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What are Database APIs? Why and How are they Used?

Usman Hasan Khan

Content Strategist

July 4th, 2024

Modern applications store a lot of data, yet databases continue to be the primary source of data that these applications need to function. This is where database APIs come in, making it easier for applications and services to retrieve and manipulate data. A database API’s biggest advantage is that it eliminates database operations’ dependence on proprietary methods and provides a unified interface, streamlining data operations.

Here’s everything you need to know about database APIs:

What is a Database API?

A database API comprises tools and protocols that allow applications to interact with a database management system (DBMS). While APIs act as intermediaries between applications or software components, database APIs specifically liaise between applications and DBMSs. Database APIs are mainly used for extracting data and help perform CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) operations or send queries.

Why are Database APIs Used?

There are three primary reasons for using database API:

1. Security

Database APIs feature built-in security features with varying granularities, such as authentication, encryption, and access control. These features improve your database’s security and prevent unauthorized access, data breaches, and abuse.

2. Interoperability

Database APIs provide various applications and systems with a standardized means of interacting with a database. This interoperability is necessary when multiple applications require access to the same data.

3. Efficiency

Manual querying and data retrieval from a database requires knowledge of SQL, the database schema, and query construction.

In comparison, database APIs feature predefined endpoints for querying and data retrieval and use abstraction to greatly reduce these processes’ complexity. Features such as data caching help lower latency for API calls.

4. Abstraction

Database APIs’ abstraction enables developers to work with a database without having to understand the minutiae of its functions. This way, developers benefit from a simpler API development process. They can focus on the application they’re developing instead of database management.

5. Consistency

Database APIs provide uniform methods for accessing and manipulating data, which ensure consistency in an application’s interactions with the database. Consistency has several facets, as seen below:

The different aspects of consistency when using a Database API to interact with an application.

Types of Database APIs and Their Examples

Database APIs are categorized based on the approach, framework, or standard they use to interact with a database. Three prominent categories are:

1. Direct Database APIs 

Direct database APIs communicate directly with a database, typically using SQL. Examples include: 

  • Microsoft Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) 

Microsoft’s Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) is specially designed for relational data stores and is written in the C programming language. It’s language-agnostic (allows application-database communication regardless of language) and DBMS-independent (lets applications access data from different DBMSs.). 

  • Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) 

Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) is database-independent but designed specifically for applications that use the Java programming language. 

  • Microsoft Object Linking and Embedding Database (OLE-DB) 

OLE-DB allows uniform access to data from a variety of sources. It uses a set of interfaces implemented using the Component Object Model and supports non-relational databases. 

2. Object-Relational Mapping (ORM) APIs 

ORM APIs apply object-based abstraction on database interactions. Examples include: 

  • Hibernate 

Hibernate is an ORM framework for Java that maps Java classes to database tables, enabling SQL queries-less CRUD operation. 

  • Entity Framework 

Entity framework uses .NET objects to create data access layers for various on-prem and cloud databases. 

  • Django ORM 

Django ORM is part of the Python-based open-source Django web framework and lets developers interact with databases using Python code. 

3. RESTful and GraphQL APIs 

APIs in this category use web protocols — usually HTTP — for database interactions and often abstract the database layer to create a more flexible interface. 

  • RESTful APIs: REST apis use standard HTTP methods for CRUD operations. 
  • GraphQL APIs: These APIs are organized using entities and fields instead of endpoints. Unlike RESTful APIs, GraphQL APIs fetch an application’s required data in a single request for increased efficiency.

Key Features of Database APIs 

1. Connection Management 

Database APIs can manage the creation and configuration of connections to a database. Some database APIs have a ‘connection pooling’ feature that saves resources and improves performance by creating and reusing a pool of connections instead of setting up a new connection for every request.  

Database APIs also handle connection cleanup, which involves safely closing connections after usage to minimize resource wastage and application issues. Connection cleanup boosts efficiency and delivers a smoother user experience. 

2. Query Execution 

Database APIs simplify SQL query and command execution. Applications can send raw SQL queries directly to the database, and database APIs offer specific methods for executing them.  

Here are a few methods for executing common commands: 

  • Execute for DML: For executing INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE statements.

Query execution via the 'Execute for DML' method.

  • Execute for DDL: For executing schema modification commands like CREATE TABLE. 

Query execution using the 'Execute for DDL' method.

  • Execute for SELECT: Combined with ‘fetchall’ or ‘fetchone’ for retrieving results.

Query execution using the 'Execute for SELECT' method.

3. Data Mapping

 The ORM capabilities in many database APIs map database tables to application objects. Developers can leverage this abstraction and use high-level programming constructs instead of raw SQL to interact with the database. 

4. Performance Optimization 

Caching stores frequently accessed data in memory. This keeps an API from having to repeatedly access a database to fetch the same data. It also leads to faster responses and lowers database load. 

5. Schema Management 

Database APIs can sometimes feature built-in tools for managing schema changes. These tools can simplify the process of modifying the database schema with evolving application requirements.  

Many database APIs also offer support for migrations (versioned changes to the database schema). Using migrations, you can keep database changes consistent through varying environments. Keeping these changes consistent reduces data duplication and redundancy and improves data accuracy and quality. 

Vendor-Provided vs. Custom-Built Database APIs 

Vendor-provided database APIs are developed by the database vendors themselves. Their expertise and knowledge ensure these APIs work seamlessly with their respective database systems, similar to how software suites are designed to work together. 

