The term API (Application Programming Interface) sounds complex, but in reality, it is simple enough to understand even for non-developers. Here’s a brief guide which will help you understand programming interfaces and how to use an API:-
What is an API?
As its name suggests, API is a programming interface between two or more separate applications. Simply stated, it allows different applications to connect and share information back and forth. In relatively technical terms, APIs are the publicly exposed areas or ‘endpoints’ of an application’s programming code, through which users can make connections between separate interfaces. An API consists of a set of rules or processes that allows information to be shared between two or more applications in a process called integration.
As a developer, one of the most important features of your application is its ability to communicate with other applications or programs. This collaboration paves the way for further development and expansion of your programs. Even if you are a general user, most of the time you want to connect two or more applications to get your desired results. This is particularly applicable to business users, where companies frequently need to use more than one application or program in collaboration.
How do APIs Work?
We will take a simple example of two commonly used applications in a business scenario, i.e. an email marketing tool and a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. A CRM system contains details of your potential and existing customers, which are extremely valuable in making marketing campaigns and targeted promotions for those customers. One way to utilize these details is to design email marketing campaigns and determine what kind of emails you should send to different customers.
This also works the other way round; for example, you can feed the information or intelligence you gain from your email marketing campaigns (e.g. customers who sign up) into the CRM system. This way, you can have an updated profile of your customers on the CRM system at all times. Now, if your CRM system and email marketing tool are automatically interconnected, this information transfer becomes very easy and virtually eliminates tedious manual work. This is where an API comes into play.
How to Use An API?
To use an API, you need an API key. This unique key or code authenticates the user or the calling program to the API. This code passes between the two integrating programs and acts as a secret authentication token to prevent malicious use of the API.
As an everyday user, you don’t need to know the technicalities or logic behind the API’s rules or programming code. All you need to do is enter a simple command or a set of commands, and the service will operate on the back-end to execute the required function or present the requested data.
Benefits of APIs
An API ties different applications together and results in an enhanced outcome that is often not possible for the stand-alone application itself. Without APIs, your application or program would have limited functionality, but when two or more applications come together through integration, they complement each other. Their combined functionalities can give results or execute tasks without the need for independently developing a program just for a particular functionality/outcome.
Thus, through APIs, you can efficiently get the latest technologies and functionalities integrated into your existing system. The resulting automation from APIs can lead to massive productivity gains for your business, reducing costs and improving service delivery.