by Tony Harris
• March 23, 2021
There’s a lot of talk about the nuts and bolts of building APIs. With all this focus on the technical aspects, it’s sometimes hard to imagine how people use APIs. You may be more familiar with this bit of technology than you think. In this article, we’ll take a look at some common examples of APIs in practice.
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Not all of today’s technology is created equal. Different companies, brands, operating systems, and programming languages make for a host of compatibility issues. This is nothing new. It used to be how the software development industry roped clients into working solely with their program suites and monolithic apps.
Recent developments have led to the composable enterprise, a promising new business architecture that lets you pick and choose which apps and services you want. You’re no longer bound by licenses and compatibility issues. But how do you get previously incompatible software to integrate? The answer is an API—short for application programming interface.
APIs are bits of software that act as interpreters for two different programs. They’ll connect to each service via endpoints and relay messages back and forth, doing the work of software integration for you. But how does this actually look in the real world? Read on for some use cases.
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If you spend any time on Twitter or Reddit, you’ve probably seen a few bots. These bits of software make use of the open APIs of their respective websites to do just about anything. The Reddit or Twitter API sends a signal to the bots in response to a trigger event (such as a comment with certain keywords). The bot responds with the action it’s programmed to do. The result? A bot can send you reminders on Twitter to drink water, or a Reddit bot replies to your comments with the punchline of a joke.
Many web applications allow users to sign in with their Facebook, Google, Github, or other accounts instead of making an account directly. But that doesn’t mean they’re getting access to your social media. Instead, the app makes an API call to check if the user is already signed in to the third-party website. The API makes the confirmation, then handles the authentication in the app’s place.
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Do any online shopping outside of Amazon and you’ll see a “pay with PayPal” option at checkout. The API that powers this works similarly to the third-party login APIs mentioned above. Again, the store doesn’t directly access your PayPal account. It instead sends the purchase order to the PayPal API and PayPal handles the rest of the transaction.
Have you ever looked up the weather with a Google search? How about with a smart device? These apps aren’t gathering weather data by themselves. Instead, they’re gathering that information through the API of any weather service. It’s a simple matter of sending the API request to the weather service.
Netflix, Spotify, and other streaming services have to distribute media to nearly any device. Whether the user is on a Windows PC, an iPad, a smart TV, or something else, there’s an expectation that they’ll be able to stream content. Streaming services get this done with an API, ensuring their content is compatible with any device.
Your bank makes use of an internal API to manage all aspects of your finances, from checking and savings accounts to credit cards or CDs. Customer service will require a different set of software than the technical aspects of account management, but these functions need to connect. An API keeps these departments tied together.
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Businesses are using more apps today than ever before. There’s an app for every functionality, and a way to streamline every workflow. But you’ll also need a way to tie these services together with API integration. Implementing an API has a number of benefits, and it’s easier than you think with the right API tools. You can create a user interface with all the features and services you want, with no hassle. You could streamline your existing business process or even implement new technologies like automation. The alternative? A messy interface in which you spend more time shuffling apps than you do taking care of business.
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