Application programming interfaces (APIs) are interface software programs that enable applications to communicate with one another through a series of protocols and definitions. They offer a standardized and secure way for apps to work together and provide the functionality and information requested without user intervention. You can think of an API as an entry point for an app or website.
APIs make it easier for developers and end users to use applications by working under the hood. For instance, when you check the weather on your device (smartphone or PC), the browser requests the information from the web server and database via an API and receives it through the API before availing it on your screen.
But how do you access or use APIs? Join us as we provide a detailed guide to accessing and using APIs.
How Does an API Work?
As an access point to the web server and database, an API defines a series of rules on how apps can interact with one another. It serves as the middleman between an app and a web server. Its primary role is forwarding application requests to the server and returning the response in real-time.
Here are 4 steps outlining how an API works:
- The browser executes an API call to fetch data from the server
- An API in front of the web server catches the request and calls the server, asking for the requested information.
- The web server sends feedback to the API with the requested information.
- Afterward, the API forwards the feedback information back to the browser.
But what happens if the server does not have the requested data or has no permission to access it? Well, the API returns an error message indicating the issue encountered.
APIs help control access to your server by only providing external users with the requested data rather than giving them all of the program’s code or information. So, you can consider them as key to securing your server by limiting users to only what they want to access.
What Are API Calls?
An API call involves users submitting their requests to the server’s API. Also, it comprises every detail involved after submitting the request, including when it retrieves data from the web server and sends it back to the user. Simply put, an API call has three crucial parts:
- Request submitted by the client
- Retrieval of requested data from the server
- Delivery of the information to the client
The API user only needs to worry about making the opening request. To make this request, you need the HTTP verb and a URI (Universal Resource Indicator) of the server you want to ask for the data from. The URI serves as the server’s address.
Once you know the server to make a request and determine the request you need to make, inform the server about your request and the response you’re looking for using a header. This way, it can give you the correct response based on your request.
Lastly, you’ll need an API key, which acts as a passcode that informs the server that you are authorized to access it and the data you’re requesting. This key comprises a string of unique numbers and letters used to access the API.
Most users want a server to perform primary functions. These requests are often written as Universal Resource Locators (URLs) to ensure the client-server communication follows the Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) rules. The 4 key server request methods are:
- PUT: used to update or edit an existing resource
- POST: used for creating a new resource
- GET: used for retrieving a resource
- DELETE: used for removing or deleting a resource
How to Access and Use an API
The simplest way to use an API is by looking for an HTTP client online, such as Paw, Postman, or REST-Client. These ready-to-use tools allow you to design your requests to access your existing APIs. Although you still need to understand the syntax outlined in the documentation, minimal coding expertise is necessary.
However, most online HTTP clients use the same process to access and use APIs, which involves:
· Selecting an API Key
Look for an API that you can integrate into your business. You might have one in mind or need to do an online search. Consider searching by cost and starting with free API before upgrading to better understand its dynamics.
· Getting an API Key
As initially stated, an API key is a unique string of numbers and letters that help the API identify you. Without it, you cannot access the API because you must attach it to every request to get a response. Sign up with the API server to get your API Key and provide your identity details.
· Review Your API Documentation
API documentation is an instruction manual dictating how to efficiently utilize and integrate the API. It provides the information required to use the API, including tutorials, examples, and whether or not you need to require an API key.
· Test API Endpoints
Once the API server receives your API key, it refers you to the API endpoints to cross-check whether everything works as expected.
· Build and Connect Your First Application
Once you verify everything is as it should be, you can start developing the app, including the calls to the appropriate API.
What Are the Uses of APIs?
Businesses use API for various purposes, including the following:
- Application integration: An API is used when multiple digital apps work together – for instance, Gmail and HubSpot
- Data sharing: As initially stated, APIs are used when a program needs to collect or share data with a third-party program.
- Internal systems. Businesses often subdivide their software architecture into smaller elements that communicate via APIs.
- Embedded content. Often, companies need to embed some pieces of content not hosted by the company. In this case, an API requests the embedded content owner to retrieve it.
Why Are More Companies Embracing APIs?
The answer is simple – money. Facebook, Yelp, and Google, among other firms, publicize and monetize their APIs to generate revenue. According to a MuleSoft Inc. report, 35% of tech leaders raise over a quarter of their total revenue directly from their APIs. Therefore, it’s a major source of revenue in the modern business environment.
APIs have numerous benefits to both providers and consumers. They connect your app to the entire software world. With these connections, your organization is empowered, be it a start-up or a government agency, to develop new business models that stimulate more ideas and innovate in the modern digital economy. It all starts with understanding how to access and use an API.