API key acts as a secret password to get you access to raw data. Key authenticates the request made by the user or developer to API to fetch the data. API (application programming interface) acts as a bridge between devices to bring seamless data transfer.
It has made our life in general and the process of creating an app a lot easier. Services like news, maps, weather, and music are provided with the help of an API. All these things have become part of our life so naturally it becomes essential to understand the nature and safeguard the API key.
Through this article, we will help you understand various things about API keys and why one should safeguard them.
What Is An API Key Used For?
An API key is basically an alphanumerical code or string that acts as a validator and it is used to monitor usage and limit the API usage to provide the best experience to users because every API has a window limit and its server cannot handle and cater to every single request. Due to the polarity between request, some request consists of transferring heavy data while other might request a small amount of data. So key safeguards the API servers from malicious intent trying to affect the servers.
There are many free API providers in this case key acts as an identification between free plan and paid plan users. API servers cannot differentiate between these two clients it is only identified through the key and the amount of data is fetched accordingly. Some users might accidentally request more than the credit limit they have so the API key also notifies if users exceed its request limit.
Role of API Key
- Security: They act as a security, safeguarding the API credit limits of users and also helps the users detect the usage and remaining credits.
- Maintaining the API Server: The key can limit the usage of the server which maintains the seamless experience and blocks the malicious intent to bring down the servers. Also, the key can help to filter the anonymous traffic and bots.
- Acts as Authenticator: With the help of it, providers can authenticate the request and identify the projects and applications.
- Filter call: The major role of the key is ensuring seamless interaction between the server and valid application by authenticating both user and device used to call request.
When To Use API Key
The question of when to use API might be subjective but API key is useful for both users and providers as it benefits both parties. It is essential to understand the purpose and nature of the key in both terms for example API key benefits the provider by blocking the anonymous traffic, bots, and hackers which helps them to safeguard the servers.
For users, it helps them to track their usage and get the best seamless transfer of data. Obviously, as a user, you would have paid for the services and you would want the best of their services so a paid user key not only safeguards your request call limit but enhances your seamless data transfer experience.
How to Use API Key
To understand how one should use the API key effectively it is important to refer to the documentation page of the API provider to understand the parameters and endpoints. In most cases to obtain an API key you would be required to sign up/ create an account. After that you would have to choose a plan either free or paid.
The key looks like a code consisting of both numerics and alphabets and there might be two types of keys one private and a public key. The public key can be shared with anyone because of restrictions in usage and more limited access but on the other hand, the private key is not meant to be shared and should be kept private because it consists of all of your data and credits.
In What Cases API Keys Are Not Suitable
Till now we have talked about how useful and important an API and it’s key is but there are some instances where one should avoid the usage of an API key those instances are:
- Identifying User: The key acts as an identifier and authenticator but it doesn’t identify the user or call maker personally so if you are planning to gather personal information of your users then it won’t help you.
- Securing Authorization: Due to less security of API keys they are not suitable for secure authorization which fails to identify the program or undertaking that uses API instead authentication tokens are more secure.
These were some instances where the API key wouldn’t be suitable.
Tips To Safeguard Your API Key
It becomes crucial for paid users to safeguard their keys and preserve their request calls. If you feel like your API key has been compromised or monitor some unusual activity. In that case you can regenerate your key as many API providers offers this option.
Some API providers offer an option to regenerate your key if you somehow lost it or it has been leaked. Other than this option you can use the environment variable which will not reveal your API key. To understand how it works you can refer to this blog.
It is important to always refer to documentation whenever you are making your API request. We have covered everything there was to understand about the API key. Furthermore, API keys are an essential part of the security mechanism not only it protect the API credits of users but they also maintain the servers of API providers.
Q1: How do I gain an API key for a specific provider?
A1: To obtain an API key, you need to sign up on the service provider’s website, then create an account, and generate a key. Some services require additional steps like verifying your e-mail or offering price statistics.
Q2: Can I use the same API key for multiple applications?
A2: It relies upon the carrier company. Some permit a single API key for multiple applications, whilst others require a completely unique key for every utility. Check the documentation or terms of the provider to determine the provider’s coverage.
Q3: Is it secure to include API keys in my source code?
A3: No, it isn’t always safe to use API keys directly in source code as they may be easily exposed to attackers. Instead, it’s recommended to keep them securely, like using environment variables or a configuration record outside the codebase.
Q4: What should I do if my API key gets leaked or compromised?
A4: If your API key gets leaked, take immediate action. Most vendors allow regenerating or revoking the important thing. Generate a brand new key, update the affected packages, and check for any suspicious activity to guard and prevent any unauthorized access.
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