Tech Insight : What Is An API?

In this article, we take a brief look at what APIs are, why they are important, and how they are they are used.

What Is An API?

An Application Programming Interface (API) is intermediary software that allows different applications to talk to each other. In essence, it delivers your request to a provider and then delivers the provider’s response back to you. APIs provide operations and queries that developers can use to design and build apps and web applications, for example, using APIs to connect the user-facing front ends with the back-end functionality and data.

Examples of API Use

APIs are widely used, and some popular examples of their use include:

Real-time travel bookings in websites. These websites use third-party APIs to collect and display real-time aggregated flight and hotel availability from providers and use APIs to confirm the bookings with the providers. In other words, the APIs are the intermediaries that enable the website to communicate with the hotel and flight booking systems.  An example of a real-time flight data display API is the ‘Aviationstack’ API which provides flight stats for 200+ countries and more than 13,000 airlines.

Paying with PayPal

The option to pay with and to deposit and withdraw funds from PayPal in e-commerce (e.g shopping, better, booking) websites uses an API. This allows the end application to work without getting access to sensitive data or other unintended permissions.

Logins With Different Options

Websites that enable you login using different platforms (e.g. displaying login with Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn) use an API to authenticate the logins rather than having the security risk of actually logging in the social media account.

Types of APIs

There is a number of different types of APIs which include:

– Open APIs/Public APIs. Anyone can use these as they are publicly available/there are no restrictions.

– Partner APIs. These are not publicly available and are only exposed to strategic business partners through the granting/purchasing of rights or licenses.

– Internal APIs/Private APIs. These are used on a company’s internal systems, e.g. to improve products and services.

– Composite APIs. These enable batch requests, i.e. a client can make one API request with a batch/chain of calls and receive one response.

– Web APIs. As the name suggests, these are specifically for the web, e.g. using a web API to extend the functionality of a web browser or a server API to extend web server functionality.

Endpoints and Request Methods

One of the key ways in which an app interacts with an API is the ‘endpoint’.  This could be the specific web address that links to the functions required.

The ‘request methods’ refers to what action will be taken by referring to the API.  For example, these could be ‘GET’ to request data from a server, ‘POST’ to add new data to a server, ‘PUT’ to change existing information, or ‘DELETE’ to delete existing information.

To use an API generally requires getting an API Key, testing the API endpoints, and creating an App.

The Benefits of APIs

The many benefits of using APIs include:

– Time and money savings in development due to being able to take advantage of the functionality of different applications without having to type code yourself or pay for complicated development work to enable different programmes to communicate with each other.

– Security while tapping into data and external functionality.

– Efficiency as content generated through an API can be published automatically and made available for every channel.

– Improved services and user experience, e.g. on a website, due the ability to automatically display real-time, accurate information (such as flights and bookings).

– Convenience for users of websites with APIs links.

– Better integration leading to better results (whilst reducing development costs).

– Faster innovation by recharging applications with the latest technology, and easier monetisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

APIs tie disparate applications together, allowing them to complement and talk to each other, become greater than the sum of their parts, and in doing so they represent ways for businesses to gain efficiencies, improve and enrich services and gain competitive advantages, automate, and innovate.  Companies can develop APIs and apps or use existing APIs to integrate and add value and as such APIs offer many new advantages and opportunities.