Using external services from the Azure API Management service

The policies available in Azure API Management service can do a wide range of useful work based purely on the incoming request, the outgoing response, and basic configuration information. However, being able to interact with external services from API Management policies opens up many more opportunities.

You have previously seen how to interact with the Azure Event Hub service for logging, monitoring, and analytics. This article demonstrates policies that allow you to interact with any external HTTP-based service. These policies can be used for triggering remote events or for retrieving information that is used to manipulate the original request and response in some way.

Send-One-Way-Request

Possibly the simplest external interaction is the fire-and-forget style of request that allows an external service to be notified of some kind of important event. The control flow policy choose can be used to detect any kind of condition that you are interested in. If the condition is satisfied, you can make an external HTTP request using the send-one-way-request policy. This could be a request to a messaging system like Hipchat or Slack, or a mail API like SendGrid or MailChimp, or for critical support incidents something like PagerDuty. All of these messaging systems have simple HTTP APIs that can be invoked.

Alerting with Slack

The following example demonstrates how to send a message to a Slack chat room if the HTTP response status code is greater than or equal to 500. A 500 range error indicates a problem with the backend API that the client of the API cannot resolve themselves. It usually requires some kind of intervention on API Management part.

<choose>
    <when condition="@(context.Response.StatusCode >= 500)">
      <send-one-way-request mode="new">
        <set-url>https://hooks.slack.com/services/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</set-url>
        <set-method>POST</set-method>
        <set-body>@{
                return new JObject(
                        new JProperty("username","APIM Alert"),
                        new JProperty("icon_emoji", ":ghost:"),
                        new JProperty("text", String.Format("{0} {1}\nHost: {2}\n{3} {4}\n User: {5}",
                                                context.Request.Method,
                                                context.Request.Url.Path + context.Request.Url.QueryString,
                                                context.Request.Url.Host,
                                                context.Response.StatusCode,
                                                context.Response.StatusReason,
                                                context.User.Email
                                                ))
                        ).ToString();
            }</set-body>
      </send-one-way-request>
    </when>
</choose>

Slack has the notion of inbound web hooks. When configuring an inbound web hook, Slack generates a special URL, which allows you to do a simple POST request and to pass a message into the Slack channel. The JSON body that you create is based on a format defined by Slack.

Slack Web Hook

Is fire and forget good enough?

There are certain tradeoffs when using a fire-and-forget style of request. If for some reason, the request fails, then the failure is not be reported. In this particular situation, the complexity of having a secondary failure reporting system and the additional performance cost of waiting for the response is not warranted. For scenarios where it is essential to check the response, then the send-request policy is a better option.

Send-Request

The send-request policy enables using an external service to perform complex processing functions and return data to the API management service that can be used for further policy processing.

Authorizing reference tokens

A major function of API Management is protecting backend resources. If the authorization server used by your API creates JWT tokens as part of its OAuth2 flow, as Azure Active Directory does, then you can use the validate-jwt policy to verify the validity of the token. Some authorization servers create what are called reference tokens that cannot be verified without making a callback to the authorization server.

Standardized introspection

In the past, there has been no standardized way of verifying a reference token with an authorization server. However a recently proposed standard RFC 7662 was published by the IETF that defines how a resource server can verify the validity of a token.

Extracting the token

The first step is to extract the token from the Authorization header. The header value should be formatted with the Bearer authorization scheme, a single space, and then the authorization token as per RFC 6750. Unfortunately there are cases where the authorization scheme is omitted. To account for this when parsing, API Management splits the header value on a space and selects the last string from the returned array of strings. This provides a workaround for badly formatted authorization headers.

<set-variable name="token" value="@(context.Request.Headers.GetValueOrDefault("Authorization","scheme param").Split(' ').Last())" />

Making the validation request

Once API Management has the authorization token, API Management can make the request to validate the token. RFC 7662 calls this process introspection and requires that you POST an HTML form to the introspection resource. The HTML form must at least contain a key/value pair with the key token. This request to the authorization server must also be authenticated, to ensure that malicious clients cannot go trawling for valid tokens.

