Rest API - Best Practices for Designing Amazon API Gateway Private APIs and Private Integration

Rest API

REST APIs help create APIs that follow the REST architectural style. Developers can use their existing knowledge and apply best practices while building REST APIs in API Gateway.

While designing a REST API, a key consideration is security. Use least privilege access when giving access to APIs. The private endpoint type restricts API access through interface VPC endpoints only. If REST APIs are publicly exposed but integration endpoints exist in a private subnet, private integration offers a way to access the endpoints via a VPC link. You can create a VPC link with a Network Load Balancer. API Gateway creates a VPC endpoint service for API Gateway to access Network Load Balancer.

Private endpoint type

To make APIs accessible only from Amazon VPCs, you can use REST APIs with the private endpoint type. The traffic to the APIs will not leave the AWS network. There are three options to invoke a private API through different domain name system (DNS) names:

  • Private DNS names

  • Interface VPC endpoint public DNS hostnames

  • Amazon Route53 alias

While configuring private APIs, there are several key points to consider. The “DNS Names for Private APIs” section provides use cases, pros, and cons about each option.

DNS names for private APIs

Table 1 – Private API DNS names

DNS names Private DNS option on VPCs Pros Cons
Private DNS names Enabled Easy to set up DNS issue with regional and edge-optimized APIs
Interface VPC endpoint public DNS hostnames Disabled The domain name is publicly resolvable Requires a Host or x-apigw-api-id header in requests
Route53 alias Disabled

The domain name is publicly resolvable.

The host or x-apigw-api-id header is not. required

Requires an interface VPC endpoint association with each private API

Private DNS names

This option works when the private DNS option on an interface VPC endpoint is enabled. In addition, to resolve the name, AmazonProvidedDNS should be present in the DHCP options set for the clients in the VPC. Because those are the only requirements, this option is usually easy to use for a simple use case such as invoking a private API within a VPC.

However, if you use a custom DNS server, a conditional forwarder must be set on the DNS that points to the AmazonProvidedDNS or Route53 Resolver. Because of the private DNS option enabled on the interface VPC endpoint, DNS queries against * will be resolved to private IPs of the endpoint. This causes issues when clients in the VPC try to invoke regional or edge-optimized APIs, because those types of APIs must be accessed over the internet. Traffic through interface VPC endpoints is not allowed. The only workaround is to use an edge-optimized custom domain name. Refer to Why do I get an HTTP 403 Forbidden error when connecting to my API Gateway APIs from a VPC? for the troubleshooting steps.

VPC endpoint public DNS hostnames

If your use case requires the private DNS option to be turned off, consider using interface VPC endpoint public DNS hostnames. When you create an interface VPC endpoint, it also generates the public DNS hostname. When invoking a private API through the hostname, you must pass a Host or x-apigw-api-id header.

The header requirement can cause issues when the hostname is used in a web application. For cross-origin, non-simple requests, modern browsers send a preflight request to an endpoint. This option requires clients to send requests with a custom header. Because browsers will not send the custom header for the preflight request, this will cause CORS issues. This option is not a preferred option for customers who need to use a private API from a web application.

Amazon Route 53 alias

This Amazon Route 53 option resolves the header requirement imposed by the VPC endpoint public DNS hostnames option. Additionally, the Route 53 alias is publicly resolvable, and does not require private DNS to be enabled. Clients in a VPC can access private APIs through the Route 53 alias, as well as other types of APIs such as regional and edge-optimized REST APIs.

Each alias is generated after associating a VPC endpoint to a private API. The association is required every time you create new interface VPC endpoints and private APIs.

Resource-based policy

Resource-based policies are attached to a resource like a REST API in API Gateway. For resource-based policies, you can specify who has access to the resource and what actions are permitted.

Unlike regional and edge-optimized endpoint types, private APIs require the use of a resource policy. Deployments without a resource policy will fail. For private APIs, there are additional keys within the condition block you can use in the resource policy, such as aws:sourceVpc and aws:SourceVpce. The aws:sourceVpc policy allows traffic to originate from specific VPCs, and aws:SourceVpce allows traffic originating from interface VPC endpoints.

