The Beginner’s Guide to Developing APIs

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Open notebook representing the beginner's guide to developing APIs

In the data-driven world, APIs have earned a crucial spot in the space where business and tech collide. Everyone from software engineers to business owners can benefit from APIs. This post will serve as a beginner's guide on APIs, highlighting how they work and the benefits they can provide to business operations.

What Is an API?  

An API, or Application Programming Interface, refers to functions allowing applications to access data and interact with external software components, operating systems, and microservices.

APIs allow multiple applications to talk to one another. An API delivers a user request to a system and then sends the system's response back to the original user. APIs also allow users to access and build upon the data and functionality of existing applications. 

Related Reading: 7 Must-Know Factors in API Development

How Does an API Work?

Now that we've got a solid idea of what an API entails, let's examine how an API works. Various analogies can be used to help better beginners better understand how APIs work. Regardless of the specific analogy, you can always think of an API as a "middleman" between applications and servers. APIs Are Kind of Like a Waiter at a Restaurant 

Just like a waiter allows you and the cook to share information without ever having to communicate directly, an API allows multiple applications to send messages back and forth without directly communicating with each other. APIs Can Also Be Thought of as Translators 

An API also functions like a translator, allowing you to receive information that you otherwise wouldn't be able to comprehend without outside intervention. The same is true for an API that allows the application to send messages back and forth so that both applications understand the information thoroughly. 

Common Types of APIs 

A variety of different APIs are used in the modern world. Two of the most common types of APIs are REST APIs and SOAP APIs. 

  • REST APIs: A REST API, or Representational State Transfer API, delivers data using the lightweight JSON format. JSON can be created and used by other programming languages and is syntactically similar to the code for creating JavaScript objects. In addition, JSON is a text format that uses conventions familiar to programmers of the C-family of languages, including C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, Perl, Python, and many others. Many public APIs use REST API technology because of its reliability, scalability, and quick performance.
  • SOAP APIs: A SOAP API, or Simple Object Access Protocol API, uses XML to transfer data and information between applications. JSON is simpler than XML, but XML is more powerful. In comparison to REST APIs, SOAP APIs are a bit more complex and require more upfront data to function properly. 

In addition, browser APIs and iOS/Android APIs are common types of APIs. Browser APIs use JavaScript to manipulate HTML to create a unique experience within a browser, like playing music or displaying animations. iOS or Android APIs are primarily used to transmit data to a phone's hardware and use different sensors in the hardware, like the phone's camera. 

Related Reading: APIs and Logistics: How APIs Are Changing the Face of the Logistics Industry

Popular API Use Cases 

APIs come in handy in a variety of situations, allowing various software and applications to communicate, work together, and achieve common goals. Some of the most popular use cases of APIs are database APIs, operating systems APIs, remote APIs, and web APIs. 

  • Database APIs: This popular API use case allows easy communication between applications and database management systems. A real-life example of a database API can be seen with Firebase, a mobile web application platform owned by Google. The platform lets developers efficiently sync and store data in real-time. 
  • Operating Systems APIs: The Windows API and the Linux Kernel User-Space API are two real-world examples of operating systems APIs. 
  • Remote APIs: These types of APIs interact through a communication network. Most Remote APIs are designed based on web standards because the internet plays such a critical role as a communications network. However, not all Remote APIs are Web APIs.
  • Web APIs: The most common use case of APIs are Web APIs. Web APIs are responsible for sending requests from a web application and responses from servers using HTTP, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol. In addition, Web APIs are used extensively in mobile apps and websites to increase their functionality and make them practical for users. Facebook, Netflix, Google, Chrome, and more all use web APIs for their daily function. 

Overall, APIs have endless use cases, from a web server to web development to web services to database system management and everything in between. Therefore, APIs can be utilized to ensure these entities run more efficiently.

What Benefits do APIs Bring to Business?

APIs are used across a vast array of industries and bring significant advantages to business operations. Some of the top benefits that APIs can provide to business operations include:

  • APIs provide an increase in productivity and collaboration.
  • APIs encourage a push toward innovation and allow for more customization. 
  • APIs help reduce development costs. 
  • APIs work to improve marketing and collect data for intelligence analytics. 
  • APIs can build new product capabilities. 

Related Reading: Why Calculate the Cost of APIs and How To Get Started

The DreamFactory Beginner's Guide to APIs

After reading DreamFactory's Beginner's Guide to APIs, you're ready to discover how implementing APIs can help elevate your company Register today to discover DreamFactory's new features and to try out the platform for yourself.

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