<send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="tokenstate" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
  <set-url>https://microsoft-apiappec990ad4c76641c6aea22f566efc5a4e.azurewebsites.net/introspection</set-url>
  <set-method>POST</set-method>
  <set-header name="Authorization" exists-action="override">
    <value>basic dXNlcm5hbWU6cGFzc3dvcmQ=</value>
  </set-header>
  <set-header name="Content-Type" exists-action="override">
    <value>application/x-www-form-urlencoded</value>
  </set-header>
  <set-body>@($"token={(string)context.Variables["token"]}")</set-body>
</send-request>

Checking the response

The response-variable-name attribute is used to give access the returned response. The name defined in this property can be used as a key into the context.Variables dictionary to access the IResponse object.

From the response object, you can retrieve the body and RFC 7622 tells API Management that the response must be a JSON object and must contain at least a property called active that is a boolean value. When active is true then the token is considered valid.

Reporting failure

You can use a <choose> policy to detect if the token is invalid and if so, return a 401 response.

<choose>
  <when condition="@((bool)((IResponse)context.Variables["tokenstate"]).Body.As<JObject>()["active"] == false)">
    <return-response response-variable-name="existing response variable">
      <set-status code="401" reason="Unauthorized" />
      <set-header name="WWW-Authenticate" exists-action="override">
        <value>Bearer error="invalid_token"</value>
      </set-header>
    </return-response>
  </when>
</choose>

As per RFC 6750 which describes how bearer tokens should be used, API Management also returns a WWW-Authenticate header with the 401 response. The WWW-Authenticate is intended to instruct a client on how to construct a properly authorized request. Due to the wide variety of approaches possible with the OAuth2 framework, it is difficult to communicate all the needed information. Fortunately there are efforts underway to help clients discover how to properly authorize requests to a resource server.

Final solution

At the end, you get the following policy:

<inbound>
  <!-- Extract Token from Authorization header parameter -->
  <set-variable name="token" value="@(context.Request.Headers.GetValueOrDefault("Authorization","scheme param").Split(' ').Last())" />

  <!-- Send request to Token Server to validate token (see RFC 7662) -->
  <send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="tokenstate" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
    <set-url>https://microsoft-apiappec990ad4c76641c6aea22f566efc5a4e.azurewebsites.net/introspection</set-url>
    <set-method>POST</set-method>
    <set-header name="Authorization" exists-action="override">
      <value>basic dXNlcm5hbWU6cGFzc3dvcmQ=</value>
    </set-header>
    <set-header name="Content-Type" exists-action="override">
      <value>application/x-www-form-urlencoded</value>
    </set-header>
    <set-body>@($"token={(string)context.Variables["token"]}")</set-body>
  </send-request>

  <choose>
          <!-- Check active property in response -->
          <when condition="@((bool)((IResponse)context.Variables["tokenstate"]).Body.As<JObject>()["active"] == false)">
              <!-- Return 401 Unauthorized with http-problem payload -->
              <return-response response-variable-name="existing response variable">
                  <set-status code="401" reason="Unauthorized" />
                  <set-header name="WWW-Authenticate" exists-action="override">
                      <value>Bearer error="invalid_token"</value>
                  </set-header>
              </return-response>
          </when>
      </choose>
  <base />
</inbound>

This is only one of many examples of how the send-request policy can be used to integrate useful external services into the process of requests and responses flowing through the API Management service.

Response Composition

The send-request policy can be used for enhancing a primary request to a backend system, as you saw in the previous example, or it can be used as a complete replace for of the backend call. Using this technique you can easily create composite resources that are aggregated from multiple different systems.

Building a dashboard

Sometimes you want to be able to expose information that exists in multiple backend systems, for example, to drive a dashboard. The KPIs come from all different back-ends, but you would prefer not to provide direct access to them and it would be nice if all the information could be retrieved in a single request. Perhaps some of the backend information needs some slicing and dicing and a little sanitizing first! Being able to cache that composite resource would be a useful to reduce the backend load as you know users have a habit of hammering the F5 key in order to see if their underperforming metrics might change.

Faking the resource

The first step to building the dashboard resource is to configure a new operation in the Azure portal. This is a placeholder operation used to configure a composition policy to build the dynamic resource.

Dashboard operation

Making the requests

Once the operation has been created, you can configure a policy specifically for that operation.

Dashboard operation

The first step is to extract any query parameters from the incoming request, so that you can forward them to the backend. In this example, the dashboard is showing information based on a period of time and therefore has a fromDate and toDate parameter. You can use the set-variable policy to extract the information from the request URL.

