API vs. Middleware
What You Need to Know About Website Integrations
With exponentially growing numbers of third-party tools designed to optimize your website’s returns, integrations have become an essential part of website strategy. When dealing with complex, highly custom integrations, there are usually 2 approaches:
- You use an API to connect your website directly.
- You use a middleware system as a connector between your website and other tools.
Here’s what you should consider before moving to integrate your website.
API Integrations: One-To-One Website Connections
Consider the Application Programming Interface (API) to be a single, direct line of communication between your website and the tool you’ve integrated it with. Most tools—MarTech integrations, order processing systems, even website platforms themselves—provide their own API. The API gives your developer an outline that tells them how they can use it to pass data between two integration points.
From a web developer’s perspective, using an API is a straightforward method of integration. For example, if a client is requesting we integrate their MailChimp email marketing tool with their Drupal CMS, we’ll write an extension using the MailChimp API.
The benefit of the API is that it’s simple to configure, and can be developed in just a few short weeks. However, an API can only consume data in a one-to-one connection, meaning if you want data to be processed between multiple systems, it’s likely you’re going to need middleware.
Middleware Integrations: Multiple Website Connections
Middleware is a tool that processes data through multiple sources. For example, order data is processed from your eCommerce website, passed into your middleware, and then distributed to your ERP, accounting software, and email marketing tool.
For website administrators managing a highly custom website strategy (particularly websites that manage a high volume of orders) utilizing middleware can be an extremely helpful approach to automating data processing.
The downside is, that unlike an API, middleware software is more unique. Configuring it will require an expert web developer, and managing it daily will require an expert administrator. This means that it’ll take both more time to build out and learn to manage.
It’s also likely that the data being processed by your middleware is some of your most sensitive—order and customer data, for example—and passing it through your third party middleware tool adds an additional vulnerability to your system.
Unlike APIs, for which you’ll have to pay to develop but not to purchase, middleware services can be very expensive.
The middleware extension is hard-coded, and if you ever migrate your website to a new platform, or update it to a new version of your current platform, it’ll have to be rewritten.
Integrations are complex web development configurations, and although some services will offer simple APIs or middleware will advertise quick setup, more often than not it will take a few weeks of development work.