Besides compatibility, these database APIs also enjoy official support (including updates, troubleshooting, and technical support) by the vendor and are optimized for performance and efficiency. 

Examples of Vendor-Provided Database APIs: ADO.NET by Microsoft, Oracle Call Interface (OCI) by Oracle, and the official drivers provided by MongoDB. 

In contrast, custom-built database APIs are developed in-house — usually to cater to specific organizational requirements or applications. This approach is very flexible in design and functionality. 

Because these database APIs are built from scratch, business owners can collaborate with developers on customization. They can include features that vendor-provided APIs don’t have and target specific security, organizational, or operational requirements. 

The organization is responsible for updating and maintaining these database APIs, which can require dedicated personnel and significant resources.  

However, custom-built database APIs can readily integrate with existing organizational systems and processes. This minimizes disruptions and downtime since the APIs are built with the current systems in mind. 

Examples of Custom-Built Database APIs: Custom RESTful (Representational State Transfer) APIs, custom ORM layers, and open-source database libraries such as SQLAlchemy.

The Benefits of Using (and Building) Database APIs 

Improved Development and Productivity 

APIs give developers the freedom to work with the framework, language, or tech stack of their choosing. Since developers don’t have to deal with the minutiae of database interactions, they can focus on writing and refining application logic. This increases their productivity and leads to quicker turnarounds. 

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Enhanced Scalability 

Scalable database APIs directly impact the scalability of their respective applications. They help a database keep up with growing demands by efficiently managing connections, preventing bottlenecks, and maintaining reliability by implementing principles such as: 

  • API Rate Limiting: Rate limiting restricts the number of user requests within a particular timeframe. Doing this eliminates potential overloads and keeps the API stable even during periods of heavy activity. 
  • Loose Coupling: The loose coupling principle minimizes the number of dependencies during an interaction between API components. As a result, certain parts can undergo scaling or modification without any major impact on others. 
  • Efficient Database Usage: Proper indexing and query optimization can help optimize API-database interactions for consistent performance. These practices can maintain operational efficiency even as an application is scaled. 


Once you have a well-designed API, you can reuse its functionality across multiple applications to save resources and time. 

For example, consider an internal database API that connects an organization’s central employee database with its Employee Management System (EMS). This API can be used for employee onboarding, with tasks such as creating or updating employee records.  

The same API can find secondary and even tertiary uses in payroll processing (retrieving and updating salary information, generating pay slips) or perks and benefits management (updating eligibility and usage, processing requests). 

What are The Challenges and Limitations of Using (and Building) Database APIs? 

Some of the trickier aspects of database API usage include: 

Greater Complexity 

In organizations that opt for bespoke database API, business owners and relevant teams must work closely with developers and have an in-depth knowledge of the database and application demands. This increased complexity can prolong development and drive up costs. 

Frequent Maintenance 

Database APIs need frequent maintenance to keep them up and running. Besides ensuring smooth operations, these maintenance efforts also serve to debug the database, incorporate new features, and keep the API compatible with system updates. While such maintenance is necessary, it can also take up considerable time and effort. 

Compatibility Challenges 

Compatibility issues are less likely to arise in custom-built database APIs since they’re made with the existing systems and infrastructure in mind. 

However, vendor-built database APIs can encounter glitches, and applications that work with multiple database systems are more vulnerable to them. These compatibility problems can occur due to database-specific features or varying data types. 

Best Practices for Building and Using Database APIs 

1. Intuitive Design 

The simpler the API design, the easier it is to use.  Which features are necessary and which ones are extraneous vary from one API to another, but too many of the latter can crowd the interface and hamper the user experience. 

2. Prioritizing Security 

Building comprehensive authorization and authentication protocols into the API is a great approach to enhance security. You should also encrypt both the in-transit and at-rest data. Lastly, set up periodic audits to proactively find and address security risks in the API. 

3. Maintaining Documentation 

Create and maintain thorough API documentation, covering API methods in detail, discussing error handling procedures, and providing usage examples. Comprehensive, well-structured documentation is an invaluable resource that helps developers understand APIs and use them correctly. 

4. Extensive Testing 

Test the API thoroughly to verify its functionality and efficiency under different operational conditions. Extensive pre-deployment testing can reveal potential issues for you to address. Different types of tests target different areas. Some examples include: 

The different types of tests to perform when building a Database API.


5. Versioning

Implementing versioning makes it easier to manage any changes to the database API. Versioning also contributes to backward compatibility — developers can work on newer versions of an API while still using older versions to keep current applications intact.

Using No-Code Tools to Build Database APIs 

No-code tools are an accessible, speedier alternative to conventional, code-driven methods for building database APIs. Such tools offer a visual, drag-and-drop interface with pre-built templates for common use cases. They also feature easy integrations with different tools and services and other APIs for increased functionality. 

You can use no-code tools to automatically generate RESTful API endpoints or create custom endpoints without coding. 

How Astera Helps Build Database APIs 

When using database APIs, you don’t need to manually query a database to access or retrieve pertinent information. They offer an easier, faster way of working with databases compared to manual methods — making them useful for any business wanting to integrate data into its processes. 

Astera’s no-code API builder and designer, Astera API Management, lets your organization create custom database APIs that you can reuse and repurpose as needed. You can also auto-generate CRUD API endpoints, as explained in the video below: 

It’s fast and intuitive, with a drag-and-drop interface and built-in connectors that simplify every aspect of a database API’s lifecycle, even for non-technical users. Start benefiting from API-driven connectivity today — schedule a demo or speak to our team for more information. 


  • Usman Hasan Khan
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