Today, we all expect information to be immediately available, right at our fingertips, whenever we want it. Application programming interfaces (APIs) make that kind of instant connectivity possible. APIs are crucial building blocks of programming code that allow an app or service to communicate with other digital products and services. The code in the API allows data to be transmitted from one piece of software to another.
Developers save time and money using APIs. They can use these pre-designed blocks of code rather than having to do all the coding themselves, from scratch. APIs provide developers with greater flexibility and allow for simplified designs while also creating a wealth of opportunities for innovation.
How Do APIs Work?
APIs feature a set of rules that determine how programs and computers communicate. User interfaces you see on web pages or programs are designed for humans to communicate with computers. But APIs are interfaces designed for systems or programs to communicate with one another. In the chain of interaction, the API sits between the application (being used by a human) and the server.
The human user starts an API call, telling the application to perform a task. The application then uses the API to communicate with the server to process the user’s request.
A good metaphor for understanding APIs is to think of an API as a server at a restaurant. The customer places an order and the server returns to the kitchen to process and fill that order. In this metaphor, the server acts as the intermediary between the customer and the kitchen, much as the API acts as the intermediary between the user and the server.
Examples of APIs in Action
Here are a few examples of common uses of APIs:
- Login functionality: An increasing number of apps and websites allow logins with existing social accounts, such as Facebook or Twitter. This type of login functionality uses an API. The user clicks the button to log in with their platform of choice and confirms their account and password. The API communicates with the server to validate that login information and process the request to allow the login to proceed.
- Reservation booking: When booking flights, hotel rooms or dinner reservations, you may use booking apps or websites to confirm your reservation. The API confirms availability of reservations in your selected timeslots. Travel services especially rely on APIs for their bookings because they allow machines to rapidly exchange data and requests, such as flight availability and requested reservations.
- Weather forecasts: Many websites have built-in weather widgets. If you have a smartphone, you probably also have a weather app. These features use APIs to gather weather details for the user’s specified location from a third party and then deliver them back to the user.
- Map applications: The map applications you use on your smartphone rely on APIs to deliver accurate directions and location data. Users submit addresses for directions, the API communicates with the server and then brings the directions back to the user. Other websites and applications can embed Google Maps widgets into their platforms, using an API to draw data from the Google Maps servers to deliver to their users.
Types of APIs
There are several main categories of APIs: public, private, partner and composite.
- Public APIs are available for use by any third-party developer. These APIs can be free for use or proprietary APIs owned by a developer and available for purchase or subscription.
- Private APIs are specifically designed for in-house use to improve the organization’s services or operations. In-house developers or contractors hired by a company might use private APIs to integrate internal IT systems and applications or to build entirely new systems. All private APIs are, by definition, only available for those working with the developer.
- Partner APIs are promoted publicly but shared only with partners that have a signed contract with the API developer. This type of API is most likely to be used in a scenario in which two different parties need to integrate their software.
- Composite APIs are designed to group multiple API requests into a single call. This allows for more efficient operation. One API request can comprise multiple tasks or information requests while returning a single response to the user.
What is an API Lifecycle?
The term “API lifecycle” refers to the phases that must occur for an API to be successfully designed and deployed.
The general stages of an API lifecycle are:
- Planning: The business team and developers meet to discuss what’s needed and how the API can be designed to fulfill those requirements.
- Development: The developers create the API based on those discussions.
- Testing: Developers thoroughly test the API for functionality and performance before turning it over for implementation.
- Deployment: The finished API is put into operation. After deployment, developers may need to create updated versions of APIs to stay current with changing needs for functionality and security.
- Retirement: All good things do come to an end. Eventually, an API will outlive its usefulness and that will result in retiring it from service.
How Boomi Approaches API Management
The Boomi AtomSphere Platform supports customers with API management throughout the entire API lifecycle – from early concepts to retirement. Boomi configures APIs that meet clients needs and then publishes them with comprehensive security and authentication. Once the API is live, Boomi monitors APIs via traffic control and a usage dashboard.
Boomi constantly works to ensure maximum performance of your APIs and deliver the most efficient, seamless customer and partner experiences possible.