A beginner’s guide to APIs

What are APIs?

Connectivity is an amazing thing. By now, we are used to the instant connectivity that puts the world at our fingertips. We can purchase, post, pin and pick anything, anywhere. Consider the following:

  • How does data get from one place to the other?
  • How do different devices and applications connect with each other to allow us to make an order?
  • How can we make a reservation, or book a flight with just a few clicks?

The answer is APIs: The silent champion of our connected world; the engine under the hood that we often take for granted.

API stands for Application Programming Interfaces. In non-technical language, APIs allow your products or services to talk to other products or services. They are used to give people access to your products or services. Basically, APIs simplify things by limiting outside program access to a specific set of features.

Examples of Public API’s

  1. Finansportalen is a site provided by the Norwegian Consumer Protection Agency. The portal helps consumers compare financial industry products to one another, leading to more educated choices for purchasing financial services. The site exposes data feeds on financial products for the Norwegian market.
  2. FedEx is a global delivery service company. Their web services allow businesses to integrate FedEx shipping functionality into their existing warehouse management systems – without hosting on-site.
  3. European VAT Number Validation API is a website that helps developers validate company VAT numbers in other EU countries. The site is based on a system provided by the European Commission called the VAT Information Exchange System (VIES).

In all of these cases, APIs are both catalysts and enablers. In fact, the majority of APIs are hidden within the solutions they enable.

API trends

APIs are at the heart of every major information technology trend today. Mobile devices, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, big data and social networks all rely on web-based interfaces to connect and deliver innovative solutions. Here are a few examples:

  • PayPal has transformed payment transactions on the internet with modern API.
  • YouTube uses many basic resources that are very similar to most systems, such as video, channel, playlist, events, comments, subscriptions and inbox.
  • Amazon is disrupting cloud computing with its Amazon Web Services.

By enabling data sharing via API between one organisation and another, APIs facilitate the distribution of knowledge and the design. Feel free to think of APIs as doors, windows or levers. Whatever the metaphor, APIs clearly define exactly how a program will interact with the rest of the software world—saving time, resources and potentially legal difficulties along the way.

Interested in learning more about APIs? Download our free whitepaper, How APIs are revolutionising the way we buy software.

Download our free whitepaper.

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Emily is a marketing writer for Visma Software International. She is responsible for the creation and coordination of content marketing for Visma.net.
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