Many services are probably happy when they expose one API to the world. Not Salesforce. Why have just one API when you can have 12?
But the truth is these 12 APIs each serve a specific purpose for developers looking to build on top of the Salesforce platform or interact with Salesforce data. They give developers an immense amount of power to effectively rebuild Salesforce functionality and data anywhere they choose, from a new mobile app to integrating with a legacy ERP. And they can not just get the data, but the UI components, the tooling, and the analytics.
So which should you use and when? That’s what we’re looking into here. The 12 Salesforce APIs we’ll look at today are:
Let’s go through the use cases for each. First, though, a quick detour to look at the underlying protocols Salesforce is using with their APIs.
As you look through all the Salesforce APIs, you’ll see some duplication, with only REST or SOAP being the difference, such as the Apex REST API and the Apex SOAP API. What’s the difference here?
SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is a protocol for exchanging structured information in web services using XML and has a strict format definition. SOAP's messaging structure allows for a lot of information in each request and response, but the downside is that each message requires more bandwidth. A benefit of SOAP, especially for larger organizations, is that SOAP comes with built-in WS-Security, offering enterprise-level security features, such as maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of messages. Though SOAP tends to be more complex, it may be a good choice for enterprise applications where robustness, strict contracts, and advanced security features are paramount.
REST (Representational State Transfer), on the other hand, is an architectural style for creating web services, and it works directly over HTTP using standard methods like GET, POST, DELETE, and PUT. REST treats server objects as resources, accessed via URLs. Unlike SOAP, REST can use multiple formats like XML, JSON, and text, with JSON being the most commonly used due to its lightweight nature. REST's stateless nature allows it to be highly scalable and efficient, making it an excellent choice for web and mobile applications. While REST depends on the underlying transport protocol for security, it makes up for it by being simple, requiring fewer resources, and being easy to implement and use.
If you are building something new and for the web, you are probably going to want to use the REST API versions. If you are building an integration for an enterprise system, like an ERP, you might use SOAP.
There are a couple of other types of APIs that are used by Salesforce:
The choice of which API to use depends less on the protocol you want–SOAP, REST, GraphQL, gRPC–and ultimately what you want to use the API for. Are you accessing CRM data? Trying to understand the analytics of your pipeline? Building a new sales application? Or export all your data to another service? For each problem, Salesforce has an API solution.
Let’s walk through the twelve API options and show why you would choose each.
The Salesforce REST API offers a simple way to interact with the Salesforce platform. If you are just trying to access your records within Salesforce to read, create or update them, the REST API is a great option:
Here’s some example code to create a record in Salesforce using the REST API:
In this example, we're trying to create a new Account record with the name 'Test Account'. The URL targets the Account object in the Salesforce REST API, and the HTTP method is 'POST' to create a new record. We're passing the access token in the Authorization header for authentication (which we would get from the OAuth authentication flow), and the body contains the data for the new record.
You can also use SOQL (Salesforce Object Query Language) with the REST API, allowing you to directly query your salesforce database:
In this example, we're using the 'query' resource of the Salesforce REST API. The SOQL query is passed as the q parameter in the URL. Our query is SELECT Name, Id FROM Account to select the name and ID of all Account records.
SOAP has been around for a while, and many older systems are built with technologies that integrate more easily with SOAP than with REST. This is especially true of financial and ERP systems–exactly the kind of systems you might want to integrate with Salesforce.
These applications are generally written in a compiled language such as Java or C# and you can easily pass them the XML body used with SOAP. SOAP also has functionality that lends itself to enterprise applications:
The choice between SOAP and REST really depends heavily on the requirements of the application you're building.
The Salesforce Connect REST API is an ideal choice when you need to integrate external systems or applications with a wide range of Salesforce features such as B2B Commerce for Lightning, CMS managed content, Experience Cloud sites, files, notifications, Chatter feeds, users, and groups, among others.
Here’s an example of using this API to retrieve a news feed item with the Chatter integration:
The JSON data structure returned by this API is lightweight and easy to parse, making it particularly valuable for developers building mobile applications, as it simplifies the process of accessing and interacting with these Salesforce services.
The Salesforce Analytics REST API is an invaluable resource when your goal is to programmatically interact with CRM Analytics assets such as datasets, lenses, dashboards, and CRM Analytics applications.
