What is API orchestration and how does it work?

You’ve designed an API. Fantastic. But what about implementation and integration with your microservices and other existing assets? This is where API orchestration comes in. Let us walk you through what an API orchestration layer is, why you need one and how it works.

What is API orchestration?

As ever, we’ll start at the beginning. What does orchestrated mean? In API terms, it means adding a layer of functionality that can coordinate between incoming requests, multiple API services and responses. With an API orchestration framework in place, you can transform requests and responses into different formats, integrate legacy systems more efficiently, manage permissions and authorisations between services, mitigate traffic spikes and boost security.

You can automate many of these processes by using API orchestration.  

What is data orchestration, and how is it important?

As well as considering it in API terms, it’s worth understanding the orchestrated meaning in terms of data orchestration. This is where automation is used to combine and organise data siloed in multiple storage locations. The orchestration layer can make the data available for analysis, meaning it is important for streamlining data-driven business decision-making.

API orchestration mirrors this role in terms of API services. Implementing it allows a business to coordinate the flow of data in new ways and to manage that data between separate services. Achieving this functionality is why many businesses implement an API gateway for microservices to help manage the orchestration layer. It can also be a major help in integrating APIs with legacy systems, thanks to the data transformation functionality of the orchestrator API.

How does it work?

An API orchestration layer works by enabling communication and integration between different services, resulting in a unified experience. An orchestration API could, for example, take a single API request and then handle multiple calls to different services before delivering a single response. In so doing, the orchestration layer can enable a smooth frontend experience while building in the potential for authentication and checking for malicious code (and more) before requests reach the backend.

This approach can work well for large-scale development teams and complex microservices solutions. By implementing an experience API to handle the orchestration logic between the services, as part of a microservice gateway and access pattern, the business can achieve greater flexibility and enable the easy evolution of its services. Let’s break this down further by looking at the different elements involved.

Core elements of API orchestration

An orchestration layer has several core elements, meaning it can deliver numerous functions and benefits:


We mentioned legacy systems above. Such systems often use a mix of API types (REST, SOAP and so on). Orchestration can help by transforming data into different formats between the front and backend and vice versa. This can help to achieve smooth data flows while integrating new APIs and services with legacy systems.

Data transformation

Data transformation introduces an element of standardisation when it comes to call formats. This means that both the client’s and the backend’s expectations can be met in terms of data formats, while also enabling communication between different services, all by using a single orchestration API to tie everything together.  

Logical workflows

API orchestration can add a layer of logical workflows between calls and responses to enable communication and coordination between different services and data formats. It handles all of this in the middle of the data workflow pipeline. Many API orchestration tools support this through visual workflow design functionality.


Orchestration can automate complex workflows, operations and interactions between different services. Doing so is crucial to delivering efficient and streamlined processes and services.

Monitoring and error notifications

An API orchestration system can help track down errors. It provides observability at an abstract level, so you can handle the monitoring at the orchestration layer rather than having to check each microservice or app for errors. This allows for faster detection and diagnosis of errors, introducing greater efficiency with automated error notifications when something goes wrong.


Communications can fail for various reasons, but with an orchestration layer in place, such failures don’t need to be a significant issue. API orchestration can enable automatic retries to keep data flowing smoothly despite any temporary problems that may arise.

Authentication and API security

Authentication and authorisation mechanisms differ between one API and another, but this doesn’t present a headache when you have an orchestration layer in place. Whether you have multi-step OAuth flows or simply user-password credentials to deal with, this can all be included within the orchestration layer to ensure that APIs and data are only accessed by those with the permission to do so.


Caching can reduce the burden on your backend by reducing the number of round-trip API requests. An API orchestration framework can support this, resulting in potential performance improvements.

Is an API gateway an orchestrator?

Before we look more deeply at API orchestration for microservices, it’s essential to understand the difference between API orchestration and an API gateway. There is sometimes confusion here as while an API gateway isn’t precisely an API service orchestrator; it can perform a range of similar tasks. This is true of both an open source API gateway and a propriety one.

