If you have been developing a new business website or you are embracing an updated redesign, then chances are you have heard the term API. Though exactly what it is and how it works can be a little hard to demystify.
API is an acronym for Application Programming Interface. It is used by website developers in operating systems, web browsers and app updates.
It essentially provides a menu and descriptions of functions that developers can use at a glance, without having to dig into the nuts and bolts details of how something like a “Save As” dialog box works. It enables developers to save time by taking advantage of a platform’s functionality to streamline the coding process.
How Do APIs Streamline The Coding Process?
In one hypothetical example, let’s say that you are a mobile web developer working on a new iPhone app. Apple’s iOS operating system offers a large number of APKs that are already compatible with their platform. You choose the ones that are best for the app you are developing, rather than spending untold hours coding and testing them yourself.
This same example carries over to most web browsers and popular applications from a wide range of platforms including Safari and more. It essentially spares web developers from “Having to reinvent the wheel” with every platform or browser.
Of course, it goes beyond apps to include other things like videos and camera interfaces. These incredibly popular mediums rely on software to send rich images and videos to users. A developer being able to use a previously established API saves time, which of course, saves money, while also ensuring compatibility.
It also translates into easier updates later that further save time. When platforms inevitably update they also include patches for their most popular APIs without the developer having to go back in and make all the updates themselves.
While we use Apple ISO as a common example here, APIs are common practice offered by a wide range of platforms including Windows and Android.
APIs Offer Control Access To Resources
APIs can also be used to control access to specific hardware devices as well as important software functions where a specific application might not necessarily have permission to use it. Taken in this light, it also means that APIs can play a critical role in app and site security functions.
You might have noticed this in the past where you visited a website when a message suddenly pops up in your browser, where the site is asking for permission to access your location. This simple, yet increasingly popular API gives the site exposure to your location. You can then choose to allow the site to know your location or deny it with a simple click.
There are a variety of reasons why the site might ask you this information. In some cases, an e-commerce site might want to know your location in order to offer you local promotions or to determine if there are available shipping deals. In other situations, the API might want to harvest locations data to better help target their marketing messages in the future.
This principle also extends to other platforms including modern mobile operating systems like Android and iOS where the apps have permissions that can be enforced by controlling access to APIs. One of the most common is an API that specifically asks for permission to access the camera via your mobile device.
An API Can Be Used To Communicate Between Services
APIs go a step further yet in their convenience and functionality in that they are also used in a variety of communication processes between two different user services. One of the most common is how Google Maps embeds an object via an API. This allows the web developer to use the APIs to plop complex objects right on the website without having to spend countless hours developing the coding for it themselves just to make the most out of a simple interactive map feature.
APIs allow Google and other popular search engines to control access to things like Google Maps as well as other third-party websites. In this way, APIs also provide a level of consistency to users who don’t want to waste their own precious time learning how to use a new map feature every time they visit a site that was developed using a different platform.
This extends to a wide variety of other online services. This includes APIs that do simple, yet essential things like requesting text translation from Google Translate for people who might not have English as their first language. APIs can also be used for things like embedding Facebook comments or tweets from Twitter directly onto a website. This is a trend that continues to spread through other social media and online marketing platforms, evolving into a dominant industry trend that most users simply expect to be available to when they use a social media site.
It’s also worth noting that there are a fair number of APIs that allow you to sign in to certain websites via another service, this might be for social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter where you can sign in to a new website without creating a new user account. APIs can also be used for using your laptop or mobile device to log into a streaming service that is provided via your cable provider. You might see this when you try to log into things like HBO max or SHOWTIME and it asks you for your service provider and login information.
Do I Need To Know APIs?
Most small business owners and IT managers don’t specifically need to be intimately familiar with APIs. They tend to be the sort of thing that’s limited to the realm of web developers. Though if you are launching a new business website, considering a redesign for your site, or thinking about launching a new app and you are outsourcing to a developer, you might want to do a little research about common APIs. This will help you ask more informed questions to help you choose the best web developer to partner with.