Skip to main content

Welcome to our beginner’s guide to Application Programming Interfaces, better known as APIs!If you are working with interfaces and (marketing) software, the term “API” can sound rather intimidating, but don’t worry. We are going to explain this complex matter step by step, so you get a solid understanding of what APIs are and why they are so important in the world of tech .

 

What is an API?

Let’s start with the basics. An API is a set of definitions and protocols used to communicate with software. We’ll use an equation to make this a little clearer. In a restaurant you ask the waiter for food, the food will then be prepared in the kitchen, after which the food is served to you. This is similar to a server you request data from, after which the data will be retrieved from a that server, which then can be used by you.

In short, an API describes how to address software to get something done.

Why are APIs important?

APIs are essential to modern software development for several reasons:

  • Reusability: APIs allow developers to reuse existing functionality without reinventing the wheel. Instead of writing code each time to perform payment processing or data storage, for example, developers can use APIs that already provide this functionality.
  • Interoperability: This is a difficult word to say that different communication systems can work together without any problems. APIs allow different systems and applications to communicate with each other, even if they are built with different technologies or languages. This means that an iOS app can communicate with a backend server running Java, thanks to the appropriate API.
  • Scalability: By using APIs, developers can easily scale their applications by adding additional functionality without changing the core of their codebase. This makes it easier to meet the growing needs of users.

Types of APIs

There are many different types of APIs, but the two most common are:

  1. RESTful APIs: Representational State Transfer (REST) is an architecture for designing networked applications. A RESTful API uses standard HTTP methods such as GET, POST, PUT and DELETE to exchange data. These APIs are popular because of their simplicity and flexibility.
  2. SOAP APIs: Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) is a protocol for exchanging structured information through web services. SOAP APIs are more rigid and complex than RESTful APIs, but are still used in certain sectors such as enterprise applications.

How does an API work?

Let’s look at a simple example to understand how an API works:

Imagine a weather forecasting app that wants to display the current temperature in a particular city. Instead of maintaining a huge database of weather information yourself, you can use a weather API. This API accepts a request with the name of the city and returns the current temperature of the city in question.

Your app makes an HTTP request to the weather API with the city name as a parameter. The weather API processes this request, retrieves the relevant weather data, and sends it back to your app. Your app receives the temperature information and displays it to the user.

API

How do you use an API?

To use an API, you must be familiar with its documentation. This documentation describes what endpoints are available, what parameters they accept and what kind of response you can expect. Going back to our weather API example, the documentation might indicate that you should send a GET request to a particular URL with the city name as a parameter.

Conclusion

APIs are the building blocks of modern software development, allowing developers to build powerful and scalable applications by leveraging existing functionality. In this guide, we have outlined the basics of APIs discussed, including what they are, why they are important and how they work. With this knowledge, you are well on your way to entering the world of APIs to be further explored and understood.