What is an API? Check out how an API works! An Interesting Read

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You must have heard about API. What is an API? What is its significance? How does it work? Let’s find out in this blog.

An API is a short-form for Application Programming Interface, which mediates communication between two applications through the software. This is one of the emerging technologies of 2021.

This means that every time you use an app like Instagram to direct message someone, or Google Maps to check your location, you’re using an API.

So, let’s understand what is an API, and how an API works.

Key Takeaways-

  • An API enables the communication between the systems in its own manner to delegate the same. 
  • API provides enhancements in terms of security to various applications.
  • Modern APIs work on newer standards like REST and HTTP protocols, thus providing better functionalities. 
  • API specifications like SOAP and REST standardize data transfers between web services.

An Example of an API

Okay, let’s discuss about the example of an API.

Every time you use an App on your smartphone, the app connects to the internet and sends data to a server. The server receives the data from the smartphone, processes it as per the requirement, and performs necessary operations on it.

After doing all this, it sends back the result from the required operations onto your smartphone. The application then interprets this data and displays the received data with the needed information you wanted in a readable format. All of this work is done through APIs. 

What is API

Let’s demonstrate the concept of API with this example. 

Imagine that you’re in a restaurant and you’re browsing through a menu with various items to order from. Now, normally the kitchen is responsible for preparing the order. It can also be said that the kitchen is the “system” that prepares the order.

But there’s an issue for the order to be communicated from you to the kitchen before the order even begins to be prepared. That’s where a waiter comes. It conveys the orders from you to the kitchen, which then initiates the preparation of food. 

Here, the waiter is the API. The customer is one application trying to communicate with the other for transaction and processing of some information. API communicates with the systems in its own manner to delegate the same.

API helps enhance the security of the application

By using API, your smartphone is never fully exposed to the connecting server when transmitting any data to it. Likewise, the server isn’t also fully exposed to the requesting devices from all around the world.

This happens through small packets of data being communicated and shared between a device and the server, like ordering takeout meals. All you have to do is to inform the restaurant about your preferred food and they will charge a certain amount of money for that. In exchange for these, you will eventually get your food. 

Right now, the value of API is so massive that they now constitute a large part of many businesses’ core functionalities and revenues. Huge companies like Google, Salesforce, Amazon, Expedia, Trivago, etc are naming just a few who primarily make their money from APIs.

What is modern APIs? 

Modern API works with popular and safe standards like HTTP and REST to provide better functionalities.

Over the past few years, API has been defined as being just a generic connectivity interface mediation to an application. But, what is modern APIs? Recently, the modern API has had some more functionalities and characteristics enhancements which makes them extremely useful and valuable. Some of those enhancements are-

  • Modern APIs support and work with typical standards like HTTP and REST, which makes development simple, easily implementable, and broadly understood by everyone. 
  • APIs nowadays are treated more like products and less than code. They are designed specifically for other applications calling these APIs to get services and are charged accordingly.

    As they are designed for consumption by specific audiences (e.g. web developers, mobile developers). APIs are then documented and provided with version control which users can have access to for their expectations of its lifecycle and maintenance. 
  • Modern-day APIs are more standardized as they have a much robust discipline for security and granularization in terms of governance. It also comes with a lot of monitoring features that would help in managing performance and scalability. 
  • Like any other productized software, modern APIs have their own software development lifecycle of designing, developing, building, testing, deployment, and managing for performance scale. Plus, modern-day APIs come with lucid documentation for consumption and versioning.

What are API specifications?

The objective of API specifications is to standardize data transfers between web services. Over here, the standardization of API means the ability of different systems written in different programming languages, running on various operating systems, or utilizing different technologies to seamlessly communicate with one another. 

What is Service Object Access Protocol (SOAP)

A Service Object Access Protocol (SOAP) is a lightweight protocol for exchanging structured data in a decentralized and distributed environment, as per the definition by Microsoft which developed the same. Roughly speaking, this specification contains syntaxes for requests and response messages sent by web applications.

APIs which adhere to the principles of SOAP enabled XML messaging between systems over HTTP or SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol)  for transferring mail if needed.

SOAP is normally used with enterprise web-based applications to ensure high security of data in transit. SOAP APIs are sought after among providers of payment gateways, identity management, and CRM solutions.

It is quite popular and preferred in financial and telecom services too for these exact same reasons. PayPal’s public API uses legacy system support and is one of the most commonly known public SOAP APIs out there. 

The above code snippet is an example of a SOAP API XML request call in Google Ad manager.
The above code snippet is an example of a SOAP XML request call in Google Ad manager.

Representational State Transfer (REST)

The term Representational State Transfer (REST) in API context was first coined by the computer scientist named Roy Fielding in a dissertation back in 2000. Unlike its counterpart SOAP, REST is a software architectural style with six constraints for building applications that utilize HTTP for web services. The World Wide Web is the most common outcome and application of REST architectural style.

By most developers, REST is considered to be a simpler alternative to SOAP as it requires less writing of codes to complete each task and doesn’t require the adherence of the XML structure for every message sent.

The data being transferred is made available as resources in REST architecture. Each of these resources is represented by a unique URL and the resources can then be requested through this unique URL.

The web APIs which adhere to the REST architectural paradigm and its constraints are known as RESTful APIs. These APIs use HTTP requests in the forms of methods or verbs to work with the resources in the following ways: GET, PUT, HEAD, POST, PATCH, CONNECT, DELETE, OPTIONS and TRACE.

Since RESTful systems have support for messaging in various formats like plain text, HTML, YAML, JSON and XML, it is more preferred by developers over SOAP. This ability to support various formats for exchanging and storing data makes REST an efficient choice for building public APIs in today’s time.

Conclusion: What is an API

APIs are considered to be one of the greatest things that have happened to not only software development but also from a business collaboration perspective. These machine comprehendible interfaces for resource exchange works like a delivery service that works behind the scenes and enables the needed technological connectivity.

Also read: 6 Smart Ways To Use Machine Learning For Business’ Benefit.

Also, it goes without saying that these days, API integration is crucial to almost all tech-related businesses’ strategies. It also provides a frontier where companies can collaborate and partner up together through APIs to get enhanced functionalities. 

But to develop these APIs requires proficiency in software development. And to be able to attain that proficiency would require you to be adept in the mentioned frameworks. In turn, these frameworks and protocols come to action once you’re conversant with the appropriate programming languages to make it all happen.

It also becomes very much essential to pick a high-paying programming language in the industry so that you can make the most out of the opportunities that you’ll be getting from it. 

I hope that this blog gave you some insights about APIs! Comment down if you want to know how APIs provide security to application. We will surely write a blog on the same.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I test an API?What do the REST APIs enable me to do? 

REST APIs will let you work in a programmatic way to develop different features for the users.

What are Access Tokens?

Access Tokens provides authorization to allow clients to call APIs that they are subscribed to.

How can I test an API?

You can check the details of an API, you will find a table of operations contained in the API of an application. These methods include GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, etc.

Are APIs free?

It depends on who is providing APIs. There are many free APIs from reputable sources and there are paid APIs too. But the billing happens on the number of API calls. 

Is API gateway expensive?

It is very cheap if we think about the offerings some companies are giving. API Gateway, for example, charges $3.50 per million API calls received.

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