What is an API?

Eren Camlikaya
Eren Camlikaya 11 June 2020
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If you are a tech-related person or you just have any kind of affiliation with technology, then you must have heard the word API. Most of the people don’t really know what an API is, what it really does, and why the fuzz is all around about the API.

If you not familiar, and want to know about API, then this article will guide you through the basic concepts of API.

Application Programming Interface (API)

So let’s start with the formal definition of API. According to Wikipedia API is a kind of software:

“An application programming interface (API) is a computing interface that defines interactions between multiple software intermediaries.”

As the definition stated, an API performs the actions of a software intermediary between the two applications. To simplify this concept just take an example of a simple website of any company, in the Contact US page you usually see Google Maps with there address pinned on the map. This website is actually using an API of Google maps which is easily accessible and publicly available. So you see that API acts as a mediator between the website and Google Maps.

To make it easier for you to understand, let’s take an example from real life.

Just imagine the role of an order booker, what order booker does is that he goes into the market takes the order from the shop keepers and get back to the manufacturer and then deliver the products back. The benefit in this is approach is that shop keeper doesn’t have to leave his shop and deal with the manufacturer or company directly. Same is the case with the manufacturer, it is not needed for him to go to the market place and take orders from each shop. The order booker just like an API plays the role of intermediary and fills the communication gap between the two entities.

Every API has 3 main elements, the first one is the Procedure that is used to perform specific functions or tasks. The second element is Protocols, it decides the rules of communication between the two applications. The last element is Tools, this is like a set of components which are used to build a new program.

APIs Provide Great Advantages to Developers

Importance of APIs And Why Do We Need Them

In the modern technology era, APIs are playing a crucial role and without APIs, our web and mobile apps would not be the same as they are now. APIs have made the process of engineering the apps so easy. Because of the increase in smartphones, smartwatches, social media, and concepts like the Internet of Things the APIs are becoming more and more popular.

Let’s discuss some of the points that explain the benefits of APIs and why wee need them.

APIs Provide Great Advantages to Developers

APIs have made the life of developers so easy by saving a lot of their time. A software developer would know this that without API his job would be so much difficult then it is now.

Let’s take an example of a mobile app in which you need to have the functionality of video calling. So you have two options now, the developers can write the whole interface and code for video calling module or they can simply use the ZOOM API which can be used for video calling. Using the Zoom API make things simpler for the developers and will save a lot of development time.

We all use the internet, you would have seen many websites and mobile apps that provide you the option of log in using Facebook. This is only possible because the developer is using the API provided by Facebook for data sharing. This does not only makes the developer’s job easy but also saves the time of users.

Communication Between Services Using APIs

One of the great advantages of using an API is that communication between the two services or applications become easier and simpler. The communication between the two services is done in a standard format. We will not go into the nitty-gritty of using the API, just understand that the application using the API sends the request and in response to that request receives the data.

According to the needs of your application, you can receive the data in HTTP, XML or JSON format.

Controlled Access To The Data and Resources

Data security and user privacy are one of the biggest concerns for any organization. When you are sharing any of your data or your application features, the point of concern is what you should share and what not! For example, when a mobile app is allowing you to log in through Facebook, Facebook does not share all your information or activity with the app, rather it provides basic information such as name, age, gender, etc with your permission.

API also made it easy for the developers to access your system resources. If an app wants to know your location then it would simply use the location API which is publicly available.

Type of APIs

Till now you must have got the basic idea of what APIs are why they are used. APIs have different types and they are used according to application structure and needs. Although there are different types they perform the same basic functions, they slightly differ in implementation, language, etc.

Let’s see what are the different types of APIs:

REST APIs

REST stands for Representational State Transfer, REST APIs are also called as RESTful APIs. These are one of the most popular kinds of APIs and they are a part of Web Services. They perform the request and receive a response via HTTP functions. One of the best things about REST APIs is that they are very simple to build and use.

SOAP APIs

SOAP is the abbreviation of the Simple Object Access Protocol. SOAP is used in the systems where data is large amounts and more expensive. SOAP is XML based system, which means it would get the data response in XML format.

SOAP is usually used for applications where security is the primary concern as SOAP provides a high level of security.

RPC APIs

RPC stands for Remote Procedure Calls. It has two subtypes:

  • XML-RPC
  • JSON-RPC

The difference between these two types is that one uses XML format to transfer data and the other one uses JSON format.

The APIs are classified into two types i.e. Public and Private. Public APIs are developed by large tech companies that provide data to the public such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. Private APIs are developed by small enterprises of software companies to improve collaboration and to take advantage of the functionality of different APIs.

Conclusion

We have seen that API is a very helpful service that is mainly used for communication between two services or applications. There are different types of APIs that are used according to the nature of the application, they can be public or private APIs. APIs have made developers’ life easier by saving their time.

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Eren Camlikaya
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Eren Camlikaya

Designing marketplaces for almost a decade.