What are APIs? APIs definition, examples, modern APIs, advantages, drawbacks, and FAQs

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What is an API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. It enables interaction between software applications or mixed-hardware intermediaries via the transmission of data. 

In simpler terms, an API acts as a messenger that delivers your data upon any request and gathers the response by the other party. 

APIs can simplify app development by saving a lot of time and resources of the developers. They provide flexibility to our product providing room for adding any new features seamlessly. 

Because of this, APIs help the business and the IT teams collaborate efficiently. In today’s rapidly changing digital markets, where someone may change the whole dynamics of the game by coming up with just one new innovation, businesses need to be swift and respond quickly to survive. Hence, it becomes extremely important to constantly update your products with new innovative services.

Examples of an API

Twitter bots are a great example of API in today’s world. Twitter bots are accounts that tweet (or retweet), follow, or send messages based on software instructions. All these bots are powered by Twitter’s API. 

You can also add new features to the bot such as: giving you a notification in case the bot gets a like or a new follower by programming the bot accordingly using the API.

The most common example of an API is the simple log-in feature of various web applications such as Facebook, Google, etc. Instead of directly giving entry to anyone to an account, an API first authenticates the credentials and then only allows the user to view the account.

Another example of API usage in everyday life is during a simple travel booking. The travel booking sites scrapes other sites for the cheapest rates on hotels, flights, etc. by giving us a series of options to choose from and then comparing them based on our preferences. 

These websites often use third-party APIs to collect flight/hotel information from the providers. Similarly, if you use these websites to book something, they use APIs to connect with the provider to confirm your booking.

Modern APIs

Over the years, an “API” has often been understood as some sort of connectivity interface to an application. However, the modern API has taken on some characteristics that have proven to be extremely valuable and useful:

  • Modern APIs stick to standards (typically HTTP and REST), that are developer-friendly, easy to access, and broadly understood
  • They are treated more like products rather than codes. They are designed to serve specific audiences (e.g., mobile developers), are very well documented, and are designed in a way that users can have certain expectations of its maintenance and lifecycle.
  • APIs are much more standardized, thus, have a much stronger discipline for security and governance.
  • The modern API is a piece of productized software. It has its own Software Development Lifecycle(SDLC) of designing, testing, building, managing, and versioning.

Advantages of using APIs

  • Automation: API integrations automate manual tasks generating a flawless transmission among applications. APIs enable organizations to update workflows to make them more effective.
  • Easy integration: An API component allows multiple platforms, applications, and systems to connect and share information with each other and carry out different types of tasks. An API can help software be used inside another software to provide a smooth experience for certain processes.
  • Improved services: APIs can be really helpful in the implementation of new applications, business models, and digital products. They allow effective complementation with third-party products or services all the while improving their own development.
  • Personalization: Through APIs, any user or organization can customize their content as they deem fit. It provides for a great user experience.
  • Efficiency: when an API is provided access, the content generated is published automatically and is available for everyone in the organization. APIs allow content to  be distributed much more easily.

Drawbacks of using APIs

  • APIs are very vulnerable to middle-man attacks, CSRF attacks, XSS attacks, SQL injection, and DDoS attacks.
  • As APIs have a single point of entry they can become a gateway for a hacker to enter the system. Once an API is compromised, all other systems attached to it become vulnerable.
  • Data breaches due to API vulnerabilities can cause huge harm to a company’s reputation and can have huge ramifications when it comes to finances.

FAQs

Q: What is an API key?

A: An API key is a unique code that is passed to an API to identify the calling party. 

Q: Why are API keys used?

A: API key is used to track and control how an API is being used. This helps in preventing any abuse or illegal use of the API.

Q: What is API integration?

A: API integration refers to the connection between applications. The exchange of data is completed only after communication between both the APIs.

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