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What Is An Application Program Interface (API)

If you are into tech or just got onto the bandwagon you would have most probably come across the term API abbreviated from Application Programming Interface, Now, if you have been wondering about it or what it is all about API is basically in its most general sense a software intermediary.

Software intermediaries allow two applications to basically communicate with each other towards reaching a specific goal or accomplishing a specific task. A basic example is when you use WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter to send messages or use your mobile device to probe weather conditions you are using an API.

Now, you are probably thinking, hey that’s a software, and you will be right from a general perspective, but the truth is the application on mobile devices connects to the Internet and consequently sends specific data to a specific server and it is on the server where the actual software retrieves, interprets and performs the required tasks based on the data it received and sends it back to the mobile device.

The application on your mobile device then decrypts the incoming data and interprets the data before presenting the mobile device’s owner with the information requested in a readable or tangible way. In order to give you a better perspective of this, let us use a common example in a familiar and practical scenario.

Let us imagine that you are seated at a restaurant which has a menu of cuisines to choose from. The kitchen hence would be a component of a “system” that will prepare the dish that you are interested in. However, there needs to be a link that is capable of communicating what you intend to eat and how you want it prepared to the kitchen and have your food sent to your table!

So, this is the point where an API instead of a waiter comes into the picture. The API will act as the waiter or messenger between you and the kitchen staff. The API will convey your message as you have input to the kitchen and tell them what to do or how to do and the response that comes back (in this case scenario) is the food.

A real life example of an API in action is the process of searching for cheap flights over the internet. Now relating back to the restaurant you will get a menu of flights (different airlines, prices, destination, flight duration etcetera) which you could choose from and when you book a flight on the airline’s website you will evidently choose a departure date and origin and sometimes even a return ticket complete with destination and date apart from the cabin class and other offered options (just like the menu).

This is the interaction phase with the website that provides you with access to their ‘menu’. However, what if you are not using the airline’s official website and instead use an online travel service that is able to provide you with a wider range of options (or a better menu) because it has access to data from numerous websites and is able to compare and shortlist things for you?

This travel service provider would be essentially interacting with the airline’s API which acts as the waiter in the restaurant who gives the kitchen directives of what you want (your flight criteria) and return back with a number of options for you to choose from!

It is due to this fact that APIs have become immensely popular as these programs are able to take data from different places that are relevant and return the most relevant to you.

Apart from that APIs also provide an added layer of security as the data on your phone is never or rarely exposed to the server and similarly neither is the server fully exposed to you as the communication transpires over small packets of data which shares only necessary information and nothing more.

This is based on the fact that when mobile apps send or receive data, they are able to do so via an API which will protect the data between the main server and the sender because of the secure medium. Modern APIs adhere to established standards including HTTP and REST which are in essence not just developer-friendly, but also easily accessible and understood broadly by novice developers.

Another factor that cannot be overlooked about APIs is the fact that they are much more standardised compared to other platforms and it is due to this reason that they have a much stronger discipline for security and governance which makes them easier to monitor and manage for performance of scale.

APIs have over the last decade become very valuable to consumers and businesses especially as in today’s world they have become critical components of businesses both big and small. Believe it or not giant corporations such as Google, Expedia, Amazon and others depend on APIs as their primary revenue generators which have given rise to something that you have heard of – The API Economy.

The API economy basically covers all the markets where APIs play a significant role towards ensuring that the market runs smoothly. Over the years, what an “API” which has often been described as any sort of generic connectivity interfaces to an application, nevertheless the modern API has taken on some characteristics that make it an extraordinarily valuable and useful tool or platform if you prefer.

Online Invent

Online Invent is a Web Design, Web Development and Digital Marketing Company, established in 2007 from Melbourne, Australia.

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