Reverse Proxy vs API Gateway – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons)

Reverse Proxy vs API Gateway – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons).

Let’s begin with the fundamentals to better understand the difference between a Reverse Proxy vs API Gateway. For backend services, businesses are looking to connect seamlessly to the existing customers whilst seeking to boost their reach to new customers. These include mobile applications, websites, smartwatches, cars or any other IoT device. 

Now, is it as simple as using an API to integrate with IoT devices and everything works smoothly? Not really.

There is plenty of risks involved related to monitoring tools, security, availability, reliability and cyber threats. That’s where proxy comes in! It is leveraged to secure IT integrity of businesses as it offers access level to various APIs, security, monitoring and so much more.

In this scenario, an existing API is exposed to customers using an API proxy. What you must understand is that for “proxy” to work there need’s to be an API ( Application Programming Interface) in place already as it is  one of the crucial elements of any digital product, they help business and IT teams collaborate.


APIs are a way to connect your own infrastructure through cloud app development and allow you to share your data with customers and other external users.

Follow this post to discuss Reverse Proxy vs API Gateway – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons)

What is Reverse Proxy

Reverse Proxy acts as an intermediate between client side and one or more backend servers within corporate network. If you imagine a micro service architecture, it is bound to grow with time as the projects evolve. API might be  too complicated.  The solution could be a Reverse proxy where you can creates a single point of access to your file transfer servers, moves user credentials to a safer place so it in fact reduces risks to sensitive data and allows transparent maintenance of backend servers. There is many more benefits of Reverse Proxy.

The Reverse Proxy rewrites the URLs, while the client is unaware of who’s behind the Reverse Proxy. Reverse Proxy will further push the request to the backend for processing. 

Reverse proxy benefits

Reverse Proxy comprises of the following characteristics:

1. Security: Reverse Proxy offers basic authentication, multiple levels of security against DoS attacks and SSL certification. API gateways rarely support modern security protocols. But reverse proxy server is able to install control systems for security such as packet filters or antivirus, which will protect the backend when running between the private network and the Internet.

2. Caching: Adds a layer of cache to boost efficiency of performance. It does this by answering independently to the recurring requests, either fully or partly. It stores the content in the proxy cache, responds to the client quickly and retrieves less data from the backend.

3. Load balancing between multiple servers in internal networks: Reverse Proxy server is able to distribute requests to various backend servers. As it balances the load, the individual systems don’t get overloaded, so it prevents backend failure. For some reasons, if the backend has an error and gets hindered, the incoming requests will be redistributed to the other backends by this load balancing module.

4. SSL Encryption: you can configure a reverse proxy to decrypt incoming requests, by the same token, encrypt all the outgoing responses. This frees up crucial backend resources.

5. SSL Termination: reverse proxy decrypts the requests and passes unencrypted requests on to the web servers, which leads to(single point of configuration and management for SSL/TLS and takes away the processing load of encrypting/decrypting HTTPS traffic away from web servers.

6. Compression: the reverse proxy can decompress incoming requests and compress outgoing ones that reduces the bandwidth needed for individual requests.

Pros of a Reverse Proxy

  • Simple and lightweight solution  that can conceal the characteristics and existence of origin servers.
  • Perform multivariate testing and A/B testing without inserting JavaScript into pages.
  • Serve clients with dynamically generated pages, even when they are produced at once.
  • Assess incoming requests via a single public IP address and deliver to multiple web servers within the local area network
  • Affordable to set up and manage
  • Basic monitoring tools and security capabilities.
  • Aggregating Multiple Websites Into the Same URL Space.
  • Protocol Translation.
  • Request Routing.
  • Easy maintenance.
  • Enables load balancing and failover (eliminates downtime and increases productivity). 

Cons of a Reverse Proxy

  • Less reliable than API Gateway.
  • SSL offloading Apps compatibility. 
  • Redundant headers in Proxy and Backend Server.
  • Lack of observability and traceability features make troubleshooting difficult during production deployments.
  • Restricts options for load balancing and content delivery; thereby limiting performance and adding latency to transactions.

What is an API Gateway

API Gateway has more benefits as compared to Reverse Proxy as it goes one step ahead. It is a microservice intermediate that controls current traffic and executes various security processes. It is most commonly used when an API is to be released for one or multiple microservices. It is extremely easy to set up and easy to use. 

API Gateway will hide the distributed backend architecture. It not only forwards requests, but also is able to execute aggregation/orchestration. This module will simplify client code and decrease the frequency of API requests. Clients won’t be requesting multiple backends, rather only connect with the API Gateway. 

Protocol Translation is another highlight feature of the API Gateway when it comes to managing requests. API Gateway can convert from protocol to protocol; for example(gRPC to JSON) in order to make integration between client side and server more seamless.

