After blogging about APIs for over five years, you start to assume that everyone knows what an API is. Haven’t we gotten the word out? In reality, the majority of the population does not understand what an API is.

But it doesn’t end there. Many tech circles too, do not understand what we mean when we discuss platforms, microservices, and API-as-a-product. So, I’m going to try and break it down. Back to basics. For the uninitiated.

What is an API? In this post we’ll get a brief look at API fundamentals and the API economy at large. For the , I hope it will act as a doorway for further exploration, and for those in the trade, a refresher on why we’re in this space.

An API is a Reusable Software Tool

The best way to describe what an API is to think about what it’s always been, since the dawn of computer programming. An Application Programming Interface helps software developers avoid “reinventing the wheel.” Using an API, they can call upon

Like, Most Companies Have Them Nowadays

Big Data

APIs hold the

API = Application Programming Interface

It

 

APIs are the glue holding the web together.

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 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. They are the digital standard for automating business-to-business communication. Ever wonder how you can play Spotify from within an Uber? APIs enable two otherwise distanced entities to talk to each other.

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 all rely on APIs to function.

APIs power our connected devices

APIs are Nothing New

APIs have been around since the dawn of programming languages. They help programmers avoid “reinventing the wheel.” Instead of writing the same code for a function with every new application, developers call on APIs to initiate a function.

Whereas “API” used to (and still does) refer to on-premise libraries, in a business context when we discuss APIs we are typically referring to web APIs. So, APIs are nothing new, yet through the Internet, they have emerged as an exciting proposition to create and distribute reusable software worldwide.

APIs Enable Reusable Microservices

APIs and reusability are intimately intertwined. For example, think of a company that is developing multiple eCommerce stores. Even though each store sells different products, they all still must perform nearly identical operations: product listing, user account creation, authentication, payment processing, etc.

Having reusable microservices that perform specific functions can be extremely cost-efficient. Building with microservices, you can avoid much duplication.

APIs Are Magic To The End-User

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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 the operating system or programming language, making them an extremely alluring way to construct an agnostic platform. But, APIs have emerged as products in their own right. Let’s dig into the different types of APIs.

Private (Internal), Partner, and Public APIs

Internal APIs

Though PorgrammbleWeb clocks 23,000 public APIs at the time of writing, not all APIs are open to the public. Many APIs are used internally to streamline operations. An API decouples a front end from a backend, meaning developers can create various user-facing experiences that utilize the same data. One example is Netflix’s API, which powers video streaming on the Netflix network. Spotify similarly uses APIs stream music and handle payments on their platform.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ API Mandate is infamous in development circles. He required teams to build all services with interfaces to enable reusability company-wide. This thinking spawned AWS and countless businesses, demonstrating internal infrastructure itself has tremendous potential value.

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.

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.

API as a Product

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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