15.7. Security and API usage

It is quite common that you need an API key to make use of a vendor’s API. The general idea is that they want to know who is using their services and how much each user is using. Perhaps they have free and pay tiers of their services or have a policy that limits the number of requests that a single individual can make during a particular time period.

Sometimes once you get your API key, you simply include the key as part of POST data or perhaps as a parameter on the URL when calling the API.

Other times, the vendor wants increased assurance of the source of the requests and so they expect you to send cryptographically signed messages using shared keys and secrets. A very common technology that is used to sign requests over the Internet is called OAuth. You can read more about the OAuth protocol at www.oauth.net.

Thankfully there are a number of convenient and free OAuth libraries so you can avoid writing an OAuth implementation from scratch by reading the specification. These libraries are of varying complexity and have varying degrees of richness. The OAuth web site has information about various OAuth libraries.

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