How To Access APIs and Beat Your Competition

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Guy relaxing because he knows how to access APIs

An Application Programming Interface (API) is the new go-to for businesses looking to connect with customers, partners, and other stakeholders via digital channels. From e-commerce sites to mobile apps, APIs are used to collect and process data and enable interoperability between web applications. As such, learning how to access APIs has become the primary gateway to data-driven products and the main revenue stream for most businesses. Participating in the API ecosystem is essential for companies that wish to remain relevant. Why? Because today's digital-first customers expect seamless, interconnected, and personalized experiences across all online platforms. By accessing APIs, you can offer this streamlined experience for your customers. Learn how to access APIs, how they work, and the steps needed to get started today.

What Can APIs Do?

API integration allows one program to request data from another. APIs are the crux of digital transformation. Accessing APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, lets you provide access to other systems via a consolidated platform, as well as:

  • Automate tasks
  • Generate reports
  • Send emails

...and more.

Plus, there are several types of APIs to choose from. Each type of API varies primarily in the level of access required to use them.

In learning how to access APIs, you'll find the most common types of APIs include: 

  • Public APIs: These types of APIs are also known as Open APIs. They are publicly available, well-documented, and not limited to a specific company. You can find public APIs in code repositories such as GitHub.
  • Partner APIs: These APIs are only accessible to companies that have decided to share data with one another. To ensure secure transmission, partner APIs may use OAuth 2.0 or Open Authentication Protocol (OAP) for authentication. 
  • Internal APIs: These APIs are built for internal developer use only and may not be optimized for external use. 
  • Composite APIs: These types of APIs combine multiple interfaces so you can create a single API. 

Want to learn how to access APIs? Data-driven, RESTful applications pair perfectly with DreamFactory. Create a secure API in just minutes when you sign up for our free 14-day hosted trial. You can get started building public APIs, internal APIs, or composite APIs today.

Anatomy of an API

When accessing APIs, a typical web API call takes place between three entities:

  • The client
  • The server
  • The API itself

Each entity plays a specific role in the process:

  • The client is the computer or device that initiates the API call.
  • The server is the computer that receives the call.
  • The API is the code that handles the communication between client and server.

In most cases, API calls happen over the Internet. To make the call, the client uses an API endpoint URL. The server receives the request and performs the necessary actions to return the requested data to the client. If the request requires a response with data, the server returns the data to the client. When the client receives the response, it displays the data on a web page, in a mobile app, or in a desktop application. The client/application receives the response and processes the data.

Making calls between systems requires three things: 

  • Base URL: The base URL is an HTTP request that a client application sends to a web server application to request data or perform an action. The URL can be a relative or absolute URL and may include parameters that enable the application to process the request and respond with the desired data. The base URL may look something like this:
  • Endpoints: API endpoints are the gateways through which your application interacts with the API. API endpoints can be thought of as the address through which your API is accessed. You access endpoints via the base URL provided for the interface. For example, to access a Purchase Order API, your endpoint URL might look something like this:
  • Query: An API query is an HTTP request sent to an endpoint to request data or perform an action. The type of request is often a POST request but can be a GET request as well. The query can be either synchronous or asynchronous. With a synchronous query, the server returns a response in real-time. On the other hand, an asynchronous API query returns a response when the information requested is available.

How to Start Accessing APIs

When you are ready to start working with an API, find the endpoint where you can send your request. This information is in the API docs from the provider. Most APIs require that you send a header to the server with your credentials. After you have sent your credentials, send the request body. The request body is where you write the query or code that you want the API to perform. Most APIs will have a limit on the number of requests that you can send at once. As a result, you may have to wait for the response before you can try sending another request. The API documentation provides information on request limits, if there are any.

Let’s walk through a quick example:

Step 1: Register Your Application With an API Provider 

Once you have registered your application with the provider, they will give you an API key. The key is a string of characters that allows a developer to authenticate their access to a software program or website. 

Step 2: Generate API Request 

An API request is usually made with the POST HTTP method. The request must be made to the correct endpoint. Each endpoint accepts different parameters, has a different response, and serves a different purpose. For example, one endpoint may create a new user, while another may be used to update an existing user. To make sure your users receive the correct response, make sure you include the endpoint in the URL. You include a Javascript Object Notation (JSON) object or XML object in the POST request that contains the data you send. JSON and XML are both language-independent formats for sharing data between systems. The server returns a JSON response containing the information requested. Once you receive the information, you can use it in your application as you see fit.

DreamFactory: Fueling Digital Transformation Through API Integration

Application Programming Interfaces are the core of digital transformation efforts. Accessing APIs is the key to providing the interconnected and personalized experiences that customers expect. Learning how to use APIs, companies can drive the innovation that helps them stand out from the competition. Try DreamFactory for free and start building and accessing APIs today.

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