What Is an API (Application Programming Interface)?
An Application Programming Interface (API) is a standardized method for one software program to access information and services from another software program. This simple idea has led to significant economic benefits for businesses of all sizes and the global economy. APIs have become critical accelerators of business technology innovation by dividing up the work required to build an application, hiding complexity, and commodifying digital services to make them plug-and-play, enabling smooth and predictable integration among fast-evolving technologies.
What Is an API?
APIs act as bridges between software programs, providing gateways to powerful functionality created, secured, and maintained by software developers. They are effectively software toolkits that let applications communicate with one another to exchange data based on service requests. APIs abstract and standardize communication between applications, letting applications evolve independently and quickly without breaking their connections to one another. As long as an API’s structure and behavior don’t change, the underlying software can change frequently, such as fixing bugs and adding new features.
APIs allow programming teams to focus on what’s most important to them, while leaving other technical puzzles and challenges for other specialized teams and organizations to solve and manage. They also drive business innovation by providing customers with choice and keeping service markets competitive and affordable. Using APIs lets programmers simplify and isolate parts of their programs that invoke specialized functionality.
Many modern businesses, such as insurance underwriters, banks, credit card providers, logistics and transportation companies, provide APIs to integrate and simplify the use of their services by customers, resellers, and partners. Most of today’s best-known online services provide public APIs that let other applications leverage their features at low or no cost, such as maps, translations, and social media sites.
APIs Integrate Apps With Standardized Communication
- APIs are standardized methods for one software program to access information and services from another software program.
- APIs act as bridges between software programs, providing gateways to powerful functionality that is created, secured, and maintained by software developers.
- Data from APIs allow IT teams to focus on what’s most important to them
- APIs drive business innovation by providing customers with actionable data within systems they trust.
- Many modern businesses provide APIs to integrate and simplify the use of their services.
- Most of today’s best-known online services provide public APIs that let other applications leverage their features.
APIs can be classified into different types based on their usage and functionality. Here are the explanations of the different types of APIs:
- Local APIs: These are also known as "internal" or "in-process" APIs, and they are used for communication between software components within the same system. Local APIs are typically faster and more efficient than other types of APIs, as they do not need to make network calls or deal with remote servers.
- Remote APIs: These are used for communication between software components that are not on the same system, and they typically involve network calls over the internet. Remote APIs are commonly used in web applications, mobile apps, and other distributed systems to integrate with external services.
- Synchronous APIs: These APIs require the requesting application to wait for a response from the API before continuing with its operations. This means that the requesting application will be blocked until the API returns a response. Synchronous APIs are commonly used when immediate responses are required or when the API call is short.
- Asynchronous APIs: These APIs do not require the requesting application to wait for a response from the API before continuing with its operations. Instead, the API call is made in the background, and the requesting application is notified when the API returns a response. Asynchronous APIs are commonly used when longer processing times are expected or when the API call may take some time to complete.
How Do APIs Work?
APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, work by allowing different software systems to communicate with each other. APIs act as a bridge between the application that requests information or a service, and the application that provides it. When one application sends a request to another application via an API, it expects to receive a response in return.
Here are the key components and concepts of how APIs work:
- Authentication and Access: In order to use an API, a user or application must first authenticate itself and obtain proper access credentials. This is usually done through an API key or access token, which is issued by the API provider to authorized users. Authentication and access control are critical components of API security.
- Requests: An API request is a message sent by a client application to the server application that hosts the API. The request typically contains information about the data or service being requested, along with any necessary parameters. The API provider then processes the request and generates a response.
- Response: An API response is a message sent by the server application back to the client application that made the request. The response typically contains the requested data or service, along with any metadata or additional information about the response.
- Errors: In case something goes wrong during the request-response cycle, the API may return an error response. Error responses can occur for a variety of reasons, such as invalid input data, server errors, or authentication issues. Error responses often include a status code and a message describing the problem.
- Not Found Errors: This error occurs when the requested resource or endpoint is not available on the server. This can happen when the API endpoint or URL is incorrect or when the server has removed or changed the resource.
- Permission Errors: This error occurs when the user or application does not have the necessary permissions or access credentials to perform a certain action or access a certain resource. This can happen when the API key or access token is invalid or when the user is not authorized to access the resource.
- Parameter Errors: This error occurs when the client sends incorrect or invalid parameters in the API request. This can happen when the client sends incorrect data type, missing or invalid parameters, or when the values of the parameters are out of range.
