Understanding APIs For Beginners


If you use applications such as Facebook, Spotify, or Instagram, you’ve undoubtedly interacted with the ability to connect to another app, while on another application. For example, Facebook is a popular way to sign into different apps and websites. You can also share your location on WhatsApp and Uber. These connections between software are possible thanks to APIs.

What Is An API?

An Application Programming Interface, popularly known as an API, is an interface that helps software share data with each other. APIs act as interfaces between the user and an application. As the user, you send a request to an application. The API takes your request to the application, and collects the response and delivers it to you.

If you’re new to APIs, you’re probably wondering why APIs matter? Why are developers and companies always mentioning APIs? Are APIs challenging for beginners to understand?

This guide answers these and more APIs for dummies questions to give you a peek into APIs.

Why APIs Matter?

APIs are available as standalone products that developers acquire to add specific functions without writing the code. APIs also help you access data from other apps. As a beginner, understanding and using APIs in your applications may be challenging. However, you can boost your knowledge with an online course.

Once you learn how to use an API, you’ll also discover that building an entire API architecture from scratch is hard and time-consuming. You can ease your process by using an available API. Let’s say you’re building an e-commerce website. The website requires users to log in to make purchases. However, you need a simple way to help the customers sign in a while, verifying their identity.

A simple API to solve this would the “Log In With”. You’ve seen this before as Log In with Twitter, Log In with Facebook, or Log In With LinkedIn. Basically, you leverage Twitter, Facebook’s or LinkedIn’s APIs to authenticate your users.

After verifying the user identify, you’ll want to provide convenient payment methods for online customers. For this, the Pay with PayPal API works well. When the user clicks the button, they send a request to the Pay with PayPal API, with essential details such as the user, and required amount.

The API responds with a pop-up that prompts the user to verify their identity before the payment is processed. When the payment is complete, the API also sends a confirmation message to the user through the application.

APIs matter because they support data transmission between applications, devices and people. They support the relevance of data in an interconnected world. Without APIs, people cannot share crucial information, which lowers the pace of connectivity.

Types of Main Web APIs

  • Open Source APIs: Anyone in public has access to these APIs without a license or rights.
  • Partner APIs: You require access rights and licenses to use these APIs.
  • Internal APIs: Only available in specific internal systems such as within a company.

Types of Web Service APIs

  • Simple Object Access Protocols or SOAP APIs use XML formats to transmit data between applications.
  • JavaScript APIs use Java to share data.
  • XML-RCP APIs use a minimum bandwidth XML to share data.
  • JSON-RPC APIs use JSON to transfer data.
  • RESTful APIs use the HTTPS protocol to share data.

RESTful APIs are the most common API that uses a set of principles to transmit data. The HyperText Transfer Protocol or HTTP is widely used on the internet, and commonly appears at the beginning of most web addresses. When you open a web page, you’re sending a HTTP request to the web address.

Applications also use RESTful APIs to send requests to each other. For example, when you send a request to access Facebook on another app, its sent to Facebook servers. The request usually includes a specific function, for example, to gather profile information. To perform the function, HTTPs uses different request methods.

  • GET- used to fetch data from an application
  • PUT- used to edit the existing data
  • POST- used to add new data
  • DELETE- used to delete existing data

Facebook analyzes the request to confirm if it’s valid. If the input is valid, Facebook responds to the request as needed. In this case, it provides profile information.

However, sending requests is tough because languages and APIs differ in their methods of formatting requests. What’s more, APIs need to verify user identity to prevent misuse. How do they accomplish this?

The APIs use authentication measures.

  • The first is HTTP Basic Access Authentication, which requires the user to sign in with a username and password. This authentication measure offers minimal security because the data is not encrypted.
  • OAuth 1.0. And OAuth 2.0. -The latter is an upgrade from the former. This authentication measure is a better protocol because it works with tokens. A token sent to a user for them to authenticate their identity. The process is often short, and includes a summarized list of permissions, and requires the user to click on buttons.

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