The basics of APIs

An API (application programming interface) is a way for third party websites to utilise the content of another site within its own website development. For example, Apple has released an iTunes ‘Search API’ so that external websites can offer this service to their users. It’s a clever way for the third party website to have an Apple product integrated into their website. Apple also benefits from the searches and possible purchases.

How it works

API is a software-to-software interface, rather than software-to-user. The software code has been written by developers as a series of XML messages so that two or more applications talk to each other. This doesn’t affect the users’ journey through the third party website and it won’t even be recognised as two applications communicating. To the end user, it’s all one simple process. In fact, this integration has been named ‘seamless’ due to its under-the-radar approach.
For example, if a person needs to buy a train ticket on the go, they will probably reach for their mobile device. They’ll log on to a website or app such as National Rail and make their choice. Once they’re ready to pay, they’ll input their debit or credit card information. At this point in the transaction, the National Rail website will use an API to verify the person’s card details. The person holding the phone has no idea this is happening; they only see the National Rail branded website from start to finish.

Benefits of API

1 – Wider Audience
Business giants such as Facebook and PayPal create APIs as it keeps them connected to a wider audience at all times. In the modern era, end users are more concerned with convenience and a cohesive journey, especially when using a small mobile device or tablet. Integrating applications make it all possible and the target consumer will be thankful for it. It gives the audience a chance to use their favourite services in various situations, which may be more efficient. This will lead to further brand awareness and customer satisfaction in the long run.
Not only does it benefit companies such as Apple and Facebook, but it also gives the third party website more credibility and reach.
2 – Flexibility
If an API isn’t used, websites can be open to more technical glitches because they won’t be able to keep up with any changes made. For example, if a third party website or app has an Amazon search feature, it will need to visit the site each time a request is made to find the answer. If the Amazon website changes, it may not be able to decipher the web page and could cause a glitch. If using an API, the third party app would send a direct message to Amazon to retrieve the information needed. No matter how much Amazon changes its website, the API will always pick up the message. It’s far more robust and flexible in its thinking.
APIs are also an excellent way of collecting consumer data and picking up on trends. For example, Facebook can gather information that allows them to predict future consumer behaviour.
3 – Time and Moneysaving
If software and web developers are writing code, it’s far quicker to use an API than to write it from scratch. API comes under the SaaS (Software as a Service) umbrella for this reason. An application can contract out to external software, which may execute the task more efficiently. Businesses will save a lot of time and money by using APIs, as they’ll be able to incorporate existing remote tools and systems into their own applications.
API will save companies money by cutting down the amount of time spent writing software, therefore not having to pay for the extra manpower. It will also reduce the amount of hardware needed to keep them working.
API has advantages for both sides of the application integration. It allows the third party owner access to up-to-date information, while the owner of the API gains a wider audience.
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