APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, are gateways between disparate applications, allowing them to communicate and transfer information to one another. APIs also define how these applications should interact.
Given the definition of APIs, 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. But 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.
The above provides a real world analogy for how APIs work but, technologically speaking, what do APIs do? Application program interfaces 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.
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:
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. Designing and managing your own API is far simpler when partnering with a support team.
Now that you have a better understanding of what are 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.
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.
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).
We will go into finer detail on the difference between these in future posts, but the types of APIs can be separated into the following categories:
Integrating complementary technologies into your platform drives growth for your business and provides additional value to your customers, igniting a digital transformation. To do so, you’ll need the power of APIs.
Now that you can better answer the question what are APIs?, take the opportunity to explore how to create, secure, and manage APIs with a free 30-day trial of the Akana API management platform.