Digibee: Breaking the API Monolith

Questioning whether the overhead of managing APIs is worth it? Digibee’s reusable Capsules offer an alternative solution.

June 19, 2024

Ah, APIs. They are the invisible threads weaving together the fabric of our tech lives. Yet, building them consumes a third of our coding time and, according to this report from Postman, 61% of the time, they’re only used for internal purposes. Can we afford the time, talent, and effort required to build monolithic APIs?

The short answer is often, no.

What is a monolithic API and why should you care?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. Imagine a monolithic API as a large, complex Lego castle where all components are tightly interconnected, with each piece relying on the previous one and impacting the next. The advantage of building APIs is that they promote consistency and facilitate teamwork. However, updating or fixing issues often requires addressing the entire program, which can be complicated and time-consuming, particularly if the original developer is no longer with the organization.

Beyond building and maintaining the API, there’s also concerns related to testing, security, scalability, configuration, and monitoring to worry about. While API Management tools help simplify operations, dedicating time to managing internal APIs that do not generate revenue may not be the most efficient use of resources.

Internal vs external APIs

Internal APIs

Internal APIs, also known as private APIs, are designed to be accessible only within the organization. They typically have restricted access, are built to streamline operations, and reduce the need for manual intervention. They’re used for integrating systems and applications, promoting interoperability and data sharing within the company.

External APIs

External APIs, on the other hand, are accessible to the general public or external developers. These APIs enhance the capabilities, efficiency, and reach of applications and services. They’re typically used by customers or partners to improve user experiences, provide access to real-time data, and enable seamless integrations. Often, these APIs can even become a revenue stream.

The pros and cons of monolithic APIs

Monolithic APIs serve as a single, cohesive unit that exposes the functionality of the entire application. When used as revenue-generating tools, offer significant advantages: simplicity, performance, and consistency. However, for internal use, the constraints of a monolithic structure can create risk, slow progress, and limit flexibility and scalability. 

  • Simplicity: Development and deployment can be simpler because everything is contained within a single codebase.
  • Performance: Inter-component communication within a monolithic application can be faster since it happens within the same process.
  • Consistency: Maintaining a single, unified codebase can ensure consistent behavior and easier debugging.
  • Scalability Challenges: Scaling specific components independently is difficult, as the entire application must be scaled.
  • Deployment Risk: Deploying updates can be riskier and more time-consuming because the entire application must be redeployed, increasing the chance of downtime.
  • Development Bottlenecks: Large teams working on the same codebase can lead to coordination challenges and slower development cycles.
  • Maintenance Complexity: Over time, the codebase can become large and unwieldy, making maintenance and versioning more complex.
  • Limited Flexibility: Adapting to new technologies or architectural patterns can be more challenging due to the tightly coupled nature of the system.

Scenario with an internal monolithic API:

Imagine a large enterprise with an internal monolithic API used by various departments for employee management, payroll, and project tracking. The API integrates multiple functionalities, such as handling sensitive employee data, processing payroll, and managing project assignments, all within a single, connected application.

Now, imagine the HR department requests an urgent update to the payroll processing module to comply with new government regulations that require additional data fields for tax reporting. However, the employee management and project tracking functionalities are also tightly integrated within the same monolithic API.

With a monolithic API structure, the following challenges occur:

Deployment Risk

  • Single Deployment Unit: Since the API is monolithic, updating the payroll processing module necessitates redeploying the entire application. This means that any changes, even those unrelated to payroll, could potentially introduce bugs or issues in the employee management or project tracking modules.
  • Versioning: Managing the support for different versions and being able to deploy multiple versions creates risk for security as well as for potential unwanted results of using two different API calls.

Testing Complexity

  • Comprehensive Testing: The development team must thoroughly test the entire application, not just the payroll module, to ensure that changes do not negatively impact other parts of the system. This increases the testing scope and time required before deployment.

Coordination

  • Cross-Departmental Impact: The change requires coordination among multiple teams, including HR, IT, and finance. Any delay or miscommunication can slow down the update process, causing compliance issues with the new regulations.

Technical Debt

  • Code Entanglement: The monolithic nature of the API may lead to entangled code where different functionalities are interdependent. Modifying one part can inadvertently affect others, making the system more fragile and harder to maintain over time.

Developer Bottleneck

  • Resource Allocation: The development team may be spread thin, as they need to focus on understanding and modifying a large codebase. This can slow down the update process and impact other ongoing projects.

In this scenario, the monolithic API infrastructure results in several consequences: 

  • Delayed Compliance: The delay in updating the payroll module could lead to non-compliance with government regulations, resulting in potential fines or legal issues.
  • Reduced Productivity: Downtime and disruptions affect various departments, reducing overall productivity and efficiency.
  • Increased Frustration: The IT team faces increased pressure and frustration due to the complexity and risk involved in making changes to the monolithic API

The tightly coupled nature of the monolithic API creates significant challenges in terms of deployment, testing, coordination, and maintenance, which all impact budget. This highlights one of many potential drawbacks of monolithic architectures in dynamic and large-scale environments.

The way forward

Monolithic APIs are tightly integrated with their application, and while that may offer simplicity and performance benefits, it also can pose significant challenges in scalability, deployment, and maintenance. As a result, many organizations are shifting towards microservices architectures, where APIs are more modular and can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently.

The Digibee Integration Platform addresses this by using serverless functions called Capsules, which act as reusable code without needing an exposed API. This approach removes the necessity for security measures, individual scaling, and monitoring for internal APIs. See a quick overview of Capsules in action.

Capsules can be called at any point in an integration flow. Moreover, combining multiple capsules into a single API for external use is straightforward: just place them in the same flow with an API trigger (endpoint) using a simple drag-and-drop action, avoiding the need for rebuilding. This method saves time and money, enabling faster innovation and differentiation for organizations.

Ready to streamline your integration strategy? Get in touch with our team today to find out how Digibee simplifies API-driven architecture, accelerates integrations, and saves you money and resources. 

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