How to Use the AsyncAPI Standard for Real-Time APIs

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Adopting AsyncAPI or other real-time API standards will be highly valuable to ensure apps can handle real-world events and drive digital value

With new investment in API startups, Google and Oracle reaching a settlement around API copyright issues, and organizations dedicating more resources and staff to API development, it’s clear that APIs are having a moment. One of the biggest opportunities of this moment is the chance to take full advantage of real-time APIs. Real-time APIs have been around for a while, but with the recent emergence of the new AsyncAPI specification standard, we can expect them to become even more popular and widely adopted.

Turning things that happen in the real world into data points consumable by software systems isn’t always easy, but AsyncAPI is rapidly emerging as a great way to more easily create a real-time API that responds to rapidly changing real-world events. Making the best use of this standard requires an understanding of where real-time APIs should go vs. typical APIs that are already in place, as well as an understanding of the best resources for creating them.

See also: How ‘APIfication’ Changes the Way Businesses Innovate

Typical APIs vs. Real Time APIs

Typical APIs have been created to follow a traditional request-response pattern, in which an API responds to a request for data. But in a request-response pattern, returned data is valid only for a given point in time. If the data is changed after the response is returned, the application invoking such an API will not have any way of knowing about the change unless it invokes the API again.

A real-time API, on the other hand, can proactively push new data immediately whenever data changes. Instead of the API user only getting the data whenever it invokes a “pull” model API, a real-time API can instantly “push” the new data to the client. Applications can then react instantly to a business state change or take action on new market data.

Think about an insurance company receiving a request for a quote, a bookstore receiving an order for a book, a restaurant receiving a delivery order, or a stock trader being notified of a price point on which to purchase shares. Each of these events changes the state of the business or activity and requires some sort of action in response. Having the data available in real time ensures that the response can be made in real time, as well. The recently published AsyncAPIs specification helps automate this process by providing a standard framework for defining the appropriate asynchronous communication protocol (i.e., the “event-driven” protocol) and data format to be used. Senders and receivers can easily agree on a common format and quickly create and publish new real-time APIs. 

The IoT is where the value of real-time APIs really kick in – events generated from someone pressing the doorbell on a smart home system, a factory assembly line running out of a critical part, or an automobile crashing. All of these events can be tied to an API to notify someone of an action that needs to be taken.

IoT identity management is, therefore, a critical element: in this remote work landscape of SaaS, BYOD, and connected devices—the requirement for identity management has gotten out of control. With billions of devices, IoT identities, and unique users in the world, it’s no surprise that organizations struggle with managing, provisioning, and securing all those identities. Identity management is a critical aspect of real-time APIs, and they can help with protecting and securing the back-end systems against data breaches and incidents, and correlating users with APIs consumption.

See also: Business Agility Requires Open APIs and Low-code/No-code

Deploying real-time APIs right now

The other advantage of real-time APIs is that there is already a strong ecosystem out there for organizations to take advantage of. Publishing and managing asynchronous APIs externally and mapping them to server-side messaging systems is a good way to integrate those real-time events with enterprise systems that collect and process the data. Server-side systems that can be tied to AsyncAPIs include message brokers such as Kafka or Rabbit MQ, Web-based systems such as Web Sockets, Server Sent Events, and Web Hooks. Each of these technologies is capable of listening to a channel or topic for the appearance of an event, and routing it for processing it when it arrives, using a pre-configured action. The ProgrammableWeb API directory is a great resource for teams looking to deploy real-time APIs right away. It contains several real-time APIs for common use cases with AWS EC2, Google product, and social media platforms.

It’s no surprise that social media is where real-time APIs have so much value for companies. Many of them are social media feeds that can alert organizations to a mention of a certain person or thing in a Tweet or Facebook post. The natural thing to do with that information is to reply to the potential customer or gauge interest in a certain topic for potential advertisers.

Real-time APIs help power users’ way of life

APIs have emerged as the top products of the 21st century, powering applications, services, and connected devices for every industry imaginable. Users of these services have come to expect real-time interactions with their mobile devices and with Web browser-based applications. Adopting AsyncAPI or other real-time API standards will be highly valuable to ensure apps can handle real-world events and drive digital value via the IoT and other emerging technologies. Organizations should start planning how to adopt the AsnycAPI standard, taking advantage of the use cases and resources outlined in this article.

Eric Newcomer

About Eric Newcomer

Eric Newcomer is CTO of WSO2. He has more than 35 years of industry experience spanning a variety of senior architecture roles in various tech companies. In his current role, Eric is responsible for driving WSO2’s technical vision and helping to promote the adoption of products and projects, with a focus on enterprise customers. Before WSO2, he held senior architecture roles at Credit Suisse and Citibank in New York, where he focused on introducing new technologies and best practices, including open source, big data, microservices, and Docker/Kubernetes. Before that, he was CTO at IONA Technologies from 2002 until its acquisition by Progress Software in 2008. Prior to IONA Technologies, Eric was a Distinguished Engineer at Digital Equipment Corporation (now part of HP), specializing in database and transaction processing.

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