What is an API?

API Graphic

5 Aug 2021

Jonathan Ward

API stands for “Application Programming Interface” it is simply a way for computer programs to talk to each other. APIs let your product or service communicate with other products and services without having to know how they’re implemented.

What is API Development?

Have you ever found yourself Googling ‘API’ and suddenly found yourself drowning in a sea of acronyms, technical jargon, and unhelpful explanations? You start asking yourself questions like should I be taking a REST or using SOAP? What is a WSDL, and why do I need to put one in my SOAP? Is an RPC like an RPG, how do I level up? If that situation sounds familiar Reach are here to help you understand exactly what API developments are, where they are used and how your business could benefit from using them.

API stands for “Application Programming Interface” it is simply a way for computer programs to talk to each other. APIs let your product or service communicate with other products and services without having to know how they’re implemented.

If you ever must explain it to someone else, or even if you just need a way of understanding the concept better, look at the analogy in the quote below:

In simple words, an application programming interface lets you establish a connection or link between two different types of software. For instance, your computer has a USB port, which is essentially meant for connecting USB storage devices such as flash drives or USB hard disks. However, you can connect virtually any type of USB hardware to the port-printers, smartphones, tablets, and so on. As such, think of the USB port as an API for letting you connect different types of devices to your computer and allowing your computer to interact with the concerned devices accordingly. Much like a USB port facilitates the exchange of data between two physical devices, an API facilitates the exchange of data between two different types of software.

Learning WordPress REST API by Sufyan Bin Uzayr

APIs are used in almost all software, websites, mobile apps and even computer games. Let’s have a look at an API you’re probably familiar with:

API Example

Have you ever seen a screen like this? You can see the log-in with X, Y or Z buttons, those buttons use Facebook, Apple, and Google’s APIs to allow users to verify their identity. They essentially let you skip entering a username and password by using one of the other accounts to prove that you are who you say you are. The way it works is straight forward. Every time the application loads, it uses the API to check whether the user is already logged in by means of whatever social media platform. If not, when the user clicks the “Log-in Using XYZ” button, a pop-up opens where they are asked to confirm they want to log-in with that social media profile. When the user confirms, the API provides the application with identification information, so it knows who’s logging in.

Common Uses for APIs

APIs play a huge role in today’s economy, although we may not notice them, APIs really are everywhere, powering our lives from behind the scenes. From logging in via Facebook (mentioned above) to paying with Paypal there is no doubt in our minds that you have seen these application programming interfaces somewhere!

We have put together a list of everyday situations in which APIs are used:

  • Weather Apps – Ever searched for the weather on Google or a weather app? These apps are not collecting weather data by themselves, they will be gathering that information through an API of a weather service such as the Met Office.
  • eCommerce – PayPal sound familiar? The API for PayPal works similarly to the third-party log-in API mentioned above, the store doesn’t directly access your PayPal account. It instead sends the purchase order to the PayPal API and PayPal handles the rest of the transaction.
  • Amazon’s Alexa – We all know Alexa has mad skills; she is your very own at-home concierge. Want to know what the weather is like? How to make a Victoria sponge? Remind you about that meeting next week? She has got you covered but not without the help of a whole host of APIs.
  • Google Maps – Google Maps makes a host of customisable, easy-to-implement, agile APIs that businesses can use to optimise their location data and services to connect with all areas of their business.

It is important to recognise that APIs are used behind the scenes for a whole lot more than the above examples. This is particularly true within the corporate sector were storing and exchanging data is crucial to everyday operations.

Here are just a few examples of APIs that work behind the scenes:

  • Streaming Services – Netflix, Spotify and other streaming services must distribute media to nearly any device. The user could be using a PC, an iPad/tablet, mobile phone, smart TV, or something else and the user will expect the service to be able to stream the content appropriately. Streaming services achieve this by using an API to ensure their content is compatible with any device. 
  • Automotive – Companies such as Tesla send software updates via APIs. Others use APIs to unlock car data for third parties.
  • Financial Institutions – Your bank uses private internal APIs to handle all aspects of your finances such as managing checking accounts, credit cards and more.
  • Web Applications – Web Applications use APIs to connect user-facing front ends with all-important back-end functionality and data.

Benefits of using APIs to your enterprise

You may be wondering: why is an API needed? Or how do APIs help businesses? To answer such questions, we have outlined a few benefits you can expect when using an API.

  • Promotes innovation – APIs have led to rapid innovation as those who know, can utilise it it to create solutions for newer things happen. As needs change APIs help to support unanticipated future uses.
  • Integration and Personalisation – One size does not fit all, by integrating your application with a third party you can gain deeper insight about the users and how they interact with the application thus improving their experience.
  • Efficiency/Automatisation – APIs can reduce the number of tasks an employee has to do on the web platform. Those tasks can be programmed and executed from a computer which increases efficiency of workflow.
  • Apps – Providing API access to information or a service sets up the use of that information or service in mobile apps.

Every business can benefit from integrating their website and systems with third party applications.

From our pioneering development on multiple web-based applications, eCommerce projects and dedicated mobile apps, we have built a multitude of APIs and integrations for a variety of independent systems and external companies.

Platforms we have integrated with by API

Below are a few examples of the types of APIs we have successfully integrated for our clients.

API Integrations

Get in touch with our custom API developers to find out how our custom API development services can help you.

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