It’s easy to get confused on a web filled with confusing and unfamiliar acronyms On the Internet, you may have heard, but never got the inspiration to learn, this is the “API”.
What is API? API is an abbreviation for Application Programming Interface and the name of a set of procedures and protocols that greatly simplify the process of creating software applications.
An easy way to look at an API is like a roadmap that tells software components how to interact. Without API, the source code can look messy and convoluted.
However, APIs are complex and require more than a brief description. In this article, let’s take a look at how APIs work and what sites and services use them.
What is an API and how does it work?
Now that we’ve established that an API is a set of routines that point software in the right direction, how exactly does this all work?
The best way to explain the basic functionality of the API is with a real world example. Food delivery services like GrubHub are incredibly popular right now, so let’s discuss how the code behind these mobile apps might work.
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When you search for a restaurant or food in one of these apps, you get relevant results based on your keywords and location. After choosing the result, you will be presented with food options, delivery times and other options for a particular restaurant.
To schedule delivery, a connection must be established between the delivery website and the database â€” the website must be the front end and the database must be the back end. The database is what stores data about all these restaurants, their availability by location, opening hours, menus, etc.
An API is a connection between this database and the website or application that presents its data. It is important to have an API to create this connection rather than using hardcoded data, primarily due to the popularity of third-party integrations.
For example, it would be helpful for a website if third-party aggregators could list and organize all the restaurants and products it has, right? Without the API, this would not have been possible without the use of ineffective web cleaning techniques.
An API is an interface responsible for delivering data from a database to an application, be it a website, a mobile application, or whatever. APIs have become the standard way of accessing and exchanging application data over the Internet, and every major website or service that relies on third-party connections benefits significantly by providing it.
What types of APIs are there?
There are several different types of API protocols, but the three most popular are SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), REST (Representative State Transfer), and RPC (Remote Procedure Call).
SOAP was first introduced in the late 1990s and allowed applications to easily share resources using network connections. SOAP relies on standard protocols such as HTTP and SMTP, which allow it to be used in almost any environment due to the popularity of such protocols.
Its main strength lies in the fact that it is widely used and has proven itself. If everything is okay, don’t fix it.
REST was introduced in 2000 by Roy Fielding. Its immediate goal was to solve many of the problems that have arisen from the widespread adoption of SOAP.
Like SOAP, REST relies on HTTP to transfer information between applications. However, one important difference that distinguishes it from SOAP, which requires data transfer in XML data format, is that it supports JSON. JSON is a data format that many find easier to read and write. In addition, REST APIs can cache data, which significantly improves performance.
According to a 2017 Cloud Elements report, REST accounts for over 80% of all APIs.
RPC APIs come in many different flavors, but as we learned from REST APIs, JSON is a very popular data format, so JSON-RPC is the most popular.
JSON-RPC is the protocol best suited for minimalists and users who rely on the simplicity of their API. Its scope is much smaller compared to SOAP and REST, and it is very limited in its flexibility and command set, but for some developers, less is more.
There are other types of RPC based APIs like gRPC, but JSON-RPC is the best option if ease of implementation is your priority.
Who Use APIs?
Developers of any type, be it front-end or back-end, must have experience with the API. When it comes to websites or web services, almost all major players have some kind of API available, the most obvious being Windows.
Since Microsoft Windows is the most popular operating system on the planet, it is only natural that application developers will need a set of guides for interacting with the user interface. Without access to the Windows API, programming an application that relies heavily on interacting with the operating system would be a big headache.
There are thousands of APIs, some of which are free and some are paid. Here are just a few examples to look out for:
- Google Play Developer APIs: Publishing and app management tasks related to Google Play
- Skyscanner APIs: APIs for travel related to flights, car rental, etc.
- Twilio API: Allows you to programmatically send and receive phone calls.
- Discord API: Allows users to create bots that make Discord the messaging service today
- IPinfo API: Live data about the IP address and geolocation of your website or application.
APIs are one of the key connecting elements of some of the largest and most important websites and applications on the Internet. While the average user may not see the benefits of APIs, they are a godsend for developers and web services.