What is an API?

Billions of times each day, application programming interfaces (APIs) facilitate the transfer of data between people and systems, serving as the fabric that connects businesses with customers, suppliers, and employees. Having the right API strategy in place can make the difference between success and failure when it comes to utilizing APIs to deliver results, reduce response times, and improving process efficiency.

What is an API? An Introduction

An API (application programming interface) is a building block of programming that helps programmers avoid writing code from scratch each time it is needed. APIs are organized sets of commands, functions, and protocols that programmers use to develop software. These interfaces speed up production and enable different platforms, applications, and systems to connect and share data with each other.

Consider building something with a box of Lego bricks. Instead of creating or carving a new block each time you need one, you simply choose from an assortment that are prepared and ready to be plugged into your project. Each block is designed to connect with other blocks in order to speed up the building process. In essence, that’s how an API works. APIs streamline and boost efficiency everywhere they are used.

APIs Everywhere

API are ubiquitous, and most of us encounter them every day without realizing it. Each time we post an update on Facebook, compare airfares on a travel website, or complete an online banking transaction from our phones, we’re using some kind of API. In fact, most of us rely on hundreds, if not thousands, of APIs each day.

To better understand the impact and scope of APIs, consider an example from The Weather Company and their mobile application. They collect and store (you guessed it) weather data from millions of sources around the planet using a variety of APIs. Other APIs allow their developers to build the smartphone widget that a user needs to access their forecast. Another set of APIs makes it possible for your smartphone to exchange data with their server: your location is traded for a forecast.

In the world of ecommerce, retailers use APIs to keep track of inventory and share product availability with their customers. Medical providers rely on APIs to manage online portals for booking appointments or locating network services. Governments use APIs to register voters and manage records, and nonprofits use APIs to connect with donors.

Each time we use a computer, mobile device, software application, or phone, this same complex web of API interaction is in play. Whether we are making a purchase, looking for a new doctor, or checking a book out of the library, every stakeholder in the transaction depends on APIs.

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API — A Very Short History

APIs have been around since the year 2000. Two of the earliest and most well-known APIs include those launched by eBay and Salesforce at around this time. Ebay wanted to provide users with easier access to their site and facilitate mass uploading of listings. Salesforce sought to enable more users to connect their existing data to their Salesforce platform. Two years later, Amazon Web Services emerged. Since then, the number of available APIs has grown exponentially.

The number of APIs is not the only thing that’s changed over the past few years. The emergence of open-source APIs and REST APIs have been game changers for the both the internet and software development, and the turn toward cloud-native technology promises even more dramatic changes to come.

h2>Open source API

APIs and API integration are found everywhere: in every industry and in every sector. Today, publicly available API options — known as open-source APIs — provide developers greater flexibility as well as access to proprietary software and web services. Some of the key benefits of using open source APIs include

  • Openness and agility. Using an open source application integration solution is the best way to ensure that enterprise infrastructure remains flexible, future-proof, and not locked into a single proprietary technology.
  • Data sharing and innovation. Rapid advances in computing power and the widespread availability of data have created new opportunities to turn information into revenue. Increasingly, the primary way to share data is through APIs.
  • Cost savings. An open source solution to a company’s application integration needs will cost far less than proprietary software, both in up-front investment and in ongoing expense.
  • Business insight. APIs help businesses gain more insight into their customers and operations by increasing opportunities for engagement and data collection. Companies can leverage these insights to tailor products and services to more closely match user needs.
  • Community support. The developer communities that surround mature, active open source projects are an outstanding source of insight, advice, and application extensions.

REST API

One of the more recent developments in the evolution of APIs has been the emergence of REST architecture and the move toward cloud-based API design. REST APIs — short for Representational State Transfer — were developed and designed by Roy Fielding specifically for use with web services. In other words, they help computers and other devices communicate via the internet.

REST APIs are built upon a unique architecture that prioritizes the following properties:

  • Performance — how components interact affects performance
  • Scalability — able to support large numbers of components
  • Simplicity — between interacting interfaces
  • Modifiability — of components to meet changing needs
  • Visibility — clear communication between components
  • Portability — of the data-filled code
  • Reliability — or resistance to fail at system level

Cloud, IoT, and APIs

Advances in programming, network speed, and security have allowed API technology to evolve rapidly. Another influence on changes in API technology is the turn toward cloud technology and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Each day, an unimaginable amount of data is created, sought, sold, bought, analyzed, and consumed. Much of that data is generated from the IoT, which is the network of devices, clothing, appliances, vehicles, and equipment now connected to the internet. As the IoT grows, so will the amount of data available.

Cloud storage, data warehouses, and data lakes allow companies to create and manage practically infinite repositories of data. APIs collect the data, APIs manage the data, and APIs can help interpret the data. It would not be an overstatement to say that APIs are the oil that keeps the cloud data machine running.

Getting Started with APIs

Increased reliance on APIs, as well as the shift toward open source, REST, and cloud-native API technologies mean that companies need a comprehensive API solution to stay competitive and remain ahead of the technology curve. Talend Open Studio for ESB is a free, easy-to-use, open source solution for integrating APIs and building a service-oriented architectures.

For even more control of your API integrations, Talend’s Data Services Platform provides developers with a complete toolkit to enhance scalability, simplify mapping and security, and for managing, preparing, and profiling all of your company’s data. See how Talend can help you make the most of API with a free demo of Data Services Platform.

| Last Updated: June 4th, 2019