What is an API and why do we need it?
The abbreviation API is found almost everywhere - from application descriptions to Internet protocols. But few entrepreneurs can explain what an API is, even if they know that their own website cannot fully work without this software standard.
Meanwhile, the simplest offline analogue of such a utility is a USB adapter that allows you to use random charging for a smartphone of any model. Why this is so, and how it is used in digital - we tell in the article.
What is an API in simple terms?
API ( Application Programming Interface) is a special interface, the main purpose of which is to introduce the functions of a third-party application into a specific product, usually a website. It does this by associating the components of such a product with the components of the application.
Any computer or other device with which the user performs actions on the Internet interacts with certain programs through the API.
For example, when you need to make a payment on a commercial website or determine the route to the office using an online map. The website owner does not need to develop their own payment or map service as they simply use the API to communicate with already existing third-party services.
The term API is also used when you speak:
- about some independent part of the application;
- about the application as a whole;
- about a piece of software that allows you to implement a specific function;
- about ways of information exchange;
- about the server with all the functionality.
In a broad sense, an API is a set of functions or components that allows you to quickly perform a number of specific tasks when autonomous programs interact.
How API works
The interface is a kind of layer between the two applications. There are processes that allow:
- exchange information between applications;
- perform functions that are relevant to both applications.
At the same time, neither utility affects the internal structure of the other. The API requires no information about the device, nor about the program logic and functionality of the applications that it connects to work. In the language of developers this is called encapsulation, partial hiding of functions in order to simplify the work of software and reduce the likelihood of failures.
There are rules by which services interact through the API in order to produce the desired result. They require:
- The processes by which an API is used by a program.
- A set of data that the interface passes in order for the function to be executed.
- A set of data that the program will receive as a result of processing through the API.
In addition, security measures are used to keep sensitive information about applications. Including the provision of access to them only with the consent of their creators. If the API stops working, then all programs, services and tools that are associated with it will be disconnected.
There are several types of programming interfaces. So, according to the type of access to data, they are classified into:
- public - created to develop and promote web products (applications, services) in order to increase sales;
- internal - used only within companies to solve internal problems (debug processes, reduce costs);
- partner - are developed when creating products for partners and clients of companies.
Various companies use the API to fully work with their own data and data from customers or partner systems. The interface graphically describes the tools of the application, and based on such a ready-made solution with functionality and a set of tools, you can create other solutions for other applications.
Why API is needed in the digital sphere
With these utilities, developers can:
1. Increase software reliability. No need to access and understand the logic and implementation of low-level functions. The security of internal and external tasks solved by the program is increased, including the risk of errors due to the human factor.
2. Simplify and speed up the process of creating new software. So, nothing prevents you from using a proven API of a third-party neural network for implementation in your software - instead of creating your own machine learning system from scratch.
3. Facilitate the configuration of links between programs and services from different manufacturers, without contact with their authors and owners. For example, it is easy to organize the connection of users with their bank accounts through payment systems.
4. Ensure profit growth (indirectly). For each request that third-party applications implement using the API, you can charge a fee. For example, when converting files to various formats or determining the weather for a day (week, month).
5. Reduce the cost of creating software, and hence its cost.
The list of API functions is determined by the developers themselves. You can either offer it as a separate product or solve specific problems:
- Work with graphic, video, audio information. So, the Canvas or WebGl utilities visualize two- and three X-dimensional graphics.
- Work with documents, for example, experiment with the look of a web page thanks to the Document Object Model utility.
- Receive various data from the server - cartographic, financial (exchange rates), weather.
- Read information from various devices. For example, to read the location when creating a navigator.
- Store user information. The Web Storage API provides the client with more data storage than cookies.
Why do we need an application programming interface that allows developers to quickly create convenient services for their own and other people's projects? It has many useful features:
- Acceleration of software development processes.
- Easily add third-party options to apps and websites.
- Improving the security of software operation (for owners and users).
- Acceleration of data aggregation from various Internet sources.
- Saving company resources.