Home » How To » What is API? Everything About APIs!

What is API? Everything About APIs!

Microservices have become increasingly popular recently, and there is an ongoing push to speed application development. To this end, APIs are being used more often than ever before to help authorize, connect, and communicate between applications and users.

But the concept of APIs can leave many people confused and wondering exactly what they are and how they play into the whole development cycle of applications and web services. This guide will take the mystery out of APIs and give you the information you need to make an educated decision regarding their implementation.

What Is An API?

In the simplest terms, an API or Application Programming Interface is a piece of software that acts as an intermediary between two applications. The most common APIs you use include nearly all apps on your smartphone, from your weather app to heavy hitters like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

In more recent years, the term API has boiled down to describe nearly any sort of connectivity interfaced to a remote application. This can be anything from syncing your pedometer to your fitness app or embedding an HTML5 Video Player API in your page or app to facilitate smoother video consumption.

What Can APIs Do?

Given the right code and demand, an API can do nearly anything that a user can do manually, but much quicker, and sometimes even across multiple different websites.

In one example, a user is planning a vacation and so they are researching all of their hotel options, travel arrangements, and more before they commit to anything. Without the help of an API, this process can be tedious and time-consuming particularly when trying various combinations of dates or options on multiple brand sites.

With an API, however, this task can be reduced to providing the dates and options once, and subsequently having the API submit the information to many sites at once, giving the user the best options. If this sounds familiar, it should: sites like Travelocity and Expedia both incorporate complex APIs to poll travel sites and aggregate the information for users in an easy-to-read and intuitive format.

This is just one example, though, as APIs can be configured to do countless potential tasks.

The Potential Risks Of APIs

While there will always be the potential for malicious users to exploit an API for undesirable purposes, this is becoming increasingly rare with improved API security features and developer mindfulness. There are some best practices that can be used to bolster security, and they are often built into the configuration of many APIs. These practices include:

  • Understanding the vulnerabilities of the API. This includes seeing the API as a product rather than a service. It should have a defined lifecycle, including a maintenance roadmap and eventual retirement.
  • Use tokens to secure against credential exposure. This helps your users, as well as your backend systems, stay secure by keeping their authorization credentials secret.
  • Encrypt your data. This should be standard operation, but you may be surprised how little it’s implemented.
  • Leverage rate limiting. By throttling the rate at which requests can be sent, you can help mitigate potential exploits and fraudulent activity.

Do The Benefits Of APIs Outweigh The Risks?

Absolutely. By properly implementing APIs you can gain a range of benefits and scalability. In nearly every situation where the API is properly and securely used, the business reaps the benefits, including:

  • Collecting data for analysis and insight generation
  • Fostering innovation and creation
  • Improving the adaptability of marketing techniques
  • Saves costs and increases productivity
  • Significantly enhanced customer or user experience
  • Opening up new sources of revenue

Leave a Comment