Web-based APIs have been around for a while, so you’re certainly familiar with the acronym, but what exactly are they and how you can you leverage them as a developer in 2016 and beyond?
This is a good question, but one that very few developers ask themselves.
What are APIs?
Officially called application programming interfaces, APIs are essentially tools that assist developers in writing code that interacts with other software that was developed independently. An API is like a library of information written in a language that developers from multiple companies can understand.
In the words of Caitlin Zimmerman, marketing manager for a financial API platform, “APIs provide the building blocks for developers to easily construct new, enhanced tools by clearly defining how to interact with the system. This allows those developers to combine their own offerings with another company’s free of active collaboration.”
In other words, most API implementations are entirely passive. One company provides an API and then another chooses to adopt it and use the first company’s resources as building blocks for something entirely new. It allows for the combination of two systems without the need for bureaucratic involvement. Instead of worrying about their own agendas, companies that provide APIs are instead focused on the greater good.
It’s important to note that there are two types of APIs: public and private. Public APIs are the ones most people are familiar with. These are APIs designed for the sole purpose of allowing others to innovate using the company’s technology. Public APIs are sometimes closely interconnected with sales and marketing, often serving as a “hook” to increase consumer adoption.
Then there are private APIs. Private APIs work the same way, but they are restricted to very specific partnerships. They often expose a company’s sensitive information and only allow approved developers and individuals (who are usually within the company or involved in a safe partnership) to work on them.
Examples of API Tools and Applications
If you’re more of a visual person and prefer to see concepts in action, then you’ll benefit from checking out the following two examples of API tools:
- DialMyCalls. This call and texting API can be integrated into any new or existing service so that businesses can tap into the voice broadcasting and mass notification features that benefit their companies. Beneficiaries include schools, churches, property management companies, and more.
- Facebook. When you get all of those annoying game and application requests on Facebook, did you know that there’s an API at the heart of it? Facebook’s developer platform uses APIs to give developers the ability to create apps that work within the social network.
If you have a computer and a smartphone, you interact with APIs on a daily basis. They’re all around you and companies and developers of every magnitude are leveraging them.
Put APIs to Work for You
As a developer, it’s extremely important that you’re familiar with the intricacies of APIs, how they work, and what they do. APIs are playing an increasingly critical role in today’s software and application marketplace and you don’t want to be left on the outside looking in. As more global companies become aware of the utility and intrinsic value of developing APIs, there will be more demand for developers.
“This next phase of API collaboration isn’t a new concept, but its value and potential are still in explorative stages,” Zimmerman says. “Current indicators, as well as our own experiences, suggest that identifying ways to collaborate smoothly and painlessly via APIs will lead to exciting opportunities—opportunities to simultaneously increase security and productivity, add value to existing products, and extend market reach.”
If you want to increase your own market reach, then you’d be wise to leverage APIs within your own business.