- Transaction-Specific Errors: This error occurs when there is an issue with the transaction itself, such as a payment failure or a database error. These errors can occur due to a variety of reasons, such as network connectivity issues, insufficient funds, or database constraints.
Benefits of APIs
APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, offer numerous benefits to developers, businesses, and end-users. Here are some of the key benefits of using APIs:
- Alerts and Alarms: APIs can be used to create and trigger alerts and alarms that notify users or applications about important events or changes. This can help businesses and developers stay informed about critical information and respond quickly to issues or opportunities.
- Faster App Development: APIs enable developers to leverage existing services and functionality, which can significantly speed up app development. By using APIs, developers can focus on building unique features and functionality for their app, instead of re-inventing the wheel.
- Application Interchangeability: APIs enable applications to be easily swapped or replaced without requiring significant changes to the underlying system. This makes it easier for businesses to adopt new technologies or services, without disrupting existing workflows.
- AI Integrations: APIs can be used to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) services and functionality into applications. This can include things like natural language processing, image recognition, and predictive analytics.
- BI Integrations: APIs can be used to integrate business intelligence (BI) services and functionality into applications. This can include things like data visualization, data analysis, and reporting.
- AIOps Integrations: APIs can be used to integrate AIOps (Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations) services and functionality into applications. This can include things like automated monitoring, predictive analytics, and incident management.
APIs from 7SIGNAL can be used to optimize Wi-Fi networks in a variety of ways, including troubleshooting, monitoring, and optimization. Here are some specific use cases for 7SIGNAL APIs:
Troubleshooting: 7SIGNAL APIs can be used to collect troubleshooting data issues from enterprise Wi-Fi networks. That data can be sent to ticketing systems like ServiceNow or alerting systems like Slack. For example, APIs can be used to alert on the digital experiences of end users or to identify sources of Wi-Fi interference. Or API data can be used to identify devices that are consuming too much bandwidth or causing network congestion.
Monitoring: 7SIGNAL API data can be used to monitor the performance of Wi-Fi networks over time. For example, APIs can be used to track the number of connected devices, the amount of data being transmitted, and the overall quality of the Wi-Fi and wireless endpoints. This data can be used to identify trends and patterns in network performance, which can help businesses optimize their Wi-Fi networks.
Optimization: 7SIGNAL APIs can be used to optimize Wi-Fi networks for specific use cases or applications. For example, APIs can be used to alert on certain types of network traffic (such as video or voice traffic) over others. API data can also be used to adjust the transmit power or channel width of Wi-Fi access points to improve network performance for end users.
Who Creates APIs?
APIs are created by software developers or development teams who design and build software applications, services, or platforms. The API is usually developed as a component of the software system, enabling it to be integrated with other systems or applications. APIs can be created by developers working on various types of software projects, including web applications, mobile apps, desktop software, operating systems, cloud platforms, and more.
APIs are typically designed and developed to expose specific functionality or services to other developers, applications, or systems. This can include data retrieval, data processing, authentication, communication protocols, and more. APIs are often designed to be modular and reusable, allowing developers to easily integrate them into their own applications or services.
APIs can be created by individual developers or teams within a company, or by third-party developers who provide APIs for public use. Some companies even provide APIs for their customers or partners to use, allowing them to integrate with their software systems and services. Overall, the creation of APIs requires a deep understanding of software development principles, programming languages, data structures, and communication protocols, among other technical skills.
Types of APIs
- REST APIs (Representational State Transfer): These APIs use HTTP requests to access and manipulate data. REST APIs are commonly used in web development to expose data and functionality to other applications and services. They rely on a standard set of HTTP methods, such as GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE, to perform operations on resources.
- SOAP APIs (Simple Object Access Protocol): These APIs use XML-based messaging protocols to access and manipulate data. SOAP APIs are commonly used in enterprise software development, where reliability and security are important. They rely on a standard set of SOAP messages to perform operations on resources.
- GraphQL APIs: These APIs use a query language to access and manipulate data. GraphQL APIs are commonly used in web development to provide more flexibility and efficiency in data retrieval. They enable developers to request only the data they need, and can combine data from multiple sources into a single response.
- Real-Time APIs: These APIs provide real-time data and functionality to other applications and services. Real-time APIs are commonly used in chat applications, gaming, and financial services where low latency is critical. They rely on technologies like WebSockets to provide fast, bi-directional communication between client and server.
