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What are APIs and what do they do?

August 24, 2022

First, what is an API?

Anyone with a background in software development has used the term API, but most people who have never heard of it would probably think it is a cool acronym like LOL or BRB. It is used in almost all of the applications we use daily.

API stands for “Application Programming Interface”, which is a collection of code that makes it possible for software applications, digital devices, and data servers to talk to each other. It can be considered the backbone of so many programs or services we use daily.

What is an API Integration, then?

Another term that software developers commonly use is “API Integration” because the whole existence of APIs is to support integration. It is the connection between two or more applications, programs, or services using APIs.

Just think of API as a messenger that delivers your request to the service you are requesting from and then delivers the response back to you. APIs return the requested data, content, images, video, and other information. But they don’t return all the details that are visible to the human eye, we only get the raw data and other information needed behind the scenes to deliver the request to work with very little assistance from humans.

For example, you want to share a blog post you’ve just read with your friends on Facebook or Twitter. You click on the “share icon” that is usually at the bottom of the blog, then an API tells the blog website to share the blog post on your social media. Another example is when you’re on an online shopping application, and you want to add the product that caught your eye to your cart. You click “add to cart”, then an API again tells the application that you’ve added the product to your cart. It puts the product in your cart, and you can finally see it added there.

Just a note, an API isn’t the same as UI or user interface that front-end developers build on top of software applications. User interfaces are used by humans to interact with the software application while APIs are mostly the functions within the software application.

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Why should you care about APIs?

APIs are not just for developers or building applications. APIs are behind everything you do. They are at home, at work, in your vehicle, and in the public spaces you go to. They are not just in digital applications or software; they are almost in every appliance you use in your home. APIs are how organizations or companies move. They should matter to you because you unknowingly depend on them so much, and they are the key instruments in reaching your goals in so many aspects of your life. The more you understand APIs, the more you’ll know how to appreciate them and eventually use them.

Some events that have an API pattern

Here is a list of all kinds of events that have an API pattern:

  1. A customer’s wireless order queuing device buzzing in the milk tea store.

  1. A vehicle gate barrier sensing a vehicle entering a parking lot.

  1. The number of views for a Youtube video increasing.

  1. Smoke detector detecting smoke.

  1. Devices connecting to the internet.

  1. A Facebook account posting a photo. 

  1. A guest pressing a doorbell.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of APIs?

Before the world wide web (WWW) and the internet, the concept of APIs already existed, and they can be traced way back to the late 1990s. According to API Evangelist, the first web-based application API to be launched was by Salesforce in February 2000. This web application was the beginning of the SaaS or Software as a Service industry. 

Now, APIs are all over the world wide web, and are common in modern businesses and other industries. 

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of APIs:


  1. Increases productivity and improves collaboration

With APIs, developers can quickly insert existing functionalities instead of creating or building from scratch, and workflows within the organization can become faster and more productive. These functionalities or services can also be easily distributed within the organization or a third-party company as they can sync and integrate across any application. APIs help to support unforeseen future uses and adapt to changes. As new technology comes, developers can always use what they have done before.

  1. Enhances customer experience

APIs can access the application’s components, services, and information to become more accessible to users or customers. An example of this is the seamless usage and purchasing in an online shopping application. Another one is that APIs enable organizations’ revenue teams and customer support teams that lead data flowing within the marketing platform, helpdesk, and payment processing system to manage upsells, renewal, and such.


  1. Costs

Efficiency can sometimes come with a hefty price. Let’s take Google Maps as an example for an organization that wants to integrate it into their food delivery application. Looking at its pros, it has the best information, has a street view, can customize the look and style of the maps, and supports many languages. On the other hand, one of its cons is the pricing where every API call or every customer using this map in the application charges a certain amount. As the customer uses this service, the charge becomes more complex. The application isn’t just using one API, but three separate APIs: autocomplete of letters typed in the search bar, selecting a location, and adding directions to the nearest location. That’s only one part of the functionality of the service because the organization may also enable real-time tracking of the package, which may result in additional expenses.

  1. Safety and Security

Are APIs secure? The answer is it really depends on the organization's implementation and management. An application or a system may have dozens of APIs connected within it, but vulnerabilities or security breaches may occur if these APIs are not properly secured or have poor integration. These can have a negative impact on the customers of the application as their data and information are compromised. Up until now, this is a challenge for organizations and companies. Cybersecurity awareness and security best practices should be required in the organization or company’s culture.

Different kinds of APIs

Types of API

These types are categorized by who can access them:

  1. External APIs, also known as public APIs, can be accessed by the public and are available for anyone to use.

  1. Internal APIs are private and can only be used by a team, department, or unit within the organization.

  1. Partner APIs are also private, but shared only by specific partners outside of the organization or company.

Types of API Architectural Styles

There are a lot of styles, some are newer and some are older. Defining all of the architectural styles is broad, so here is a list of the most used styles:

  1. REST API is an acronym for REpresentational State Transfer API. It is an interface that two systems use to exchange information over the internet. For example, your internal account system’s data will be shared with your customer’s banking mobile application to automate invoices. Most public APIs use this because of its fast performance and ability to scale without affecting the system as a whole. HTML-based is the best-known example of this style and can be used by several other formats: such as JSON, XLT, etc. REST API is recommended for mobile applications and social networking applications.

  1. SOAP API or Simple Object Access Protocol is function-driven, and much more structured and formal than REST API or any other APIs. It only uses an XML-based messaging protocol that should include the envelope, header, and body tags. SOAP API is also reliable and trusted, but it is a bit slower. Think of using an envelope: it requires more effort and works on sealing and opening. SOAP API is recommended for enterprise applications, financial services, and payment gateways.

  1. Event-Driven API is a growing trend, and many large enterprises are currently building using this architecture style. It is a modern approach centered around data that describes “events”. Examples of these events are payment processing, website monitoring, and real-time marketing (promo and sale notifications).

With the growth of smartphones, home devices, and digital technologies, APIs are becoming more seamless and continuing to grow beyond e-commerce, social media, and the cloud.

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