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What is API key? Why it is Important?

An application programming interface (API) key is a code used to identify and authenticate an application or user. API keys are available through platforms, such as a white-labeled internal marketplace. They also act as a unique identifier and provide a secret token for authentication purposes.


APIs are interfaces that help build software and define how pieces of software interact with each other. They control requests made between programs, how those requests are made, and the data formats used. They are commonly used on Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications and websites to gather and process data or enable users to input information. For example, users can get a Google API key or YouTube API keys, which are accessible through an API key generator.


In general, API keys serve two main functions in an API request:

  • Project authentication: The API key identifies the application making the request to the API receiving the request. Each project has a unique key to distinguish it from other projects.

  • Project authorization: The API key tells the API whether the requesting application has permission to use the API and which of the API’s services it may access. Even if an application can access an API, it might only be authorized to use a limited set of the API’s services.


Why API Key is Important?

There are four benefits of API key, especially in the authentication and authorization process, namely:

Activity on the API server can be logged in the form of a series of calls. Therefore, developers can use specific APIs to filter certain calls.

  1. Block anonymous traffic - Anonymous traffic is usually an indicator of potential unknown malicious activity. API key can identify application traffic so that if there is suspicious activity or error, it can be identified early on.

  2. Control the number of calls to the API - This function helps developers set API usage limits and ensures that only permitted traffic can access the API.

  3. Identify usage patterns in API traffic - By identifying patterns of API usage, developers can monitor potential malicious activity that could threaten the API at any time.

  4. Filter calls

API key plays an important role in ensuring connections between application services are valid and authenticated. It helps the authentication process for both user and device used to call an API. That's way, it ensures that users can only access what they should.


How to Store API Keys Securely?

API keys work a lot like passwords and should be stored and protected as such. Here are some basic steps you can take to limit the risk of your key being stolen:

  • Don’t write down your key in a public place, like on a sticky note or in a file on a public computer. You can safely access your key inside your developer account.

  • Be careful not to accidentally expose your key when documenting your project, such as with screenshots, uploading to a public repository, or in a URL.

  • Don’t write your API key directly into your program, as anyone with access to your source files can see your key.

  • Before sharing your API key, regenerate it and label it as the newest shared key.

  • Don’t share API keys through email.

  • Always use HTTPS/SSL for your API requests — some APIs won’t field your request if you’re not using it.

  • Assign a unique API key to each of your projects and label them accordingly. If you find out one key has been compromised, you can regenerate it or deactivate it without affecting your other projects.


When To Use API Keys?

There are several common usages for API keys, including:

  1. Block Anonymous Traffic - Anonymous traffic can be an indicator of potentially malicious activity or traffic. API keys can identify application traffic, which can be used to debug issues or analyze application usage.

  2. Control the Number of Calls Made to Your API - Controlling the number of calls made to an API helps to govern API consumption, limit traffic and usage, and ensure only legitimate traffic accesses the API.

  3. Identify Usage Patterns in Your API's Traffic - Identifying usage patterns is crucial to spotting malicious activity or issues within the API.

  4. Filter Logs - Activity on the API server can be logged as a series of events, which can be filtered by the specific API key.


API Keys Cannot Be Used For?

API keys cannot be used for the following purposes:

  1. Secure Authorization - API keys cannot be used for secure authorization because they are not as secure as authentication tokens. Instead, they identify an application or project that calls an API.

  2. Identifying the Creators of a Project - API keys are generated by the project making a call but cannot be used to identify who created the project.

  3. Identifying Individual Users - API keys are used to identity projects, not the individual users that access a project.


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