This article intends to make APIs simpler and more relatable! Do let us know which part did you find interesting :)

Since there's a lot that has to be covered I have divided this into two sets of blogs; in this blog, we have covered:

  • Introduction to APIs
  • Types of APIs
    • What is an API key?
    • What is an API call?
  • Popular APIs
  • The API value chain
  • Why do companies build APIs?
  • API and Quickwork

Introduction to APIs

API stands for application programming interface. This is a way of making a business service or enterprise asset available to those developing an app. Modern-day tech connects people and information in many ways. Applications can be accessed from various devices, mobile phones, gaming systems, cars, and much more. Google Maps APIs are great for navigation, Facebook APIs for gaming/sharing content, and Amazon APIs for product information, and these are just a few examples of APIs.

An API provides an interface for consumer applications to interact with enterprise services over a network

APIs can drive innovation in the age of digital everything. Developers have different choices for APIs as they build apps with user experiences that are innovative and enriching. Developers can use APIs to build an app that compares prices of the same hotel from different travel companies. For example, developers can use APIs from Expedia, Skyscanner, and other travel companies to build an app that displays how much each travel company will charge for a hotel room.

The user can then make an informed decision about which hotel to book as accurately comparing offers can be a headache. That's why online booking sites such as Trivago provide a solution with APIs. The user can check which offer is the best through a third-party website, saving him from doing the research independently. These APIs, in turn, provide a better experience for users like us because we don't need to do all the work.

APIs are a lot like the phone lines you use to call someone. Over the internet, applications can send information to each other without user interaction. Let's say you want to book a hotel room. Your travel company sends your credit card information to the hotel's reservation system when you book it online. This blocks the room for you, and nobody else can use it. Then the payment application interacts with a remote banking application to validate the credit card and process the payment. If the payment goes through, you’ve reserved your hotel room! The process for booking a room with a travel portal involves the API of the travel site and the hotel itself. As a customer, you never see how this information is transmitted to the hotel. You only need to enter your reservation and payment information into one website and click “submit.”

But if we look behind the scenes, APIs are at work. An API “exposes” some of your business functions to the outside world in a limited fashion, making it easy for other applications to share your services, assets, and data without having to share the code. APIs are a type of bridge to the inner workings of an application. It defines how the program will interact with other applications and resources, saving time and preventing legal issues.

Related reading: What is application integration and how to achieve enterprise-level efficiency

Types of APIs

A widely used way of categorizing APIs is into public and private. When we say "public," it's available to all for use. Private APIs are just for a specific group.  Private APIs can be a useful tool for internal use within an organization. They can also be used for integrating with B2B partners. An API for partner integrations is also known as a Partner API. Internal APIs can be used to build mobile apps for the company's use or to streamline internal application integrations.  Public APIs are a way for people outside of your organization to create apps. Internal developers can access them within an organization and the broader developer community that wants to build apps using them.

By opening up to new app developers, public APIs can support an organization's core business, which is always a good thing. Open developers can use their imaginations to develop some pretty cool apps that make use of public APIs. The company also benefits from more people using its products and services because of the created apps.

What is an API contract?

The API contract is an agreement between the provider of the service and the consumer. This can include things like the definition and terms of service, agreements about uptime and availability, licensing agreements for use of the service, pricing and support models, and more.

What is an API key?

API keys act as a form of authentication. They can be sent to the API in a variety of ways, such as a query string (a set of data passed from one computer to another via the internet), a request header (data sent at the beginning of an HTTP request), or as a cookie (data stored on a user's computer). When companies create their API, they can use these keys to limit who can access it, keep track of who is using it, and block or throttle users if they exceed the allotted limits.

What is an API call?

Whenever a program uses a function that is not part of the main code, it makes an API call. It’s usually when a program is asking an outside application or server to perform a task. For example, if a program needs to open a new file window, it will ask the operating system to open one.

The history of web APIs dates back to 2005. Over the last 16 years, the growth in the number of APIs has accelerated. There are more than 24,000 APIs on ProgrammableWeb under various categories. The number of private APIs is estimated to be 10 to 15 times greater than this.

There are many APIs, but some of the very popular ones are Facebook, Google, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram. Here is a list of some of the most popular APIs.

