What Are APIs
November 15, 2019

What Are APIs? And How Do APIs Work?

API Lifecycle Management
Digital Transformation

APIs are business-critical today — especially for digital transformation. But what is an API? And how do APIs work? 

That's exactly what we break down in this blog. Read along or jump to the section that interests you most: 

What Exactly Is an API?

API is an acronym for application programming interface. APIs are gateways between disparate applications. They allow applications to communicate and transfer information to one another. APIs also define how these applications should interact.

Given the definition of API, you wouldn't be wrong to think of APIs as connectors. Disparate programs that otherwise wouldn’t be able to exchange information are able to do so via application program interfaces.

What Are APIs Used For?

APIs are used for anything that takes data in, in order to put data out. For instance, any time you make a query on your phone, the data is sent to a server, which reads it and sends a response back in a readable format.

Other processes you may be familiar with that use APIs include:

  • Booking flights or hotels online.
  • Withdrawing cash from an ATM.
  • Ordering food online through a delivery service.
  • Downloading software.

For developers, perhaps you want to integrate a map, weather data, or other software into your application. You’ll need to establish an API, either by using a public version that is open and offers the information you need, or by developing one yourself. Taking the latter route is more complex, but can be customized for your app’s specific needs. API design and API management are far simpler when partnering with a support team.

Enterprise API Management, Defined

APIs are fundamental to extending business logic into new arenas and quickly capitalizing on opportunities. But it's more than just creating working APIs. It's about creating a strategy to address stakeholder concerns, and creating a robust infrastructure to support the new digital platform. 

Learn how to do it in our white paper: Enterprise API Management, Defined.

📕 Get the White Paper

 

What Do APIs Do?

APIs provide a fast and easy way to implement functionality or data from another application into your own. They streamline workflows for developers wanting to integrate and leverage outside technologies within their internal projects.

Additionally, an API controls access to resources that an application doesn’t have permission to use, improving security. Rather than exposing all data, only necessary information is shared outside of the application.

How Do APIs Work? 

So, how do APIs work, exactly?

A common analogy for APIs is ordering food at a restaurant. You, as a customer, don’t directly place your order with the chef, who is preparing the food. Instead, a waiter takes your order and communicates it back to the chef, then delivers the food back to you once prepared. That waiter is like an API.

It’s important to note that the flow of information may be constant. APIs don’t just pass a single message back and forth. 

When you're working with APIs, it's important to understand the complete API lifecycle

👉 Become an Export. Explore the API Lifecycle Hub >>

 

Examples of APIs

Now that you have a better understanding of APIs, you can probably guess that APIs are all around us. Take a look at just about any app on your smartphone, and chances are it's working with APIs.

Weather

Take weather data, for instance. The information that you see in your weather app, whether it be real-time or a future forecast, is sourced from a third-party with APIs, and then reformatted to fit your dashboard.

Travel

Online travel aggregators are another great example of working with APIs. Let's say you go to a travel site like Orbitz or Kayak, which shows you airfare schedules and prices, or hotel availability and rates. These travel booking sites use APIs to collect this data from the providers — the airlines and hotels themselves.

Additionally, if you book from an aggregator site, APIs are also used for confirmation of your booking with the provider. In the case of travel, APIs are used for both data (availability and pricing) as well as requests (reservations).

Types of APIs

There are many types of APIs available. 

  • Open APIs
  • Partner APIs
  • Internal APIs
  • Composite APIs
  • REST (Representational State Transfer)
  • SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol)
  • XML-RPC
  • JSON-RPC

The most common APIs are web service APIs, particularly REST APIs.

How to Leverage Your APIs

Now that you know what APIs are, what's the best way to leverage them? 

To successfully create, publish, manage, and monetize your APIs, you need the right API platform. That's why world leaders in banking, healthcare, insurance, retail, and beyond choose the Akana API management platform

Akana Makes It Easy to Deliver APIs

Akana provides the easiest way to deliver APIs. You can create APIs quickly and easily — and publish, manage, and monetize them — when you use the Akana platform. 

Akana Secures Your APIs — Automatically

Akana enables you to automatically configure security policies for your APIs. This helps you keep APIs secure throughout the lifecycle. 

Akana Is Backed By Digital Transformation Expertise

Akana has been a leader in API management and digital transformation for over 20 years. Our team is skilled in not just managing APIs, but using APIs to drive digital transformation initiatives forward. 

Get Started With Akana

See for yourself why Akana is the best API platform to drive your business forward. You can request a free 30-day trial now to put Akana to the test. 

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