Non-technical explanation of an API

It’s all about connection. Most of us carry phones and other small computers in our pockets that are connected to networks that give us unprecedented access to our friends and colleagues. By now, we are so used to the instant connectivity that puts the world at our fingertips. We can purchase, post, pin and pick anything. How is this possible? The answer is through APIs.

Non-technical explanation of an API

What is an API?

APIs are big part of the web and very technical term. But, to keep it simple, an API (Application Programming Interface) is a software-to-software interface that enables two applications to exchange data among each other.

APIs are provided for various levels of the software development process – from low level functionality provided by third-party software vendors, and web APIs that allow a software application to interface with remote system. This article is mostly about web APIs.

Commercial sites make some parts of their code available to developers so that they can build tools for the site. This exposed code is an API and stuff they build are applications (tools and widgets). So, API is like the “digital plumbing” which makes connected applications possible.

How are APIs used?

Whenever a developer or tool want to access a set of data from an application, they need to call that API. But this call is not that simple, because different APIs communicate in different ways. So they need to use a language that is unique to each application. That way API is like a translator between two people who speak different languages.

Transfer is generally between the host application (the Server) and the consumer application (the Client). Example of this is a smartphone app that syncs with a website. When you push the refresh button on your app, it talks to a server via an API and fetches the newest information. So, in this case, the site providing the data is acting as a server and the smartphone fetching the data is the client, and API is moving information between them.

Once the data transfer is in place, usually both client and server will want to exert some sort of management control over who can access the API and make and receive request. Secure authorisation is usually essential with many business APIs, but many of them have public APIs.

Applications – what can be connected?

There are many forms of APIs and many different applications that can be connected, like PlanMill and other common business applications which potentially share useful data, like Dear Lucy, Google, Hubspot, Loyalistic, Mailchimp, Twitter, LinkedIn, Procountor, Microsoft Dynamics, Slack and Zapier.

Facebook, for example, has a public API that allows third-party applications to integrate Facebook with them. For example it can allow you to log into an application using your own Facebook account.

Why use APIs?

There are many good reasons to leverage web APIs. Businesses need a set of software applications to help them handle their day-to-day operations. These software could be commercially available programs, cloud based applications, or custom-designed software.

An API resembles Software as a Service (SaaS), since software developers don’t have to start from scratch every time they write a program. In this sense, APIs are great time savers. Instead of building one core application that tries to do everything, the same application can contract out certain responsibilities to remote software that does it better.

APIs for business

Today, web-based applications are simply not enough for businesses to reach their customers. So, if companies want to expose their service data to the web and as well as all phones and other modern devices in speedy and simple way, they should have an API which is compatible across the web clients and devices.

The smartest businesses have worked out that APIs are now hugely valuable strategic business. Companies are discovering valuable new uses for previously isolated data sources. APIs are the tools that allow businesses to put that data to use by inspiring developers to improve existing products, systems and operations.

And what’s more, the internet is transforming to an ecosystem of APIs and applications that work together to empower companies to create new businesses and new ways of working together.

Check also the article: Understanding the ecosystem of SaaS

PlanMill Ltd. is a leading provider of user-friendly web-based CRM, PROJECT and ERP Cloud solutions designed for the service business. We enable organizations to streamline business processes, improve control of their customers, personnel, projects and finance – while enhancing productivity and profitability.

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