If you're working with data querying, the Analytics API allows you to delve deep into datasets, providing a means to explore the contained data and return specific query results. It serves as a conduit for retrieving detailed information about lenses, and also facilitates manipulation of dashboards to reflect new lenses or data.
For those managing multiple versions of datasets, the API is instrumental in keeping track of available versions and detailing the changes made across them. It aids in managing CRM Analytics applications, providing access to a list of available apps and their specific configurations or setups.
To use this API, you can POST a request to the endpoint, with a SAQL (Salesforce Analytics Query Language) query in the POST body:
Where datasetId and datasetVersionId are specific to the dataset you are querying.
One of the unique benefits of the Salesforce Analytics API is its ability to determine the availability of Analytics features to a specific user, allowing for a customized user experience based on their access level. The API also provides functionalities to work with snapshots, providing details and managing the data they contain.
The Apex APIs enable you to expose your Apex classes and methods to external applications through REST or SOAP architecture. This is particularly beneficial when you have built custom business logic into your Salesforce org and want to extend that functionality beyond the confines of Salesforce.
Imagine you've built a custom object in Salesforce and created associated Apex methods to manipulate this object. Now, you want an external application to be able to perform these operations too. That's where The Apex API allows the external application to interact with your custom Apex classes and methods, making it an integral part of Salesforce's service-oriented architecture.
If you've defined a specific function, say, a complex calculation or a custom search method in Apex, and want to expose this functionality to an external app, you can do this with Apex REST or SOAP APIs.
The Salesforce Bulk API 2.0 is primarily designed for large-scale data operations. Here are some situations in which you might use this API:
Using this API is slightly different from the previous APIs because you have to sequence your calls. For instance, if you are trying to bulk insert data, you first need to create a job:
Then we can upload the data for the job (which here would be in a csv):
But using this API you could upload GBs of data per day.
The Salesforce GraphQL API is an ideal choice when you need to build highly responsive and scalable applications that require precise control over the data returned from the server. Unlike traditional REST APIs, GraphQL allows the client to specify exactly what data it needs, which can significantly reduce the size and complexity of the server's response.
Here are some situations where the Salesforce GraphQL API could be beneficial:
The Salesforce GraphQL API is best suited to scenarios where you need a high degree of flexibility and efficiency in your data retrieval. It requires a different way of thinking compared to traditional REST APIs, but it can provide significant benefits in the right situations.
Using the UI API, developers can build user interfaces that facilitate seamless interactions with Salesforce records. The API supports operations such as creating, reading, updating, and deleting records, enabling custom apps to mirror the functionality provided by Salesforce itself. These are the same features the regular REST API provides, but here you get the added benefit of an in-built UI interface for performing the actions.
This is ideal if you are building mobile apps or web apps–in fact, it is the same API Salesforce uses to create their native apps. In addition to record operations, the UI API also provides access to list views. This allows developers to build interfaces that display list views and the records they contain exactly as Salesforce does.
Here’s how you would get a record:
Salesforce is then not just querying the database for that record, but also getting the metadata and theme information and the layout information to return the entire UI to the user.
The Salesforce Pub/Sub API provides the ability to create a high-scale, bi-directional event-driven integration between Salesforce and other external systems. This API is designed for those who need to perform real-time data synchronization in response to specific events occurring within Salesforce.
You should consider the Salesforce Pub/Sub API if you need any of the following:
By leveraging the Pub/Sub API, developers can construct efficient and reactive integrations that keep data in sync across multiple systems as events happen in real-time.
The Salesforce Tooling API is a tool for developers to interact with Salesforce metadata and build custom development tools for Force.com applications. Its functionality can be utilized to answer a variety of questions or complete specific tasks:
The Salesforce Metadata API is an essential tool for managing the customization and configuration details of your Salesforce organization. It allows you to handle an array of tasks revolving around the structure and setup of your org, rather than the data contained within it.
The primary function of the Metadata API is to enable the retrieval, deployment, creation, updating, or deletion of Salesforce org customizations. This is particularly useful for the common task of migrating changes from a sandbox or testing environment to a production org.
Furthermore, the Metadata API is a powerful tool for developing custom applications or tools. It enables these custom solutions to interact with the Salesforce metadata model, providing a flexible backbone for more tailored solutions.
Salesforce gives you the ability, through their APIs, to build pretty much what you want. Whether you’re just interested in building better dashboards to understand your organization’s data, or you are a developer building a new sales product and need to integrate fully with a large CRM, there is an API for you.