What is an API?
An API is the short for Application Programming Interface. It is a set of protocols, tools and subroutine definitions that helps in building application software. In simpler terms, it narrates a clear set of methods that helps in building application software. These can be web-based, or specific to a particular platform. Everybody has it – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple etc.
This programming interface makes the programmer’s task simple. And for the users too. They dont have to worry about how the code is written, or how it will work, when they sign up in Facebook or Google. All the information that your user gives during the sign up to Google is done with the help of API.
To make this concept even simple, here is an example. You have to book a flight to Dubai. You visit Makemytrip website and choose a flight, and book tickets. You don’t have to go to the website of the concerned airline to book the tickets. You remain in the Makemytrip website and book tickets.
But have you ever given a second thought on how you did it without having the need to visit the original website of the airline? Yes, it is done through API, the interface that manages all your needs and returns with the required results.
The APIs are free, but many can be bought too. To ensure the ones you use are safe and poses no threat to the security of your users, you may have to use the API Key.
The working of Application Programming Interface
To make this interface programming function, you need to have two elements. The first element specifies the information exchange between programs (where the data is sent for processing and a result is returned, also in the form of data). The second element is the software interface written to a particular interface and published.
An API is a specification that contains the specification of the different interactions with a software component. However, this helps in providing greater levels of security as well.
For example, the data in your phone is never fully exposed to the server. Similarly, the data in the server never fully reaches the phone. The data that is sent back and forth between the phone and the server is sent in small packets, so only what needs to be sent will be sent.
Design of API is important because the applications that publish APIs are written in a programming language. But they are general and additional validation of API structure is important. The software architects spend a great deal of time perfecting the architecture of the interface because, having a good design is crucial. There are must be a match/relation between the publisher and the caller of the API, so they check on the parameter values and data structures unless it is perfect.
How this can help your users
Your users can do their tasks easier while using the mobile application or website. For example, if you are running an educational portal, and you have users creating accounts everyday. You need to track their progress and follow their activities. You can opt to have an elaborate sign in page that normally users dread using, or you can integrate the sign up page with a social media profile.
Suppose you sync their sign in page with their Facebook profile, you can get them to sign in quickly. It saves time for you and it saves time for the user. The automatic sign in with Facebook profile happens seamlessly with Facebook API.
You can do this in the same manner depending on what kind of business you run. Suppose you have a hotel in Kerala, you can contact the tourism information website, and reach an agreement with them to include information about your hotel in it. So when users visit the tourism website they can see your hotel featured in it. This is done with the help of an API.
Depending on what kind of API you need, you can choose either Private or Public APIs. The private ones are meant for company developers and not meant for third parties . Public APIs are meant for access by third-party developers, and there will be integration with other parties. Data can be shared from one API to another, and that will not always be secure.
- Automation – Through automation, machines are now handling what was once done manually. This increases productivity because workflows are faster too.
- New data available – Through API, visitors can have access to information that’s generated at government levels too. Earlier, this was available only to a select few.
- Efficiency – This interface allows for greater levels of efficiency because automatic content generation and publication is possible. This also allows for information to be shared and distributed among different people.
- Personalisation – Companies can personalise and customise the content and services and tweak them to serve their goals. You can dynamically change your content depending on what the user needs. This kind of content personalisation backend proccess can also be called social filtering. It simply means that it looks at the recommendations made by previous users and make suggestions to new visitors. Perhaps, this is based on the general belief that people are curious to find out other people also think about the content.
- Adaptation – Web pages have to change with the passage of time, and APIs help anticipate them. Service provision is flexible and data migration support is better.
- Integration – Integrating APIs into an application is a very important feature in a mobile and web application. This would help in collecting cloud apps, so you can meet the needs of your customers. With the help of an API integration platform you can instantly create new ones, from the existing one. And this a time and money saver because you don’t have to built anything from scratch, just take what is there in the existing technology and develop a new one.
Having a new and effective API can help existing and new customers more reasons to interact with your business and to relate with it on a personal level. All the barriers to data are removed because this technique allows for machine to machine querying, thereby saving time and money on data duplication.
Pictures: Flickr.com/ Mike MacKenzie
The author: Reema Oamkumar is engaged as a thought leader at www.Software-Developer-India.com which is a part of the YUHIRO Group. YUHIRO is a German-Indian enterprise which provides programmers to IT companies, agencies and IT departments.