API portal redirects the API consumer to choose the desired subscription tier. If the API consumer decides to go with a paid subscription plan, there is an additional redirection to the payment gateway to capture the billing details. API portals have a separate interface for administrators to add various payment gateway options.
- Testing: At this stage, API access is granted. The API consumers can now test the API endpoints to do a quick check on the functionality and verify that the API conforms to their application requirements.
- Code Generation: Finally, the API consumer would want to generate code templates that they can embed in their application. Most API portals offer source code templates in multiple programming languages.
With Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub, users do not have to manage separate API credentials for every API subscription. With a single API key, it is possible to subscribe to all APIs.
Additional Workflows for Governance
Depending upon the underlying API management platform’s capabilities, the API portal will have various other important workflows from the governance point of view. Some of the critical categories of workflows include:
- User management workflows: Creating and managing users and assigning roles based on the API producer, API consumer, or API governance team personas.
- Policy management workflows: Creating and managing policies for user access, API visibility, API traffic management
- Gateway provisioning workflows: Configurations and settings for provisioning the underlying API gateway for hosting the API backend.
- API Monitoring workflows: Common tasks for easing the day-to-day API monitoring, reporting, and analytics related activities.
Unique API Portal Features
As the front-facing component to the users, the API portal design undergoes a lot of subjective assessment around the aesthetics and look-and-feel. Therefore most API management vendors support pre-set UI configurations and custom branding options as part of their API portal applications.
However, there is still immense competition among the various API management platforms. To differentiate from competitors, unique features are channeled through API portals. These features are mostly in the form of more granular customizations and enhancements.
- Custom API workflows: As the API adoption within an organization expands, workflow customization is needed to ensure compliance and alignment with business processes. For example, the API subscription workflow might need an additional two-factor authentication step to meet the organization’s security compliance requirements. Therefore, workflow customization is one of the sought after features in the API Portals within enterprise API management platforms.
- Tailored API packaging: Sometimes, multiple API get packaged together to form a custom API platform, wherein one API builds on top of another. This is achieved at the publishing stage. Alternatively, it can be an add-on workflow post API subscription. For example, RapidQL is a smart query language that aggregates multiple pre-subscribed APIs to generate a combined response with a single API call. API consumers can use it to generate custom API packaging during the subscription workflow.
- Third-party Integration: API management platforms support a wide variety of external integrations. Examples range from using third-party authorization for automating workflows to exporting API usage data to external analytics platforms. These integrations are also provisioned and managed via the API portal.
Get Started with Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub Portal Apps
Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub offers a modular deployment model for API portals. The different functional areas of the portal are divided into separate web applications. These applicational constitute the management plane. The management plane talks to the authentication plane and the proxy plane to access internal APIs.
The Enterprise Hub also integrates with the Rakuten RapidAPI’s public marketplace, which offers over ten thousand third-party APIs and is used by 1 million developers worldwide. All the third-party APIs are accessible from the web portal, and also listed within predefined application categories.