  1. Facebook APIs provide an opportunity for developers to build apps for Facebook users and form connections. These connections can be used to build more engaging applications, which are made possible by the profile information provided by Facebook APIs.  The Facebook API home page is at https://developers.facebook.com.
  2. Google APIs are what developers use to communicate with Google's services such as Search, Translate, Gmail, Maps, social, and advertising. For example, the Google+ APIs are used to include a "Sign in with Google" button on mobile apps. The Google API home page is at https://developers.google.com.
  3. Yelp APIs provide rich content about businesses near you globally. Yelp APIs offer Yelp rating, reviews, photos, and more. The API uses the RESTful protocol and responses are in JSON format. Yelp is protected by a secure authentication protocol, which means they know how to keep your information safe. The Yelp API home page is at https://www.yelp.com/developers/.
  4. Instagram APIs are a way to display Instagram photos on your site. To access them, go to https://www.instagram.com/developer/.
  5. Twitter provides a variety of APIs. REST APIs provide programmatic access to user timelines, status updates, and core data. Search APIs help retrieve tweets with specific filters. Streaming APIs deliver new responses over a long-lasting connection. It helps receive updates on the latest tweets matching a search query. The Twitter API homepage is at https://dev.twitter.com.
  6. Google's YouTube API, an outgrowth of the company's API offerings, makes it possible for developers to integrate YouTube videos and features into websites and apps. Video APIs are YouTube Analytics, YouTube Data, YouTube Live Streaming, YouTube Player, and many more. The YouTube API homepage is at https://developers.google.com/youtube/
  7. Amazon offers many engaging integrations for developers to use. The Amazon In-App Purchasing API is one such integration, which allows developers to use a variety of Amazon services such as targeted messages and sync game data across devices. They also offer other integrations such as push notifications to send targeted messages, retention and login services, and more. More information about the Amazon APIs and its developer program can be found at https://developer.amazon.com/.

Related reading: Integration platform as a service (iPaaS): What is it, the benefits and how to choose the best one

The API Value Chain

APIs are the digital gateway to your business. An API is a set of programming instructions that other developers can use to access and manage your business assets. To understand the API value chain, you need to identify the actors involved at each step.

Your business has an asset that other companies might find helpful. You decide to put it out there for people to use, and this is the start of our API Value Chain. The asset can be data or any business functionality you want to share. For example, the asset could be product information, customer information, Twitter feeds, postal tracking information, payment, and banking services.

The following questions might help understand the value of the asset:  

What business asset is being exposed as an API, and what is the value to its owner?
What benefits would the provider get by creating a channel for using the assets via API?
Who are the asset’s potential users, and how would the end-users get access to the assets?
What benefits would the end-user get by using the asset? Of what potential value could these assets be to the others?
How easily can the end-user access and use it?

The value of the asset determines the success of the API. Exposing the assets to others should also benefit the owner.

Once you’ve identified an asset, the next step is to create an API for it. API providers are responsible for designing a user-friendly API so that it can be used easily. In most cases, the asset owner is themselves the API provider. This means that the API benefits the owner directly.  Sometimes, an asset owner may have a deal in place with another organization to create an API. In these cases, the rewards are split up between the owner and the API provider.

App developers first assess the APIs and chooses which ones will be best for a given app. They then use these APIs to create apps.

There are two types of apps created by developers - the mobile or web-based app. The end-user should have access to these apps to add value to the business.

The end-user is the final actor in the API value chain. They are the ones who use your app. They might use it on their smartphones, tablets, desktops, cars, or other connected devices like kiosks.

Why do companies build APIs?

APIs are the backbone of digital business. The asset being exposed as an API is important and should depend on the kind of business you're running. The data, business logic, or presentation can all be exposed via an API, and each type of business model requires a different approach.

Businesses can build APIs for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  1. Growing new business/marketing opportunities
  2. Opening up new marketing channels
  3. Improving customer reach and loyalty
  4. Accelerating time to market

As APIs help businesses grow, there are many different business models you could adopt. The model to choose from depends on what you're trying to achieve. For instance, if your goal is to make money, you may be more interested in a paid model. However, if your goal is to make it easier for other developers to use your API, then a free or developer-paid model might be better.

APIs and Quickwork

APIs are merely one tool of many that are necessary in this new era to help businesses improve their customer experience and streamline their operations. As the demand for better customer experiences and more applications grows, so does the need for better business practices to support them.

With growing demands, a move towards automation is necessary. The best way to start is by working on small, successful projects to scale and optimize for other processes and parts of the company.

With the help of Quickwork, you will be able to access our prebuilt workflows, which include AI-powered automation capabilities to make processes smarter. This will allow you to accelerate innovation and create more intelligent processes.

Get started with Quickwork today!

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Related reading: FinTech revolution: Open Banking with APIs & iPaaS