Private integration

Private integrations allow routing traffic from API Gateway to customers’ VPCs. The integrations are based on VPC links, and rely on a VPC endpoint service that is tied to NLBs for REST and WebSocket APIs. VPC link integrations work in a similar way as HTTP integrations. A common use case is to invoke Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2)-hosted applications behind NLBs through VPC links. There are several design considerations in this case:

  • For existing applications with a Classic Load Balancer (CLB) or ALB:

    • Create an NLB in front of a CLB or ALB.

      • This creates an additional network hop and infrastructure cost.

    • Route traffic through NLB instead of CLB or ALB.

      • This requires migration from CLB or ALB to NLB to shift traffic and redesign the existing architecture. Refer to Migrate your Classic Load Balancer for the migration process.

  • NLB listener type

    • Transmission control protocol (TCP) (Secure Socket Layer (SSL) passthrough or non-SSL traffic)

    • Transport Layer Security (TLS) (ending the SSL connection on NLB)

Sample architecture patterns

When implementing a private API, using an authorizer such as AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) or Amazon Cognito is highly recommended. This ensures an additional layer of security, and helps verify requests using IAM credentials for IAM authorization, and access/ID tokens for the Amazon Cogito authorizer.

Basic architecture

In the basic architecture, Amazon EC2 instances and VPC-enabled AWS Lambda functions access a private API through an interface VPC endpoint. The security group attached to the endpoint must allow the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) port 443. In the private API resource policy, requests from the VPC and interface VPC endpoint should be allowed.

A diagram showing REST private API basic architecture.

REST private API basic architecture

Cross-account architecture

If you want to allow access to a private API from other accounts, an interface VPC endpoint in a different account can be used to invoke the API. However, they both must exist in the same Region, such as us-east-1 (N. Virginia). Additionally, the private API resource policy must allow access from the other account’s VPC or interface VPC endpoint.

A diagram showing REST private API cross-account architecture.

REST private API cross-account architecture

On-premises architecture

If you have users accessing from on-premises locations, you will need a Direct Connect or VPN connection between the on-premises networks and your VPC. All requests must still go through interface VPC endpoints. For the on-premises architecture, VPC endpoint public DNS hostnames or Route 53 alias records are good options when invoking private APIs. If on-premises users access the network through a web application, Route 53 alias records are a better approach to avoid CORS issues. If the Route 53 alias record option does not work, one solution is to create a conditional forwarder on an on-premises DNS pointing to a Route 53 resolver. Refer to Resolving DNS queries between VPCs and your network.

The following diagram shows a sample architecture where on-premises clients access a web application hosted in the on-premises network. The web application uses a private API for its API endpoint. For the private API endpoint, a Route 53 alias is used. Because a Route 53 alias record is publicly resolvable, there is no need to set up a conditional forwarder on on-premises DNS servers to resolve the hostname.

A diagram showing REST private API on-premises architecture .

REST private API on-premises architecture


  • The Private API is associated with the VPC endpoint vpce-0123abcd. This generates a Route 53 alias to invoke a private API.

  • The on-premises network and VPC are connected through Direct Connect.

  1. On-premises users access a web application hosted in the on-premises network.

  2. For non-simple requests, a web browser makes a preflight request (OPTIONS) to the private API.

  3. When the preflight response includes the appropriate CORS headers such as Access-Control-Origin;*, the web browser makes an HTTP request such as POST on the private API.

Multi-Region private API gateway

Customers want to build active-active or active-passive multi-Region API deployments for addressing requirements such as failover between Regions, reducing API latency when there are API clients in other Regions, and meeting data sovereignty requirements.

The core solution has private APIs configured with Regional custom domain names associated with a certificate from AWS Certificate Manager. Each Region has a VPC Endpoint setup for the private API gateway to be accessed from VPC. At the time of this writing, custom domain names are not supported for private APIs directly, so the solution uses an NLB in front of the API Gateway using the same certificates configured with the custom domain name. A Route 53 private hosted zone in each VPC has alias records pointing to the NLB with the desired routing policy. The following routing polices can help in achieving the multi-Region architecture for API Gateway:

  • Failover routing policy — This is used in an active-passive setup where the API Gateway primary Region receives the traffic in normal operation, and the API Gateway secondary Region receives the traffic only when there is a failure in primary Region. This requires a health check to be configured and enabled in Route 53.

  • Weighted routing policy — This is used in an active-active setup where a portion of traffic is always sent to the secondary Region. This can also be configured with a health check, similar to the failover policy, where traffic will only be routed to healthy Regions.