It consists of two models:

  • Run the gateway and use CLI to develop and release APIs
  • Create API metadata gateway configuration and further run it.

Without constructing metadata manually, you can use API definition to build the API gateway. Furthermore, the deployments can be easier with the use of service mesh.

API Gateway benefits

API Gateway offers various benefits such as traceability, observability, scalability and reliability.  For robust security and efficient performance, API Gateway offers:

Authentication and Authorization abilities: unified console to control who can request and access what.

Simpler code (for your services and for your clients).

IP Whitelisting: can allow use of APIs only to selected IP addresses.

Complete metrics

Rate Limiting, Quotas and Throttling:

  • Configures the rate limit and quotas as per the capacity of the server to handle requests for a specific period of time. 
  • It allows control of traffic that API clients use as per their purchased plan. Rate limiting is the concept of restricting the frequency by which customers access a microservice or query an API.
  • It aims to prevent accidental and incidental DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service). When genuine customers query an API repeatedly in a short time span, it may starve other consumers from accessing the resources. Certain transactions must have a minimum time span after which another request is authorized. To implement rate limiting, various strategies can be used such as spike arrests, which restrict sudden spikes and quotas which restrict the number of queries that can be invoked in a predetermined time span. 

Circuit Breaker and Retry Policy: that allow you to manage the temporary unreachability of backends, thereby boosting their reliability and resilience. This can be done by preventing overload of requests, or re performing the request on clients’ behalf.

In addition API Gateway aids Traceability and Observability by offering good Logging, Tracking and Correlation features. It collects all the logs for incoming requests along with its linked backends and related metrics.

Pros of an API Gateway

  • Modern security protocols and traffic control.
  • Input Validation.
  • Metrics Collection.
  • Scales up or down as per functionality and complexity.
  • Response Transformation.
  • Can play a vital role in large API lifecycle and handle complex API architecture.
  • Load Balancing.
  • Caching.
  • Custom API.
  • Throttling.
  • Request Shaping and Management.
  • Static Response Handling.
  • Detailed documentation.

Cons of an API Gateway

  • Connection and latency issues.
  • Complex setup and maintenance.
  • High operational costs.
  • Performance degradation is a concern. API Gateway usage can impact the speed and reliability of your application.

Reverse Proxy vs API Gateway

Both API Gateway and Reverse Proxy have prominent objectives, yet they differ in their capabilities and functionality. In today’s modern world, APIs and microservices can completely transform the way we build applications and connect with the customers. And, API Gateway is capable of mitigating the risks involved in complex microservice and API architecture

Generally, API Gateway is able to do all the main tasks a Reverse Proxy can do. However, there are a few main differences between both:

Reverse Proxy can control use of the internet and bandwidth. It is able to determine which nodes secured by the proxy will access what bandwidth and websites on the internet. 

API Gateway can limit the access to microservices within secured API architecture for external customers. Further, it can also control the bandwidth incoming into the system. 

Key point to note is that, Reverse Proxy and API Gateway are not each other’s alternatives. Certainly, API Gateway is more capable and all inclusive; however a Reverse Proxy can also be sufficient for certain business scenarios. 

In today’s world, there’s no reason to just solely use a reverse proxy, especially when you’re working with microservices or have just started with your API journey. At the deployment stage, business infra setup may require a Reverse Proxy solution through which API requests are passed. However, using purpose built API Gateway is always recommended for long term API lifecycle.

Reverse Proxy offers TLS (Transport Layer Security) to protect DDoS attacks, which falls under its performance management, security, authentication and authorization functionality. API Gateway is more robust in offering all these functions along with load balancing, enhanced performance monitoring, traffic routing, throttling and orchestration.

Great job, we have learned about Reverse Proxy vs API Gateway – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons).

Reverse Proxy vs API Gateway – What’s the Difference? Conclusion

It all comes down to the type of capabilities you’re looking for and how long you’ve been in the API lifecycle. For advanced API, you can leverage Reverse Proxy as a faster and cost effective solution that can handle newly created APIs better. Reverse Proxy is a lightweight, simple and affordable option with fundamental monitoring and security capabilities. So if you’re looking for this, Reverse Proxy is your ultimate choice!

However, for a longterm API lifecycle with complex APIs, Reverse Proxy won’t be enough alone. In this situation, you may need an API Gateway to manage multiple layers or backend resources and development. 

Both are somewhat similar. To a simple Reverse Proxy setup, if you add rate restriction, service discovery, authentication, dynamic configuration updates and other such advanced features, it becomes an API Gateway.

API Gateway is able to work as a Reverse Proxy as it accepts API calls, aggregates specific services and provides optimal response.

Avatar for Hitesh Jethva
Hitesh Jethva

I am a fan of open source technology and have more than 10 years of experience working with Linux and Open Source technologies. I am one of the Linux technical writers for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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