Like an orchestration layer, an API gateway provides intermediary functionality between the client and the backend. It can also perform similar tasks as orchestration, such as caching, monitoring and transformations. However, a key difference is that an API gateway serves as a unified entry point for API requests, managing and simplifying interactions between the client and the backend through APIs. An orchestration layer, meanwhile, manages the execution of multiple tasks or services in a workflow or distributed system to achieve a specific goal.

That said, there are ways that an API gateway can be used to deliver orchestration gateway functionality. Tyk, for example, has two ways of combining multiple endpoints into a single API call for the consumer, either using a Javascript batch API request or Tyk’s Universal Data Graph.

What is orchestration in microservices?

With that clarification understood, let’s turn to API orchestration in microservices. Microservice orchestration is all about creating cohesive business processes by coordinating multiple individual microservices. The orchestration layer enables the communication and deployment processes required to make this happen, empowering businesses to build and manage complex architectures efficiently.

There are many benefits to using API orchestration in a microservices architecture. Doing so can simplify client interactions by providing a unified client interface. It can support more agile business processes and end-to-end visibility, both of which can underpin performance improvements and scalability. The workflow control and error handling elements we discussed above can also be beneficial in a microservices environment, as can the ability to integrate microservices easily with legacy systems.

API orchestration for microservices also has implications for compliance and governance. Like an API gateway, an orchestration layer can enable centralised control, access and security management. This means businesses can apply consistent authentication, authorisation and data protection measures and keep regulators happy as a result.

That’s not to say that implementing microservice orchestration is free of challenges. However, these can be overcome by using the right tools and approaches. Using an API gateway and the right API management architectural and deployment pattern can certainly be a big help. The gateway layer can deal with routing, authentication, load balancing and more while adding the simplicity of a single, unified entry point for incoming requests.  

Other considerations for microservice orchestration include the use of containers and asynchronous communication, the implementation of service discovery and monitoring and logging and the separation of data storage, with a dedicated data store for each microservice.

Finally, remember that an API gateway can mean that your microservices deployment architecture requires more orchestration and management due to its increased complexity.

What is API composition vs orchestration?

API composition and orchestration can both be used to achieve a desired outcome by coordinating and combining multiple APIs. There are fundamental differences between the two different approaches.

API composition is a client-driven approach that specifies the data requirements and invokes multiple APIs independently. The client or an API gateway aggregates and composes the data from various APIs needed to fulfil the client’s request. The client makes separate requests to multiple APIs, retrieves the data from them and combines it into a single response tailored to the client’s specific needs. The APIs being composed are called independently, with the client using granular control to make separate requests for particular data elements.

API orchestration, on the other hand, is a centralised approach. The service orchestrator coordinates and manages the sequence, dependencies and data flow between multiple APIs or microservices to accomplish a more extensive business process or workflow. The execution is sequential or parallel, while the orchestration layer can deal with error handling, retries and compensatory actions in the vent of exceptions or failures. The focus at the heart of it all is the more prominent business processes the API orchestration layer needs to achieve.

API orchestration tools

Various API orchestration tools exist to service different requirements, preferences and technology stacks. If you’re in the market for such a tool, evaluate the options carefully, keeping a close eye on features and compatibility and the community support and documentation available for each tool. These will be key to the ease you can implement, integrate and troubleshoot.

Examples of API orchestration tools that meet a range of different needs include Apache Kafka and Camel, Netflix Conductor and AWS Step Functions. Kafka is a distributed streaming platform; Camel is an open source integration framework; Conductor is Netflix’s microservices orchestration engine; Step Functions is a serverless workflow orchestration service. The variety of tools available highlights the different approaches that can be taken, with API orchestration open source and proprietary solutions available.

Wrap up

API orchestration can streamline and automate complex business processes, delivering enhanced efficiency, agility and scalability. An orchestration layer can support performance optimisation and better customer experiences. This puts businesses in a powerful position to drive innovation and deliver value to their customers, enabling them to gain a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

And now, over to you. Whether it’s API orchestration layers you need to know more about or you simply want to understand the benefits of Tyk in greater detail, our friendly team is here to help. What does the future of API management look like for your business, and how can Tyk support you to get there? Why not reach out and kick off the conversation?