January 12, 2024

Secure & Scalable API's: AWS API Gateway Best Practices

In today’s digital era, AWS API Gateway is pivotal for microservices, linking external apps to AWS resources. Mastering API types, enhancing security, and monitoring are essential for maximizing its potential.

In today’s digital landscape, more companies adopt microservices and serverless architecture, and AWS API Gateway emerges as a pivotal solution for building and managing APIs.

This service enables developers to connect non-AWS applications and services to AWS resources. It is a fully managed AWS service and it provides all the necessary tools for developers to create, publish, manage, and secure APIs regarding scale and will accept and process hundreds of thousands of concurrent calls. It makes the applications more functional and increases the overall utility of AWS cloud services.

AWS API Gateway is designed to be integrated seamlessly with a multitude of AWS services by providing the flexibility to build comprehensive solutions. The most commonly used services are Lambdas, Step-Functions, EC2, S3, RDS, Kinesis, Cognito, and the list goes on as AWS continually adds new features and integration capabilities.

Understanding AWS API Gateway and Getting Started

AWS API Gateway is designed to enable communication between different services and web applications ensuring smooth data transfer. To better understand it, consider an example where a mobile app needs to fetch user data from DynamoDB with an AWS Lambda function. Using AWS API Gateway, developers can create an endpoint that the app can call, which then triggers the Lambda function that gets user data from DynamoDB, and passes it back to the app using API Gateway.

At the heart of API Gateway is the concept of routes, which define the endpoints and methods available. Each route connects to a backend - like an AWS Lambda function, an EC2 instance, or even another web service.

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It’s also essential to familiarize yourself with the diverse types of available AWS API options. Each API type serves specific use cases and offers distinct advantages. Let’s dive into each to provide a better understanding:

  • REST API: Traditional RESTful service with a request-response type of work that can be accessed over HTTP/HTTPS. Support standard HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, etc., and can return data in multiple formats, such as JSON or XML.
  • WebSocket API: These types of APIs instead maintain a persistent connection between server and client which makes them useful for real-time applications where the server needs to push data to the client, like a chat application.
  • HTTP API: A streamlined, high-performance, and cost-effective alternative to the traditional REST API. While it offers efficiency and affordability, it comes with certain trade-offs, notably in terms of customization and limited integration capabilities when compared to other AWS alternatives.
  • Private API: These are APIs that are not exposed to the public internet. They reside within an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) and are accessible only from within the VPC or through a direct connection (like VPN or Direct Connect).

AWS API Gateway offers a diverse range of API types, each tailored to address specific requirements and scenarios. Selecting the right API depends on several factors:

  • Use Case: If real-time communication is essential, then WebSocket API might be the best choice. For standard web applications, a REST API or HTTP API could suffice. For private, internal communications, a Private API within VPC is ideal.
  • Performance vs. Customization: If you prioritize speed and cost-effectiveness but can compromise on customization and integrations, HTTP API can be your best choice. However, for more extensive customizations and AWS integrations, REST API might be a better solution.
  • Security Concerns: When the highest level of security and restricted access is a concern, especially for internal systems, the Private API can be invaluable.
  • Remember, the perfect API type is one that aligns with your technical requirements and business goals, ensuring you're making the most out of what AWS API Gateway has to offer.

Secure Your APIs with AWS Best Practices

Security is definitely one of the most essential aspects when it comes to building APIs as you want to reduce all the risks of possible data breaches. AWS API Gateway provides various tools to secure your API endpoints:

  • Use HTTPS: Always ensure that your APIs are accessed over HTTPS to encrypt the data in transit.
  • Authorization & Authentication: Integrate AWS Cognito or use custom authorizers like Lambda functions to validate tokens using JWT or OAuth. Cognito User Pools can be used for user management and identity validation.
  • IAM Roles and Policies: Similar to other AWS services, API Gateway uses Identity and Access Management (IAM) to control access to the API. With IAM, you can create policies that grant or deny access based on specific conditions.
  • API Keys: These are alphanumeric string values that you can distribute to your developers. They identify a developer, application, or client and track API usage.
  • Resource Policies: Define who can access your APIs and under what specific conditions.
  • Client-Side SSL Certificates: This helps ensure that the data transferred between your clients and API Gateway remains encrypted and secure.
  • WAF Integration: This is the firewall that helps protect your APIs from common web exploits, you can also use WAF to block new threat vectors.
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In essence, a setup similar to this ensures that all incoming requests are first screened for security threats by WAF, then authenticated, and only after these steps are they processed by the Lambda function. The use of an SSL certificate further guarantees that all communications are encrypted and secure.

Monitoring and Analytics with AWS API Gateway

After you set up your APIs, you might want to set up some monitoring to keep a close eye on the performance, usage, and any potential issues that might arise.

  • API Gateway Dashboard: A built-in feature within API Gateway, this dashboard provides a visual representation of your API metrics. It allows you to quickly assess the health, performance, and activity of your APIs.
  • CloudWatch: This is probably the best service for monitoring API calls, latency, and error rates. With CloudWatch, you can set up alerts, and notifications that alert you when specific performance or operational thresholds are breached, allowing you to quickly investigate and find the root cause.
  • Access Logging: These are the logs with comprehensive details about API access, including the identity of callers, the parameters they use, and the responses they receive. This data can be invaluable for troubleshooting and audits.
  • CloudTrail: AWS CloudTrail captures all API calls made on your account and delivers the log files to an S3 bucket, they later can be used to track changes to resources and troubleshoot issues.
  • X-Ray: This service provides insights into the behavior of your applications, helping you understand how they are performing and where bottlenecks are occurring.
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By logging and analyzing your API performance and behavior you gain more insights about your API which allows you to track and timely audit events and different activities to help you optimize the performance and pinpoint bottlenecks faster. Also be sure to set up monitoring to gain the most from your APIs.

Optimize API Performance with Caching, Throttling, and Compression

We of course want our APIs to work and be secure but we shouldn't forget about the performance optimization techniques that can ensure quick responses and the ability to handle a massive volume of requests without compromising the quality of the service. We can implement strategies like caching, throttling, and compression to make a significant difference in API performance.

  • Caching: You can minimize the load on backend resources by storing responses temporarily and so repeated requests can fetch data more quickly without burdening the backend.
  • Throttling: Control the rate at which the API accepts requests to safeguard against potential service abuse. It ensures that no single user or client can over-tax the system and guarantees equal resource distribution.
  • Compression: Compressing the API responses can reduce the amount of data transferred, leading to quicker data delivery and less bandwidth consumption.
  • The strategies above not only ensure faster response time but also ensures that resources are available and working efficiently. It also enhances the user experience and can save you money on the bandwidth cost.


Navigating the AWS API Gateway ecosystem requires a keen understanding of the diverse API types and their specific use cases. This article provides a comprehensive guide on selecting the best API type, whether it's for real-time communication, standard web applications, or secure internal systems. By optimizing security, monitoring, and performance settings, businesses can harness the full potential of their APIs, ensuring not only efficient operations but also delivering enhanced value to end-users and stakeholders.

Answering Commonly Asked Questions.

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