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API Key vs. Token: What Is the Difference?

api key vs. token

Today, developers and businesses frequently use APIs. APIs are a unique technology that allows them to transfer data quickly. For this reason, its use is increasing day by day. Recently, the security of public APIs has been on the agenda frequently. Developers and businesses generally implement two methods for public API security. These are API key and API token usage. API Key vs. Token: We will discuss and learn the difference, their usage, and more about these technologies in this article.

API keys and API tokens used in public APIs allow developers to protect their APIs from unauthorized persons. These two methods are frequently used today. In this article, we will introduce both API keys and API tokens, and then we will talk about their differences. But first, we’ll cover why we need to secure APIs.

Why We Need to Secure Public APIs?

There are many important reasons for securing public APIs. In this section, we will examine these reasons.

  • Data Security: Public APIs serve users and other applications. Therefore, the privacy, security, and integrity of data shared through these APIs may be at risk. The malicious interception or manipulation of sensitive data transferred via APIs can lead to serious security breaches.
  • Authorization and Access Control: Public APIs typically facilitate communication between different users or applications. However, having the same privileges for all users or applications may result in financial loss. Without proper authentication and authorization checks, APIs can allow unauthorized users or malware to access the system.
  • Abuse Prevention: Because many different users use public APIs, malicious users are highly likely to abuse them. For example, malicious actions such as heavy demand for the API (DDoS attack) or sending spam data can adversely affect the performance of the service. As a result, it decreases the user satisfaction.

What is the API Key?

An API key is a unique key that applications use as an authentication method to access or use an API. API (Application Programming Interface) is a specific service that allows communication between software

An API key allows an application or service to gain authorized access to a specific API. The API key is usually a string of mixed random characters and numbers. It gives applications access to API services by authentication. This key identifies and authorizes the application using the API.

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One of the most basic purposes of an API key is authentication. For each request to the target API, the API key sent is matched with the API key held in the application, and authorization is performed to determine whether the request is valid or not.

The API provider usually provides the API key to the client application or user. Each application has a unique API key assigned to it, and it is important to protect this key.

What is the API Token?

An API token is a type of authentication mechanism that a client or an application uses to authenticate and authorize itself.

An API token is usually a string of long random characters and is valid for a certain period of time, unlike an API key, for security reasons. This means that the API token has a limited lifetime. The client needs to obtain or renew the API token again after a certain period of time. The fact that the token is constantly changing and expiring is a huge advantage in terms of security. It prevents long-term use and makes the authorization process more secure and effective.

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The API token eliminates the need to authorize using a user’s credentials. When a user logs into the application or a user account is created, a token is issued by the API provider. This token then determines the resources and functionalities that the user can access.

API Key vs. Token: What are the Differences Between API Key and API Token?

api key vs. token

Here are the differences between the API key and the API token:

  • An API key authenticates the application, while the API token serves for both authentication and authorization of the user or application.
  • The API key typically grants applications general access to the API, while the API token also authorizes specific users. The API token grants access to specific resources or functionality and serves as a user-specific authentication mechanism for authorization.
  • An API key usually has an unlimited validity period, and applications can use the same key continuously. The API token, however, usually has a limited validity period, and after a certain period of time, applications must then re-acquire it.
  • API Key is a static and fixed key, which carries serious security risks if malicious clients compromise. In contrast, the API token changes frequently and has a short lifespan. Thus, it reduces the risk of long-term misuse.

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Conclusion

In summary, security is a must for public APIs. Developers and businesses have recently been securing their public APIs with API keys or API tokens. The main difference between an API key and a token is the authentication and authorization purpose. An API key is used to authenticate applications publicly, while an API token authenticates a user or application and authorizes specific resources or functions.

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FAQs

Q: What is the Importance of the Authentication of the API?

A: The importance of API authentication is to secure public APIs and prevent unauthorized access. Developers and users prefer APIs for exchanging data between different applications. Authentication verifies the source and authenticity of requests sent to the API, allowing only authorized users or applications to access it.

Q: What are the Key Differences Between API Key and API Token?

A: There are many differences between the API key and the API token. Firstly, the API key authenticates the application and typically remains static and long-lasting. An API token, on the other hand, authenticates the user or application, provides specific authorizations, and has a limited validity period. Also, APIs that provide access to public data often use API keys for public access, whereas APIs granting access to private or user-specific data commonly utilize API tokens.

Q: When to Use API Keys?

A: Developers often use API keys for public or publicly available APIs. If you want to allow public or unrestricted use of the API, the use of an API key may be the most appropriate solution.

Q: When to Use API Tokens?

A: API tokens best suit APIs that provide private or user-specific data access. Suppose it is necessary to provide different authorizations to API users to give access to specific data to specific users. In that case, it is helpful to use API tokens.

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