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What is the Meaning of API? Learn All About Application Programming Interfaces

Even if you’ve never heard of an API, you will most certainly have used them in your day-to-day life. When you paid for your partner’s birthday present online, or when you logged into Netflix and opened an online account using your Facebook credentials, you were using an API. How do these clever tools work in business, and do you need them in yours? Read on; all will be revealed.

what is an api

What is the Meaning of API?

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are a set of routines, protocols and tools that allow software programs to communicate with each other. APIs can be used by developers to make their own applications or by companies who want to share data about their products or services with others.

While this may sound simple enough, let's use an example that will help us understand the purpose of APIs and how they work.

Let's say you enjoy McDonald's every now and then. This familiar experience highlights APIs' role while we're busying ourselves online. 

As you pull up to the drive-thru window, you scan the menu and consider what culinary delights you'd prefer today. 

In this instance, you are an application. Once you've decided on your choice of lunch, you place your order through the intercom, and the friendly lady at the other end sends your request to the kitchen. 

This diligent McDonald's employee is your API. She takes your order and money and tells the kitchen what they need to do to fulfil your request. 

The McDonald's kitchen is the other application, and they busy themselves creating their gastronomic magic, after which they hand it to you through the window, and you're on your way.

Imagine for a second that the McDonald’s API went on leave. Now, you want a McFlurry and fries, but you’re not allowed in the kitchen to tell the kitchen staff what you want. 

The kitchen team is sitting around on their hands wondering why there are no orders today. 

While the API is tending to a small human, you are left without a McFlurry, and no fries to speak of.  

May this never happen to you.

How do APIs Work?

Developers set up application Programming Interfaces to make a particular "request" and then send or receive the relevant information. 

An API request requires the following parts:

Endpoint

An API endpoint is a virtual location where the two channels interact and communicate. Generally, it looks like a URL, perhaps starting with specific information such as the location of a file on a server. The path that follows depends on the request, but this may include fields or variables such as date ranges, user location, and an API key.

The URL plus the path make up the complete API endpoint.

Header

The header offers useful information to both the client and the server and lets each know what follows. 

For example, a header may be set as "Content-Type", and the server then knows what type of content is being sent, such as data, images, etc.

Method

API methods are actions and fall into four categories:

  • GET – An action that gathers information.
  • PUT – An action that updates data.
  • POST – Creates data.
  • DELETE – Deletes data.

Data

API data is in effect, the body of the message. If the API has requested a location, then this is what will be returned.

The Role of APIs in Security

We can't be too careful online today. Cybercriminals lurk around every corner of the internet, and there are smarty pants hackers who are all-too-eager to harvest your personal and financial information. 

APIs take their intermediary role very seriously. 

They stand between two applications and only send and receive information necessary for the transaction to occur. 

Therefore, when you’re on your phone and you’re accessing a site or an app with your credentials via a fastidious API, you are never granted access to their server. Likewise, your phone data is never exposed to the third-party site keeping your Tinder pics and browsing history safe and sound. Rather, specific inputs are identified and relayed via API to allow the interaction to take place. 

The good news gets better. 

APIs are closely monitored in terms of security and governance and must adhere to a standardised performance measure. This makes them a reliable choice, with comprehensive documentation available for their entire development lifecycle. 

What are API Keys?

API keys are unique identifiers that tell the applications or devices called user credentials. Once they have this information, they can then track and monitor the interaction between the two parties.

What are Some API Examples?

APIs are big business, and frankly, anything that makes our online life easier and more secure has our vote. There's no doubt that you've been making use of APIs all this time, probably without even being aware of it. 

For instance, have you ever received an invitation to a meeting through Gmail? You click on "OK" or something similar and go about your business.  

Two short days later, your laptop starts pinging frantically at you, telling you to get out of your PJs and jump online for this meeting. You didn't add it to your calendar, and you certainly didn't set up that overly persistent alarm — so what happened?

Perhaps you wake up and look at your mobile phone to check the time through tired eyes, but bizarrely your screen looks like it's taking a shower. 

Three concerned seconds later, you realise that it's just the weather app telling you that it's raining. You peer out the window, and lo, it's wet out there. How does your phone know the weather in your exact location?

It's the end of the year, and you medically require a holiday, so you go online and look for flights to the most remote place you can find that's within your budget. 

You scan effortlessly through dozens of flights looking at times and pricing before making your booking online. How did one little website manage to get all those flight details? 

How did they process your payment? How do they let the carrier know you're coming? 

You guessed right. These everyday examples are APIs in action. 

How Could You Make Use Of APIs?

This is all fascinating information, but how can it help your business? 

Because there are well over 50,000 APIs in the public domain, we’re reasonably sure that there will be several that can add real value to your business. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • Reduce friction and allow users to register on your website by using Facebook or Google accounts.
  • APIs can be used to analyse and report on your website performance.
  • Voice APIs are used to integrate VoIP telephony into a business.
  • Project management tools can talk to CRMs and other in-house systems for real-time, accurate processes. 
  • WhatsApp Business API integrates the wonders of WhatsApp into business systems for better customer engagement.
  • Make use of online resources from third-party sites to offer added value to your customers. 
  • Share and manage information on multiple social platforms instantly.
  • Make use of multiple payment services on your eCommerce site. 
  • Send millions of messages within 10 seconds via SMS.

It’s Your Call

McDonald’s is not going to let you into their kitchen no matter how loud you shout, and you can’t possibly call all the airlines for their fees. 

Simply put, data sharing and connectivity has inexorably changed the face of business. 

The question now is, will you stay abreast of these changes now that you understand the meaning of API? 

Will you introduce processes that make your customer experience a joyful one? 

Will you enhance your services with the help of these clever little tools and outsmart your competitors?

If automation, innovation, and inspiration are what you're after, then we invite you to chat with one of our professional team members on your most convenient platform.

We look forward to partnering with you in this exciting digital time.  

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