How Do APIs work? (Guide To Using APIs)

by Sachin

You may not realize it yet, but APIs are everywhere, proving instrumental to a whole host of modern apps and services that billions of people use every day.

So what are APIs, how do they work and how can they be used to help you turn your app ambitions into a reality?

The Foundations

An application programming interface is a solution which lets different apps and services interact with and understand one another, so that data and functionality can be shared and interpreted seamlessly.

This is achieved through the use of commands that are interoperable, even if the distinct systems themselves would not otherwise be cross-compatible.

Reading a simple API example is a good way of appreciating how they work and what benefits they bring to the table. In short they let apps harness technologies and info created elsewhere, ranging from weather forecasts to AI-powered language processing and beyond.

The Varieties

Another important aspect of understanding how APIs work is appreciating that there are actually different types available.

Public APIs are available to anyone and can be used in almost any context, without limits placed on how they are accessed.

Paid-for APIs require that you pay the creator for a license to make use of them, and adhere to the stipulations of any usage requirements that this involves.

Private APIs are developed by businesses to be deployed internally and never end up in public-facing services.

There are also a number of web services APIs to consider, including simple object access protocol (SOAP), XML-RPC, JSON-RPC and RESTful APIs.

The Use Cases

The final step to working out how APIs work is to look at scenarios in which they might effectively be harnessed.

For example, if you were creating an app built to offer travel functions to users, you might want to pull down data relating to weather conditions in different destinations, as well as to the pricing of flights and accommodation in these locations.

There are a number of excellent APIs for all of these purposes, each of which you can integrate with your app. For example, the TripAdvisor API is a popular option for any developer hoping to include a wealth of high quality travel-related content, although there are of course many others.

This is just one instance in which an API can be very useful, whether you choose a public or licensed version. You can also find APIs for video games, news, instant messaging, finance, facial recognition and a wealth of other impactful options.

In terms of acquiring access to APIs, there are several ways to go about this. Some will be available directly, while others are offered on API marketplaces that act as a one-stop shop for all of your needs. Many of these platforms will let you test out APIs to see how they perform and assess them in comparison with alternatives, giving you even more power when it comes to making a decision about which to use for your site or app.

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