- RPC APIs (Remote Procedure Call): These APIs allow applications to call functions or procedures on remote servers or systems. RPC APIs are commonly used in distributed systems and microservices architecture, where different services need to communicate with each other to perform specific tasks.
Purpose of APIs
Software development has always been a very time-consuming, technical undertaking. The original purpose of APIs was to make software development faster and more efficient by enabling the effective reuse of software code. For example, if a team of expert payments software developers writes a program for credit card transaction processing within a large company, then every other group in that company that wishes to accept credit cards can reuse that code.
Over time, as software became more important for businesses and the economy at large, that same purpose has expanded. It has helped create a kind of “federated” business, in which new business ideas supported by API-based services can be brought to market rapidly and tried out at relatively low cost. In addition, the “technical” bar has lowered, with modern APIs allowing software developers with less knowledge and experience to still make major contributions to their company.
How Can Businesses Use APIs?
Today, businesses of any kind or size can find practical benefits to using APIs, often for many different purposes. While they may seem like something primarily tech companies should pay attention to, APIs are now available for services that virtually any type of business, in any industry, will find extremely valuable.
For example, nearly all businesses now have websites, which they analyze using services such as Google Analytics that employ APIs to track traffic. Other APIs provide the reports and analytics the business requires. Ecommerce sites use APIs to access logistics, payments and shipping services; banks use APIs to help customers download their financial information to popular personal finance apps or websites for analysis; and marketers use APIs when sending email blasts via marketing automation solutions.
API Use Cases
There are literally an unlimited number of use cases for APIs, ranging from a startup that can rapidly develop a minimally viable product by leveraging services available via APIs over the internet, to a local used-car dealer incorporating order-status reporting functionality into its website from a remote source. Here’s an overview of some of the major categories of API use cases:
Component/microservice APIs. Modern business applications are often designed not as monolithic, complex, do-everything units of software, but as collections of smaller, simpler components that each do one thing well and provide APIs to coordinate with complementary solutions. Often referred to as “microservices architecture,” this way of building software enables easier and more flexible scaling and efficient use of compute and other resources.
Cloud service APIs. Cloud computing providers let developers and businesses leverage software-based “virtual machines” that work like physical computers, connect them with one another using virtual networks and take advantage of a host of additional services, all charged on a pay-for-use or subscription basis. There are extensive APIs that let customers automate the cloud data center, setting up and tearing down fleets of virtual machines and other resources very quickly in response to changing business conditions and application traffic requirements.
Payment APIs. Anyone who runs an online store quickly learns about the importance of payment APIs in secure credit card transactions. Selecting the appropriate APIs builds customer trust, protects businesses against the liabilities associated with credit card misuse and storage of payment card information and directly impacts the bottom line in several ways. For example, it can accelerate funds availability or reduce profits by taking fees.
Shipping APIs. Integrating web and customer service/operations workstation software with shipping APIs provided by major carriers (USPS, FedEx, UPS) enables scheduled pickups, supplies ordering, more accurate projections of delivery dates, error-free billing and package tracking, among other services.
Mapping APIs. Google Maps, Apple Maps and many other providers offer a wide range of location, routing, trip guidance and coordinated marketing services via APIs. Applications and websites can access these services to provide maps to visitors; route them from place to place; help them locate devices, vehicles or other inventory; and/or promote shopping, restaurants, hospitality and other services to nearby potential customers.
Supply chain APIs. Once available only to the largest companies, supply chain APIs are now available to smaller players in many industries. A plumbing or lighting company or a small general contractor can now easily purchase operations software that integrates with public APIs from distributors and suppliers to help ensure customers always know where orders stand and where required inventory may be available.
Banking APIs. Integrations between popular accounting software and APIs provided by banks, credit card companies and other entities can simplify reconciliation of accounts, enable electronic payments and make tax filings a breeze. They also ensure users are always viewing the latest financial numbers.
SaaS service APIs. Software-based, internet-accessible business services are increasingly central to many organizations’ most important commercial activities. For example, Oracle Marketing provides a full suite of services for defining, populating, executing and measuring results from marketing campaigns in the cloud. Its Eloqua Marketing Automation software provides a comprehensive API that customers can use to manage and extend the service suite and/or integrate it with other applications.
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