In today’s fast-paced world, businesses are constantly looking to offer more and more. The goal is to make the customer’s journey on a website as easy as possible and build upon the website’s already-offered services.

To quickly and constantly, build a better service, APIs play an important role in this.

APIs have the potential to bring the world closer together. The real potential of APIs is to represent the business of a company.” 

Mehdi Medjaoui

Most business owners have heard about APIs and API integration, however, they’re not clear in what it is, nor understand the benefits of API integrations.

What is an API

API (Application Programming Interface) is  a piece of code that is used for interaction between multiple software platforms.”

Wikipedia

There are 1000s of software platforms, each using different coding techniques, different programming languages and overall different approaches for their software. It becomes difficult for other platforms/programmers to understand another and integrate with.

In comes API integration. In simple terms, consider two software applications which talk different languages. An API can help the software applications talk to each other (authentication), understand each other (authorisation) and exchange information between each other (request).

Planning an application programming interface
Planning an API (Source: Image by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels)

How does an API work?

Let’s explain how APIs work with a simple analogy:

  1. Consider walking into a restaurant. You don’t talk directly to the chef, as they’re busy doing their own tasks.
  2. You call the waiter and specify your order.
  3. The waiter notes your order and delivers it to the chef.
  4. Once the order’s ready, the chef calls the waiter back.
  5. The waiter takes the order and brings it to you.
  6. You eat your food, pay your bill and you’re ready to leave.

In this scenario, the waiter is working as the API. Whereas customer and the chef are the two different software applications.

You get one software’s request, explain it to the other, get the relevant information packaged and finally have it handed over.

Google Maps application programming interface in use
Google Maps API in use (Source: Image by Ingo Joseph from Pexels)

In reality, the role of an API is to act as the mediator.

Examples of an API

You’re likely to already be using APIs within your daily routine.

For example, let’s take everyday transportation as a scenario: Have you called in Uber recently? Uber uses Google Maps API to track and show you the positing of your ride.

Another example, signing up to a website using your Facebook login: This again uses an API integration provided by Facebook, which helps to pass your Facebook data to the website, in order to help create an account/grant access.

Types of APIs:

  • XML – This is relatively a simple API that uses a specific XML format to transfer data. It also uses minimum bandwidth, which comes in useful for larger requests.
  • SOAP – This is a standardised protocol that uses proprietary XML format to transfer data. It can send more data, therefore, can be more complex and secure. SOAP is more suitable for enterprise software applications.
  • JSON – Similar to XML, however, it uses JSON markup to transfer data instead.
  • REST – This is an architectural style of API, which is more data-driven and is extremely popular. It follows certain architectural rules and principles, which helps to standardise APIs so that software developers can make sense of them more easily.

Fact: REST API represents 70% of public APIs.

Ways API integrations can help websites

Stay up to date

APIs help websites stay up to date, which is a very important factor in today’s fast-paced world.

Websites showing stock exchange share rates, currency rates, property listings, etc. all use API integration to stay up to date with the most relevant information.

Help inter-app connectivity

This is the age of data. The world now has become a global village, where APIs are now used in order to help exchange useful information throughout.

Air ticket availability and booking websites are a prime example of inter-app connectivity: Almost all airlines have their APIs available for providing booking companies with reliable ticketing information.

These APIs can be used to help to check for available flights, seat availability and comparisons across all other airlines too if used collectively.

No need to build giant custom web applications

APIs can also help reduce overall website development costs.

Instead of developing giant custom web applications altogether, pre-made and already quality assured APIs can be integrated within websites for the same required purpose.

Make admin tasks easy

Menial repetitive tasks, which involve clicking between different applications, copy-pasting data or monitoring changes in data daily can take up valuable time and resources — using APIs can help to automate these tasks accordingly.

Website administrators don’t have to worry about inputting or monitoring tons of data manually, as it’s mostly managed and quality assured by third parties instead.

Summary

To summarise APIs and their integrations within websites:

  • An API is a library of code which can be used to transfer data between multiple software platforms (acting as a mediator).
  • There are four types of web APIs:
    1. XML
    2. SOAP
    3. JSON
    4. REST
  • APIs can help websites in multiple ways:
    • They help websites stay up to date.
    • They help inter-app connectivity.
    • They help keep costs low by avoiding the development of giant custom web applications. Instead, already tried and tested APIs can be used.
    • They help make admin tasks easy by automating them.