To resolve the private API custom domain name, there is an inbound resolver endpoint setup for both Regions, which provides two or more private IPs in each VPC across multiple availability zones to ensure high availability. This enables the resolution of the custom domain name using the VPC resolver.

The previous solution uses an NLB, however, you can use an ALB instead if required. When using an ALB, target groups need to be created with VPC endpoint IP addresses. The target group health check path should be set to /ping (API Gateway service health check) to return a HTTP 200 success code, otherwise the health check will fail with a 403 response. The Route 53 private hosted zone in each VPC has alias records configured to point to ALB hostname with the desired routing policy. The API Gateway, VPC endpoint and Route 53 inbound resolver setup remains as described for the NLB.

The following diagram shows a sample architecture for on-premises clients to access private API Gateway APIs deployed across two AWS Regions. However, the solution described above can equally apply to clients accessing from another VPC or AWS account with appropriate DNS configurations on client VPC and appropriate resource policy on the private API. The on-premises DNS server is configured to forward the request for the private API domain name to the inbound resolver endpoint private IP addresses in the nearest region and a fallback IP address pointing to the farther Region.

The solution assumes mechanisms are in place to synchronize state (if any) across regions for the backend APIs and associated datastores.

A diagram showing a multi-Region API Gateway integrated with on-premise network via Route53 Resolver .

Multi-Region API Gateway integrated with on-premise network via Route53 Resolver

  1. The application server in the corporate data center needs to resolve an API Gateway Private domain name. It sends the query to its pre-configured DNS server.

  2. The DNS server in the corporate data center has a forwarding rule that forwards the DNS query for the specified domain name to the Route 53 Resolver inbound endpoint in Region A.

  3. The Route 53 Resolver inbound endpoint uses the Route 53 Resolver to resolve the query.

  4. The domain name is resolved to the Network Load Balancer (NLB) in one of the Regions based on the Route 53 routing policy.

  5. The NLB target group sends the request to the interface VPC endpoint.

  6. The interface VPC endpoint points to the API gateway.

  7. The API gateway authenticates the request and sends it to the target service, such as Lambda.

There are also Route 53 inbound resolver endpoints in Region B for redundancy.

Private integration architecture with Amazon ECS

Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) is a fully managed container orchestration service. Customers can use ECS to run their most sensitive and mission critical applications because of its security, reliability, and scalability. For private integration in REST APIs, one common design pattern is to use an NLB to route traffic to an Amazon ECS cluster in private subnets. Many customers deploy ECS as their backend compute service. The following diagram shows clients in one VPC accessing an ECS cluster in another VPC through a private API and private integration.

A diagram showing cross-VPC ECS access via private integration with private API .

Cross-VPC ECS access via private integration with private API

Private integration cross-account

Many customers want to use API Gateway with resources that exist in a different AWS account. Although the VPC Link must exist in the same account as the API Gateway API, it is still possible to access resources in another account using AWS PrivateLink or through private VPC routing such as VPC peering or using AWS Transit Gateway.

The following diagram shows a sample architecture where a PrivateLink (VPC Endpoint Service) connection has been established between the Central API Gateway Account and an ECS cluster in Resource Account A and an EC2 Auto Scaling Group (ASG) in Resource Account B. As this is a REST API Gateway, the VPC link uses an NLB to point to the private IP addresses of the VPC endpoint for each PrivateLink connection. API Gateway can invoke cross-account Lambda functions without the need for VPC link by using resource-based policies.

A diagram showing REST private cross-account integration using AWS PrivateLink.

REST private cross-account integration using AWS PrivateLink

In this example, there is no private routing between the different account VPCs. PrivateLink provides a secure private connection to a single endpoint. Example use cases for this architecture include where there are overlapping Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) ranges between VPCs, or you wish to provide access to only a specific service or application rather than create a route to all resources in another VPC.

Many multi-account customers already have a cross-account VPC architecture in place using VPC peering or AWS Transit Gateway. In this case the NLB used for the VPC Link can be pointed directly to the private IP addresses of the resources in a different account, removing the need for the VPC endpoint and simplifying the architecture. This is shown in the following sample architecture. 

A diagram showing REST private cross-account integration using VPC peering.

REST private cross-account integration using VPC peering