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A Brief Guide to Everything You Need to Know About APIsby@vishaalgrizzly
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A Brief Guide to Everything You Need to Know About APIs

by Vishaal GrizzlyJuly 25th, 2022
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API stands for Application Programming Interface. API provides applications with a standardized way to communicate with each other and exchange information. The types of API can be categorized into three types based on the availability and release policies: Private/Internal APIs, Partner APIs, and Public/External/Open APIs. Composite APIs combine different data and services to improve the overall performance and execution process. APIs unify many processes to speed up the operations for better a user experience, improve the productivity of users and improve end-user satisfaction.

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API stands for Application Programming Interface. It may sound like something out of a glossary of technical terms. Even if you don’t know what it exactly means and how it works, you are unconsciously using it in everyday life.

You track the live location of a delivery partner carrying your favorite snack for your midnight cravings with Google Maps on an app. You log in with Facebook or Google credentials to save yourself the hassles of creating an account on each platform. In all these everyday activities, APIs are working in the background.

So what exactly is an API, How does it make our lives easier

API provides applications with a standardized way to communicate with each other and exchange information. APIs will act as the messenger to deliver requests and responses between both ends. APIs will return an error message if the resource requested by the user does not exist or is inaccessible.

What are the characteristics of API

Introduced as a generic connectivity interface, APIs have come a long way in the information technology sector.

● Internet standards like HTTP and REST adhere to modern APIs making them comprehensive and accessible to users

● Since it is basically software, it has its own software development cycle (SLDC)

● APIs unify many processes to speed up the operations for better a user experience

● APIs support pagination feature to deal efficiently with large data records

What are the types of API

APIs can be categorized into three types based on the availability and release policies:

1. Private/Internal APIs

They are mostly used within the organization as they are typically developed for the employees to be used in the in-house applications or tools.

2. Partner APIs

They are only aimed at business partners and customers or clients will be the end-users. They are often used for software integration between two organizations.

3. Public/External/Open APIs

These APIs are typically developed for the public and will be available to any third-party developer. They have the most accessible release policy and can be further categorized as Open APIs and Commercial APIs.

4. Composite APIs

It combines different data and services to improve the overall performance and execution process. It can execute a series of requests in a single call.

What is an API call

It is the process of submitting a request to the server's API from the client to retrieve information. As applications communicate with each other in the background, the process will seem instantaneous for the user.

What is an API key

It is a unique identifier used to authenticate calls to the other end. They are made up of unique strings and numbers that help in ensuring that the servers’ resources are used only by a specific set of clients.

Still confused about how APIs work? Let us put all these terminologies to use in a real-world scenario.

Imagine walking inside a movie theater to buy tickets in which you will represent the customer, the theater will be the server, and the ticket counter will be the API. You need a ticket to watch a movie and your interaction with the server-side begins and ends at the ticket counter.

Typically you will pay at the ticket counter and get the ticket to enter the screen. You will not get to see exactly how the theater benefits from your money and how the share is divided between the stakeholders for mutual benefit.

However, if there are issues with the seating capacity due to the enormous crowd, you will have to reserve the tickets earlier and will get an exclusive QR code. This QR code will be exclusive to you and can be compared to an API key.

As the theater (client) provided an exclusive QR code (API key) to every customer, they will not be facing issues with handling the crowd (incoming resources).

What are the benefits of APIs for businesses

● They are highly valuable to increase user engagement and functionality

● They help speed up the process

● They can be easily modified based on the requirements rather than writing the entire code

● They can be developed easily as the team will not be starting from scratch

How do APIs benefit the users

● By speeding up the process, they improve the productivity of users

● The functionalities can improve user engagement and end-user satisfaction

● Bridges the gap between multiple applications by seamless integration

Now that you have a vague idea of APIs and their benefits, let us take a look at their applications

What are the applications of API

● Data sharing

● Embedded content

● Internal system access

● Application integrations

Despite having so many benefits and functionalities, APIs have a set of cons to keep the developers on their feet.

What are the cons of APIs

● APIs will not provide efficient protection against threats as a gateway.

● If an API is breached, other apps will also be vulnerable to attacks.

● Although they are easy to develop, they are complicated to manage in the long term.

● Require a high level of expertise to handle.

● Cannot be expected to be stable in every scenario.

Now that you have a clear view of APIs, let us move on to some of the popular APIs in the real world and where they are being used.

Twitter APIs

Twitter offers APIs that can help to dive into its deep archives, opening up a ton of possibilities for the applications. It is up to the development team to harness the potential of APIs in the global communication sector to optimize the application for a better user experience.

Instagram APIs

The recent updates pushed by Instagram are helping businesses to reach out to customers in a whole new way. Applications enable customers to plug into the Instagram account effortlessly to share its user-generated content for various purposes.

Google Maps APIs

Google Maps API is a must-have for businesses that have location-based apps. The integration of Google Maps APIs has taken the on-demand service industry to a whole new level. With the high level of functionality offered by the API, businesses are able to operate hassle-free.

Now let us have a brief look at making an API call as a step-by-step process.

How to make API calls

Step 1

Find the URL of the server or external program from which the data will be accessed.

Step 2

Add a request verb to formulate the API request.

Here are the basic request verbs:

➔ GET - To retrieve a resource from the server

➔ PUT - To retrieve or edit an existing resource

➔ DELETE - To erase a resource

➔ POST - To create a resource (new)

After adding the request verb, the request will look something like this. This is an example of a request for seating availability in a movie theater.

GET

https://api.bookmyshow.com/api/alt-seats-availability/v1/nearest.json?api_key=XXXXXXXXX&lo cation=Chennai

Step 3

Include a header in your API request

There are three types of headers - Content type, user agent, and accept. It helps the API to understand the request and responds in a way that’s easy to understand.

Step 4

Include an API key with your API request

Step 5

Wait for a response from the server-side

You will get a status code based on the status of your request.

Why should you test API calls

As there will be many APIs, testing API calls is important to get an overall idea about their performance, vulnerability, reliability, performance, etc. It consists of making API calls to get various responses from multiple endpoints and will be usually done with a software or web service.

How safe are APIs

Security is a primary concern on the internet as it involves user data, company reputation, and more. APIs are prone to vulnerabilities such as issues with authorization, broken authentication, code injection, etc. Organizations have a separate team to regularly test APIs and identify the potential threats in them. By following these practices, APIs can be secured from threats.

What is the future of APIs

Somewhere down the line, the emergence of APIs has given rise to a full-fledged business economy. Initially started as a support for backend operations, APIs are set to become an extension to the business process to perform heavy-duty stuff. With its potential to automate tasks, APIs are set to define a new future with Web 3.0.

Conclusion

While we have covered the basics of APIs, there’s so much to learn about them. If you are interested in learning the application programming interface, take a look at these resources on Linkedin.