API for e-commerce. Microservices e-commerce

In today’s world, the rise of APIs in e-commerce is drastically changing the way the entire market operates. Yet not many people know what an API is to start with, let alone what an e-commerce API should do.

Updated: April 30, 2020 | Ilse Lauwens, Marketing Director

The definition of an e-commerce API

Understanding what API is, in general, is recommended to understand it in the context of an e-commerce API. A true API – Application Program Interface – is a variety of tools, routines and protocols for building software-based applications.

In general, the API is an interface that allows regular users to interact with the logic of the program without interacting with the actual code of the program in question, making the entire interaction process a lot less complex and more consumer-friendly. At the same time, an e-commerce API is a set of e-commerce functions that can be accessed through this API. When we mention specific features, e-commerce API integration is generally represented by checkout, shopping cart, orders and payments (basically everything you need to make a transaction happen).

There may also be different types of APIs for e-commerce, and one of the most commonly used ones in e-commerce is Web APIs. Web APIs can be split into two main groups – public APIs and private APIs.

Public and private APIs

Public APIs are, surprisingly, only the small part of the whole range of APIs for e-commerce (even though public APIs are the most popular because they are used by everyone up to a few hundred times a day per person). Their purpose can be almost anything, such as a social network update, weather broadcast check, and so on.

Private APIs, on the other hand, are much more business-oriented. They are created for customers (paid customers mostly) by developers and their goals are partnerships, productivity and other e-commerce API design benefits.

Web APIs themselves can be further separated based on the architecture, this won’t be explained in too much detail in this article. The most important thing to know is that the most popular one is probably REST (Representational State Transfer) – a set of principles that many developers follow in their work. In addition, there is also SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), JSON-RPC, XML-RPC and others, each with their own use cases, strengths and weaknesses.

IT architecture types

Talking about architecture, time has come to say a few things about different IT architectures in the context of e-commerce API integration. Many e-commerce companies still use monolithic IT architectures with many downsides. They are usually inefficient in the modern world. They have often problems with scaling, they are generally chaotic, and they tend to overlap services inside, creating additional issues for all users.

On the other hand, an architecture based on microservices uses both APIs and cloud technology advancements to solve monoliths in a number of services independent of each other. It can go through the entire development cycle without interacting with each other, creating a much better picture of a great company and a great API e-commerce platform.

An example of a company that provides customers with microservices architecture is Virto Commerce. As an API e-commerce platform, Virto Commerce has its own modular architecture that allows to select the level of granularity that the customer wants, allowing it to create both a microservices-based architecture and a monolithic one, just in case a company feels more comfortable with it.

Monolithic e-commerce architecture

There are many reasons why a monolithic architecture is already outdated, as well as several reasons why the microservices e-commerce structure may be the best choice for e-commerce business. To begin with, let's look at the disadvantages of a monolithic architecture:

  • Complications. Since the entire system is huge and usually quite chaotic, it is difficult to find and solve all problems in time, because you never know if fixing one problem will bring a few more into your system.
  • Scalability. Many e-commerce companies need to scale somehow and their IT systems need to grow with it. Unfortunately, monolithic architectures, as the name suggests, can in principle not scale because they have a variety of interwoven modules with different requirements to start with.
  • Speed. This problem is somewhat similar to scalability since the overall size and level of complications within monolithic architecture makes it extremely difficult to "change course", so to speak. In that case, you may not react in time to a known market change or another drastic shift just because your IT structure is not versatile enough.
  • Agility. The same goes for all kinds of experiments and innovations, it is an extremely difficult and slow process. Changing something can bring unexpected risks to your architecture in general.

Microservices e-commerce architecture

To emphasize the contrast, the explanation of why micro-service-based architecture is a good choice today:

  • Manageability. Each microservice can be managed and enhanced by a single group of developers or even outsourced to get started, reducing the overall costs for staffing and creating a great e-commerce API design.
  • Resilience. A set of standards and overall simplicity helps your IT system to be much more stable than it would be in a chaotic combined state like a monolithic architecture.
  • Scalability. Unlike the previous list, microservices are easy to scale up and down per demand, making it easy to change and adapt when needed.
  • Agility. Architecture based on microservices makes it easy to improve or experiment with most of your system without the risk of changing other parts of the architecture in general.

By rebuilding your architecture with microservices e-commerce in mind, you will find it much easier for your company to adapt to the ever-changing market, and make general experimentation about parts of your system a lot easier than before.

Ilse Lauwens
Director Marketing