What is an API?

API = Application Programming Interface

What is a web API Application Programming Interface?

An API is a smart, programmable doorway for developers to access data from a digital organization. When we talk about APIs in this context we mean web APIs that allow data to travel over the Internet, usually via authenticated HTTP requests, often served in JSON-formatted text for developers to use in the languages of their choice. Thus, the API provider documents the possible calls in a way that developers can consume.

That’s too technical. Try again.

APIs have been described as the glue holding the Internet together. They are woven into the fabric of most things end users do on their devices. Ever wonder how you can play Spotify from within an Uber? APIs enable two otherwise distanced entities to talk to each other in a more standardized format.

Things like using a social account to authenticate on a website, having the weather on your phone, being able to access Google maps from a separate application, or triggering Internet of Things devices — they all rely on APIs to function.

APIs power our connected devices

What are the types of APIs?

Since APIs are base level, directly tie into core architecture, and work over HTTP, any device with Internet connectivity can use them, regardless of operating system or programming language, making them an extremely alluring way to construct a platform.

Private (Internal), Partner, and Public APIs

Public APIs are often free or structured as a freemium plan that developers can purchase to use at a certain limit of calls per month. It’s estimated that 15,000+ public API programs exist currently. Spanning hundreds of industries, behind these APIs sit a myriad of different providers; individual developers, startups and established businesses who have all concluded that they need a public API program in order to better serve their audience.

Not all APIs are open sourced to the public for anyone to use. Many APIs are used strictly internally, such as the Netflix’s usage of a private API, which powers all video streaming on the Netflix network.

The plaformification of digital enterprises into API-first companies has begun to take shape. This is also great for integrating with partners; companies built on an API have an exposable backbone so that partners can integrate functionality into their own workflows or business processes.

More Useful Introductory Points about APIs:

  • It’s strategic for most companies to have an API: APIs can enable a businesses to open up new revenue streams, extend their branding, unite how their service is exposed, expand their end consumer base, and create more productive internal workflows.
  • APIs enable business to become more niche: App developers can leverage existing APIs instead of building out their own solutions; meaning they can specialize on what they do best.
  • There are good and bad ways of providing an API: Doing so takes tact. The initial strategy, as well as the quality of design, security, documentation, and support can make or break a developer program.
  • APIs affect all industries: Thousands of companies with a significant online presence have created developer programs to open some amount of data for third party consumption, regardless of industry sector.
  • APIs are now an opportunity for entrepreneurs: Micro API-first companies focus their attention on marketing to a new audience of developers, designers, entrepreneurs, architects, and more.
  • An economy has formed: As APIs are a new type of product, and a complex offering at that, an economy of businesses and related tooling has arisen to help API providers excel.

Why turn to Nordic APIs?

Nordic APIs wants to help you make sense of all of this. That’s why in 2013 we formed with the goal to help companies make smart tech decisions using APIs.

What’s Next? Follow us and sign up to our newsletter to learn about upcoming events where we bring in experts to discuss APIs.

Online, you can get started now by visiting our Insights pages for free advice on the 6 pillars of providing an API. More advice is published regularly on our blog.

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