What Are APIs Used For and How Do They Work?

As a small business begins to expand and becomes familiar with system integration, they may ask themselves- What are APIs used for?

When a company has several overlapping software, services can become unmanageable and operations can run inefficiently. By implementing an API, an organization can consolidate these processes and streamline data sharing throughout their business.

Learning the logistics of API integration can help business owners determine how implementing this operating system will improve their performance.

What is an API?

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An application programming interface (API) is software that integrates processes already established in a company. APIs allow several systems to interact and collaborate information so parties can access data through one user interface. In other words, this solution acts as the hidden middleman that delivers commands and responses to and from the user.

Using API allows companies to not only interconnect processes but also develop additional programs if necessary. With proper documentation, APIs help developers quickly make applications that correlate with the functionalities within the system, rather than having to build a script from scratch. Instead, they can use the platform to determine what operations are needed of the systems and implement the functions into the API design.

APIs make maintaining services efficient by interconnecting systems and eliminating redundant functions, allowing operations to run smoothly. This solution also provides flexibility when it comes to communication and data formatting. For example, if a user requests information from a server via API, but the data is in Java, the software will enable JavaScript translation. This takes the coding from the third-party server and migrates it to a format that the service provider can digest.

Implementing an API rather than a traditional point-to-point integration provides both the business and software developers several advantages, including-

  • Automated Operations
  • Complete Integration
  • System Personalization
  • Quick Software Development
  • Broader Scope on Functions
  • Easy Adaptation
  • Efficient Data Management

What Are APIs Used For?

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The opportunities for APIs are endless. Any business that uses more than one software or solution can benefit from API management because of its extensive functionality. For example, if a company wants to link their social media pages, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram, to their website, there is an API option. If a manager wants to implement a translator in their systems to expand client and customer reach, there is an API for that purpose as well.

There are many types of web API, including representational state transfer (REST), simple object access protocol (SOAP), internal APIs, and partner APIs, that cater to specific business needs. While this solution can adapt to almost every function, most companies typically use API to streamline daily operations within their business. Commands to access information between clients and web or public API follow the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). This protocol is the foundation of all client-server information exchange using the internet. HTTP handles the four basic server requests, including-

  • Get - Retrieving information from an open source
  • Post - Creating a new source
  • Put - Alter or update established source
  • Delete - Erase a source

How do APIs Operate?

By following sets of protocols and defined endpoints, APIs enable communication between components and systems. As the messenger, the API delivers requests to a server, translates the message, and delivers the response to the user. If the third-party server or the resource containing the information requested can fulfill the user's command, the API can deliver the data in real-time.

An easy way to understand this process is by comparing it to ordering a meal at a restaurant. In this scenario, the customer is the user, the waiter is the API, and the chef is the third-party server. When the customer orders a dish, the waiter writes down the order and relays it to the chef. The chef then creates the meal, giving it to the waiter to be delivered back to the customer.

However, if the external processor cannot satisfy the request, the API will notify the user of the error due to denied access or removal of the resource. While this may be frustrating to the client, it is actually a security measure from the server's privacy policy. Instead of returning sensitive data from the third-party, it keeps the program's coding hidden and secure.

Examples of API in the Real World

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APIs make any operation requiring multiple services more straightforward and efficient. Through flexible functionality, this solution has proven to enhance numerous platforms, such as-

As with any payment system, PayPal uses private APIs to handle purchase requests and transfer data to and from the server. Unlike public APIs, this solution provides security to ensure both the customer's and company's information is not exposed to the other party.

When the purchaser clicks the Pay with PayPal button, the web service sends a request to the PayPal API addressing the amount, payment method, and inventory details. The API alerts the appropriate systems to perform the transaction process and sends a message to the consumer confirming their purchase. Once the client finalizes their order, a final confirmation is sent to the software application via API.

Travel Booking
Web API integration can create a robust platform that grants users access to several resources, as seen with travel booking websites. Sites like Expedia Travel can combine hundreds to thousands of flights, hotels, and destinations within one platform. By using third-party APIs, travel booking sites link with other service providers to aggregate and redirect data. Therefore, when a user clicks on an option from one of these websites, the information is relayed to the original service provider.

These functions make APIs great solutions for travel services that need an equal exchange of information, such as reservation requests. Without API management, an employee would need to manually navigate through several hotel and airline websites to check availability and confirm the booking. Once the company confirms the reservation, they need to relay the information back to the consumer. However, by the time all of the logistics are sorted through, the providers or purchasers may no longer have availability. Therefore, advanced API solutions are an excellent way to streamline internal and external communication to ensure quick execution.

While an API may seem like a complicated service, it aims to enhance the functionality of systems already established within a company. Regardless of the organization's size, implementing an API can streamline daily procedures.