Application Programming Interface (API)

An Application Programming Interface (API) acts as a communication bridge between web servers and applications to simplify and expand software implementation. APIs use a set of protocols and tools that help developers build software applications and programs for a wide range of purposes.

What Exactly is an API?

An API can refer to several different things at once. It can be an entire web server, part of an app, a whole app or a piece of software. 

Ultimately, the purpose of an API is communication. The API sends and receives requests that tell application/website/software components how to interact. That is the “interface” part of API. And it sets a standard or specifications that make it much easier to develop and use applications. 

A major benefit of APIs is that it can outsource data requirements and functionality so that they are provided by the web server, website, etc. acting as an API provider. The API will make a request and the provider will respond by supplying functionality and/or data. Requests can be made across digital networks that span the whole Internet or a private, local network internally. 

Therefore, APIs allow programmers to be much more efficient because they don’t have to start from scratch when coding. Many times custom coding is unnecessary because an API exists.  As a result, applications that used to take months or more to develop can be programmed in a matter of hours. End users get access to applications much faster and benefit from regular updates and added features. APIs do, however, require that parameters be specified in order to pass along data or functionality. 

READY TO PICK THE RIGHT KPIS TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS?

Learn how to pick the metrics that matter.

Download the Guide

When Are APIs Used?

APIs are primarily used by developers, but they can create a variety of programs that are utilized by millions of people. Even copying and pasting text between applications often requires an API. 

Because they expand usability, many operating systems make APIs readily available to developers so that compatible applications can be built. Larger websites, like Amazon, also have APIs for specific use within their environment.

Today, companies build APIs for internal applications and for consumer use. Some companies even create APIs to sell as products. It’s common for third-party software developers to leverage APIs to build solutions they then offer to end-users. 

APIs are commonly used within:

  • Web-based software systems
  • Software libraries
  • Hardware programs
  • Databases
  • Operating systems 
  • Websites
  • Mobile applications
  • Browsers

It’s also possible to access APIs directly from a website. Typically, the URL will look something like www.api.websitedomain.com

Examples of APIs

The API economy, as it’s known, covers a lot of ground today. There are tens of thousands of APIs that make repurposing complex functionality possible. It’s grown to the point that API providers compete to attract developers that can help expand their commodity. And some APIs, like the ones below, have attracted their fair share of developers.

Google Maps APIs

One of the best-known APIs is within Google Maps. If you’ve ever used a website or mobile app that displays a Google Map an API was involved to render the map. The Google Map API makes it extremely easy to embed an interactive map on a web page that’s accessible through mobile, tablet and desktop devices. 

Stripe Credit Card Processing API

Processing credit card transactions online can require a substantial amount of development. Or a website can leverage the Stripe credit card processing API as a much quicker solution. All of the logic for online credit card processing is contained in the Stripe API. Businesses across the globe use it for crowdfunding, monthly subscriptions and eCommerce transactions. 

Amazon Product Advertising API

Amazon has developed a number of APIs, and one of the most utilized is the product advertising API. It allows website owners to monetize their site by creating custom Amazon product ads that display on designated web pages. It’s even possible to build an entire web store filled with items from the Amazon marketplace. 

Mixpanel APIs

Mixpanel has developed a number of our own APIs for clients to use. They provide a substantial amount of added functionality and give clients the means to customize data analysis. For example, there’s the JQL API that allows users to write Javascript code that can analyze raw data. The Export API can export event data in JSON format. The Ingestion API gives users the ability to send data to the Mixpanel system. Many clients gain invaluable insights with our platform and reports, but APIs make just about anything possible. 

If you’d like to know more about APIs and how they are developed ProgrammableWeb is an excellent resource. You can read informative articles and search their database of 22,000+ APIs. 

Learn how your product compares to the competition

Get the free 2019 Product Benchmarks report today

Download Report