What is an API?

API stands for application programming interface. The most important part of this name is “interface,” because an API essentially talks to a program for you. You still need to know the language to communicate with the program, but without an API, you won’t get far.

When programmers decide to make some of their data available to the public, they “expose endpoints,” meaning they publish a portion of the language they’ve used to build their program. Other programmers can then pull data from the application by building URLs or using HTTP clients (special programs that build the URLs for you) to request data from those endpoints.

Endpoints return text that’s meant for computers to read, so it won’t make complete sense if you don’t understand the computer code used to write it.

How to use APIs

An API (i.e., Application Programming Interface) is a standardized and secure interface that allows applications to communicate and work with each other. This type of interface is purpose-built for information retrieval and updating without the need for manual user intervention.

To help you understand the concept of APIs, let’s consider an example: Let’s say you want to integrate statistics for a global pandemic in your system and show them on a dashboard in real-time. The primary step will be to find a provider that maintains such information. But the second and more challenging step will be to fetch these statistics from that provider automatically. This is where an API plays a vital role. It allows you to request data from a third-party data provider so that you can use this information as and when needed.

The benefit of using APIs is quite clear from this since it simplifies the two key challenges in data retrieval:

  • It provides a consistent and standard platform for communication between different systems, so you do not have to create an integration layer yourself,
  • It allows you to automate the retrieval process without needing to fetch the data each time.