Looking for something specific while ordering food, shopping online, or booking a flight on your apps and wondering how it brings up what you need when you need it?
You have an API to thank for that.
APIs are the paths that hold our technological world together, by connecting systems and processes for all individuals and organizations to complete their requests.
So, What Exactly is an API?
Application Programming Interfaces allow a product or service to connect to another application, service, or data set.
In simple terms — an API is a messenger that takes your requests, then tells the system what you want to do, and then returns that response back to you in real-time. Just think of it as two programs communicating with each other with a certain set of rules.
“Application” may refer to many things, but in the context of APIs, the application can be a piece of software with a distinct function, the entire app, or a small part of the app. Think of it as a standalone application that can be separated from its environment.
Let’s Look at Some Examples
If you are looking for flights online via a travel service like Kayak or Expedia, there are a variety of options — from airlines, different cities, departure and return dates, and more. While on the site, you can pick your accommodations to what is right for you. The travel service does this by interacting with the airline’s API, allowing the travel service to get information for their database to book options like seats, baggage, and other accommodations. That API will take what it found, add the response, and deliver it back to you to fulfill your request with the relevant information you’re looking for.
Other common uses we experience include weather snippets that we see on our phones, tablets, and in Google searches. By plugging in “weather in [city name]’ the API pulls the latest weather details in a way that is easy to format. Logins are a simple example of API functionality that we use regularly, by prompting a social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn) to log into a website account. It then sends the request that the user provides and retrieves the social media information to confirm identification. The API provides the application with identification, so they know who is getting access.
Who uses APIs
APIs may seem very technical, but they are more common and play a bigger role today than ever before. They allow us to share and partake in practical business functionality between devices, applications, and people.
APIs are used across corporate sectors that affect our everyday economy and life. Financial institutions pull from private APIs to track and manage your personal accounts such as checking and savings, credit cards, and stock accounts. Retail businesses use APIs with courier networks ensuring that packages and orders are delivered and placed. Web applications and streaming services also utilize APIs to connect their front-end user content with important back-end functionality to distribute content.
Types of APIs and Uses
APIs have taken on characteristics that are incredibly valuable and useful for those to use in their day-to-day lives. There are four main types of APIs that are used to add specific functionality.
No restrictions to being able to access these types of APIs, while being publicly available. These can be used by anyone with little to no authorization and cost, allowing third parties to develop apps that can interact with your API.
Developers will need rights and licenses for these APIs to access. There is no public availability but can be shared with specific business partners to provide additional revenue without compromising quality.
These are also known as private APIs which are used within companies and exposed by internal systems. Companies can use this type of API across teams to improve the quality of products and services
This API type uses sequences of tasks that run synchronously. These are mainly used to speed up processes and improve performance.
If you are just ordering lunch, trying to log in to a website, or wanting to access a private account via a large corporation, APIs are fully integrated with our world taking our requests, processing them, and then retrieving the information that we need.