Vasyl Soloshchuk
30 December 2021

API and File-Based Integration: Challenges and Solutions

Seamless data transfer requires suitable system integration and proper management. From this article, you’ll find out what are the main challenges around API and file-based integration and how to overcome and prevent them. 

What’s what

File-based integration is the communication between two systems that occurs via a file that represents the initial data source and its destination data. 

To synchronize data with another system, file-based architecture sends a CSV file or a flat file. A CSV file can only contain a single file, whereas a flat file can combine elements from a number of files. File transfer is required when systems store data in tables; that’s often the case with e-commerce programs or legacy systems where there’s no accessible API.

Advanced business systems can require real-time data transmission, and that’s where API integration has the upper hand. API allows you to establish a connection between two systems with the help of cloud applications.

You can utilize one of them exclusively, but file-based and API integration can complement each other, depending on your company’s needs. Let’s take a closer look at the possible difficulties of each and how to overcome them

Major challenges around file-based integration and how to prevent them

File-based integration is mostly used in legacy systems and is much more time-consuming than API integration, that’s why developers don’t like it much. This approach presents several challenges. For example, McKinsey mentions the following ones. We offer some tips on how to avoid each of them.

Limited exception handling on format mismatches

Some nondigestible formats, like phone numbers, only require format normalizations. In other cases, not only format but also data would need to be standardized. There are several solutions to the problem: using an open-source universal identifier, standardizing with Excel or scripts and APIs, and utilizing standardization software depending on the data type.  

Manual failure recovery following network or system outages

To recover lost or corrupted data, utilize the business rule management system (BRMS). One indispensable feature of this software is a sequence of reports that allow you to recover the system bit by bit. From the reports, you’ll find out how much of the system is damaged and learn a set of instructions on how to restore it. The BRMS allows you to bring back your entire system or separate items of choice, including control groups, libraries, folders, ASPs, spooled files, or integrated file system links.

Weak controls for file tampering and man-in-the-middle breaches

Robust security is a must to avoid data encryption by attackers, who mostly conduct such attacks to receive a ransom. Here are the ways to avert this kind of attack: 

  • Encrypt the stored and transmitted data first—outsmart the attackers
  • Ensure snapshots are taken each time a database is modified by integrating COW (copy-on-write)
  • Utilize HMAC to sign messages or files: a shared secret key will ensure the data transferred and received is authentic and unmodified by a third party
  • Initiate file integrity monitoring (FIM), which checks a wide range of files, including encryption key stores, and alerts you once it detects any changes
  • Establish write once read many (WORM) systems to make sure data cannot be changed or erased accidentally or deliberately

A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack occurs when an actor intercepts a communication of two systems to steal data. To enhance systems against this type of attack, upgrade your website to HTTPS protocol and configure it to exclude any leftover HTTP. Also, ensure the use of TLS 1.1 and 1.2 server protocols and disable all other protocols.

Time-consuming customer onboarding (4–6 months)

One way to streamline the onboarding process is to integrate an integration platform as a service (iPaaS) solution. This platform, underpinned by API, ensures apps are integrated in a standardized way, which allows onboarding automation and quick and easy data exchange across applications. 

Bulky file formats for enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration, requiring customization for each company

To process and transfer large files, you’ll need the tools and processes to break the large data files into small enough chunks. INSART can provide you with the solutions to solve this problem in a quick and efficient way.

Higher operating cost to run and maintain the specialized software needed

As we mentioned before, API integration and file-based integration can be used in parallel. Using APIs is usually more cost-efficient, because instead of amplifying the range of software used (which often requires special expertise), you can connect to another product and transfer data securely in real time.