How Do APIs Work? Your Questions, Answered
There are currently two million apps listed on the Apple app store and nearly three million available on the Google Play Store. There are over 100,000 Chrome browser extensions available to install.
And these are just a tiny sampling of the amount of software available to individuals and businesses on a daily basis. We rely on many different applications every single day.
All these apps solve different problems. But sometimes you need a solution that requires two or more apps working together. While this isn’t natively possible, APIs make it possible.
How do APIs work, and what are APIs in the first place? There is one of the most powerful solutions, bridging the gap between various pieces of technology to allow for interconnectivity.
Keep reading to learn all about the benefits of APIs and how you can expect to use them.
What Is An API?
API stands for “application programming interface.” Sound technical? It is. APIs are normally used by those who work in the technology field or a related sector. But there are certain API use cases where non-tech people can put them to use and benefit from them.
APIs are essentially software intermediaries. They are bridges that connect two different pieces of software that don’t naturally have the ability to communicate and work with each other.
It acts as a messenger. When one software application needs information from an unrelated software application, the API receives the request, then retrieves the data from the other software app, and finally brings that information back to the original app.
How do application programming interfaces work? They work by saving software developers a lot of time. With the use of APIs as building blocks, developers don’t have to write a ton of code from scratch in order to have their application complete a certain function.
Rather, they leverage the use of APIs, which is code already written to complete specific tasks.
APIs allow one piece of software to connect with many others, allowing for dozens, and sometimes hundreds of different use cases.
Here’s a picture of how APIs work. When you visit a restaurant, what do you want? You want food prepared by a chef in the kitchen. That’s what you’re paying for.
The chef’s only job is to cook great food. That’s the only thing he is paid to do. But there’s a disconnect between the customer and the chef. The chef doesn’t have time to walk food out to customers, because he is busy cooking for all the other customers.
But the customer can’t go back into the kitchen to get their food on their own. That’s where an API comes into play, in this case, in the form of a waiter. The waiter is the middleman, the bridge between two parties who need something from each other.
The waiter takes the order from the customer, hands the order to the chef. The chef does his job by cooking the food and giving the food to the waiter. The waiter brings it to the customer, and all parties are satisfied.
The waiter, who acts as our API in this example, does cost money. However, he enables the chef to spend more time cooking meals for other customers, which in turn allows the restaurant to serve more people, and ultimately make much more money than if there weren’t any waiters.
Real World API Example
But how does an API work in the real world? If you’ve ever bought a product online, you’ve experienced API benefits in real-time.
An online store selling shoes specializes in creating great products and sending them to customers. The website acts as its storefront.
When you go to purchase from this website, you’ll use the payment processor on the website. The shoe store hasn’t created its own payment processing system, as that would be too much work.
Rather, the website owner integrates payment processing software, such as Stripe or Square, via an API. This allows you to checkout directly on the website.
Then, once your order is complete, another API is used to send tracking information to the courier service who will actually ship your package. This API sends the courier service details about the package and where it needs to go.
And every industry uses APIs like this daily. Some are simple, some much more complex.
Website owners and energy providers can use APIs to gather real-time energy data, helping them to make faster, more effective decisions. Travel websites use APIs to connect various airline platforms, to retrieve all their flight information so customers can find and book the best flights.
APIs are everywhere and are used by businesses and individuals constantly, with or without realizing it.
How Do APIs Work?
Some APIs are easier to use than others. These are the simple applications that any individual can piece together.
If you have an app that offers interconnectivity via API, then there will be a place where you can copy and paste an API key. API keys are like an access code that lets you request specific information from another website.
So if you want to connect platform A and platform B, you’ll need to go to platform B and find the API key. For most applications, this is easy to find.
You’ll copy this key, which is a string of characters, and then paste it into the API key field on platform A. Platform A will then verify the API key and let you know if it’s connected.
With this key in place, the two applications can now talk to each other, sending and receiving data.
There are other ways to utilize APIs, which require a bit more technical know-how. You can use HTTP clients to handle more complex APIs.
APIs are the Bridge
So how do APIs work? They work by acting like a bridge or messenger between two parties, or two different software applications. It allows one app to request specific information from another and provides a seamless, fast, and secure way of transmitting that information automatically.
APIs allow businesses to scale their products and services without having to write tons of code from scratch.
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