<set-variable name="fromDate" value="@(context.Request.Url.Query["fromDate"].Last())">
<set-variable name="toDate" value="@(context.Request.Url.Query["toDate"].Last())">

Once you have this information, you can make requests to all the backend systems. Each request constructs a new URL with the parameter information and calls its respective server and stores the response in a context variable.

<send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="revenuedata" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
  <set-url>@($"https://accounting.acme.com/salesdata?from={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}&to={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}")"</set-url>
  <set-method>GET</set-method>
</send-request>

<send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="materialdata" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
  <set-url>@($"https://inventory.acme.com/materiallevels?from={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}&to={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}")"</set-url>
  <set-method>GET</set-method>
</send-request>

<send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="throughputdata" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
<set-url>@($"https://production.acme.com/throughput?from={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}&to={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}")"</set-url>
  <set-method>GET</set-method>
</send-request>

<send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="accidentdata" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
<set-url>@($"https://production.acme.com/throughput?from={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}&to={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}")"</set-url>
  <set-method>GET</set-method>
</send-request>

These requests execute in sequence, which is not ideal.

Responding

To construct the composite response, you can use the return-response policy. The set-body element can use an expression to construct a new JObject with all the component representations embedded as properties.

<return-response response-variable-name="existing response variable">
  <set-status code="200" reason="OK" />
  <set-header name="Content-Type" exists-action="override">
    <value>application/json</value>
  </set-header>
  <set-body>
    @(new JObject(new JProperty("revenuedata",((IResponse)context.Variables["revenuedata"]).Body.As<JObject>()),
                  new JProperty("materialdata",((IResponse)context.Variables["materialdata"]).Body.As<JObject>()),
                  new JProperty("throughputdata",((IResponse)context.Variables["throughputdata"]).Body.As<JObject>()),
                  new JProperty("accidentdata",((IResponse)context.Variables["accidentdata"]).Body.As<JObject>())
                  ).ToString())
  </set-body>
</return-response>

The complete policy looks as follows:

<policies>
    <inbound>

  <set-variable name="fromDate" value="@(context.Request.Url.Query["fromDate"].Last())">
  <set-variable name="toDate" value="@(context.Request.Url.Query["toDate"].Last())">

    <send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="revenuedata" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
      <set-url>@($"https://accounting.acme.com/salesdata?from={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}&to={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}")"</set-url>
      <set-method>GET</set-method>
    </send-request>

    <send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="materialdata" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
      <set-url>@($"https://inventory.acme.com/materiallevels?from={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}&to={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}")"</set-url>
      <set-method>GET</set-method>
    </send-request>

    <send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="throughputdata" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
    <set-url>@($"https://production.acme.com/throughput?from={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}&to={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}")"</set-url>
      <set-method>GET</set-method>
    </send-request>

    <send-request mode="new" response-variable-name="accidentdata" timeout="20" ignore-error="true">
    <set-url>@($"https://production.acme.com/throughput?from={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}&to={(string)context.Variables["fromDate"]}")"</set-url>
      <set-method>GET</set-method>
    </send-request>

    <return-response response-variable-name="existing response variable">
      <set-status code="200" reason="OK" />
      <set-header name="Content-Type" exists-action="override">
        <value>application/json</value>
      </set-header>
      <set-body>
        @(new JObject(new JProperty("revenuedata",((IResponse)context.Variables["revenuedata"]).Body.As<JObject>()),
                      new JProperty("materialdata",((IResponse)context.Variables["materialdata"]).Body.As<JObject>()),
                      new JProperty("throughputdata",((IResponse)context.Variables["throughputdata"]).Body.As<JObject>()),
                      new JProperty("accidentdata",((IResponse)context.Variables["accidentdata"]).Body.As<JObject>())
                      ).ToString())
      </set-body>
    </return-response>
    </inbound>
    <backend>
        <base />
    </backend>
    <outbound>
        <base />
    </outbound>
</policies>

In the configuration of the placeholder operation, you can configure the dashboard resource to be cached for at least an hour.

Summary

Azure API Management service provides flexible policies that can be selectively applied to HTTP traffic and enables composition of backend services. Whether you want to enhance your API gateway with alerting functions, verification, validation capabilities or create new composite resources based on multiple backend services, the send-request and related policies open a world of possibilities.