An Intermediate Guide to APIs | Dreamfactory

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While APIs (application programming interfaces) have been around for a while, their importance has grown in recent years. Over this time, APIs have even become necessities in most business operations. Did you know that the global investment in APIs is estimated to be worth around $23.6 million annually? The numbers speak for themselves. APIs are quickly becoming a vital part of every business operation competing in the digital economy.  APIs are essential in the modern business world, which means that business professionals need to have at least an intermediate understanding of APIs. This article will serve as a complete guide to APIs.

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Understanding APIs and How They Work 

APIs are essential for digital transformation and have earned a central role in the digital economy over the last decade. So, what makes APIs so special? Well, a number of things, but we'll get into all that later on. However, the first element that is essential to understand is that APIs work as a type of "middleman" between two or more applications. Essentially, an API is comprised of a set of functions that allows multiple applications to share data back and forth without having to speak directly to one another. 

To better understand how APIs work, you can think of the API process as being four steps. The following steps serve as a beginner's guide tutorial on how APIs work. 

  • Step 1: A web application initiates an API call or API request to retrieve information. 
  • Step 2: The API processes this request and then sends it to an external program or web server. 
  • Step 3: The web server or external program sends a response to the API with the information requested by the initial application. 
  • Step 4: The API validates the received information from the web server or external program and transfers it to the initial requesting application in a data format that it can understand. 

Common Types of APIs 

APIs offer many benefits to business operations and the digital economy as a whole. However, not all APIs are created equal, as there are multiple types of APIs. Two of the most common APIs are REST APIs and SOAP APIs. 

  • REST APIs: A REST API, or Representational State Transfer API, delivers data through the JSON format. JSON is a relatively lightweight and flexible format that uses similar syntax to programming languages in the C-family, like C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, Perl, Python, and many others. 
  • SOAP APIs: A SOAP API, or Simple Object Access Protocol API, uses XML to transfer data and information between applications. In comparison to REST APIs, SOAP APIs are a bit more complex and require more upfront data to function properly. 

How to Build an API 

Now that we've covered what APIs are, how they work, and what some of the most common types are, it's time to dive a little deeper into APIs by exploring how they can be built. Essentially, there are two primary ways that business operations can build APIs for their use. One way is through manual development, and the second is through API generation. 

Building APIs Through Manual Development  

While building APIs through manual development is a relatively straightforward process, it is a lengthy process to undertake. Through manual development, a software developer has to build the API from scratch and must have a firm understanding of both front-end and back-end web development, as working on the server-sideis key. In addition, the developer must take into consideration the API design, API function, API endpoints, API testing, API documentation, and more during the development process. Overall, the process of manually developing APIs can be broken down into five core steps, including: 

  • Step 1: Determining the API's requirements 
  • Step 2: Designing the API
  • Step 3: Developing the API 
  • Step 4: Functional testing of the API 
  • Step 5: Deploying the API

Manual API development is a lengthy process that can take weeks or even months to fully complete. While many businesses still opt to go this route, there is a simpler and more effective method for API creation, which is API generation.  

Building APIs Through API Generation 

API generation is made possible through low-code solutions. Essentially, API generation allows both developers and non-developers to build APIs through a pre-built framework with drag-and-drop features. As a result, API generation is an excellent alternative to manual API development, allowing anyone within an organization to create and deploy APIs that are safe and secure within less than an hour. 

Whether you choose to manually build your API or build it with API generation, your goal will still be to maintain the safety and security of your API. Generally speaking, API gateways and API keys are two ways that you can ensure API security.

For example, from web APIs to cloud APIs to different APIs altogether, the majority are hosted on API gateways. An API gateway works to ensure that APIs maintain their expected performance, security, and scalability requirements. In addition, once your API is deployed, you will want to establish your API keys, as they can be used for the authentication of a user. This ensures that only individuals with the right permissions can make changes to your API.

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How Can APIs Enhance a Business Operation? 

Now that we have an intermediate understanding of how APIs are built, it's time to take a deeper look at what makes APIs so vital to the digital economy. Well, APIs have gained importance and recognition over recent years because of the many benefits they can provide to business operations. Some of the top benefits of APIs include: 

  • Provide extra security: APIs help keep a company's valuable data safe and secure, as they add an extra layer of security when data is transferred between programs and applications. 
  • Increase profits: APIs can be used to generate new monetization streams, as public APIs are often used to create tiered services or SaaS, which users have to purchase to utilize. 
  • Foster automation: APIs help streamline internal operations, as they allow companies to easily undergo digital transformations and switch over to automated systems.  

So, are you ready to discover more about API management and how APIs can be used to enhance your business operation? If so, contact our team today to start your free 14-day trial

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