What is an API and What's its Role in Integration?
So, what is an API? For those without technical expertise, APIs, or application programming interfaces, can be an intimidating subject. When you ask an expert about it, there’s a chance you’ll leave more confused than when you started. However, in 2017, it’s a topic you need to get your head around, because APIs can quickly help you and your customers seamlessly surface and leverage information and data, at the point that it’s needed.
So, what is an API? There are countless metaphors and analogies that attempt to describe what APIs are and how they work. You may hear that, above everything else, they save time and resources while increasing value. But what’s in their special sauce?
Hot Dogs! Get Your Hot Dogs Heeeeere!Think about the experience of going to a professional baseball game. You are there for approximately three hours, cheering or cursing your team while taking in the sights and sounds of the stadium. The experience leaves you hungry and thirsty, but leaving your seat places you at risk of missing a home run or a bench-clearing brawl. Thankfully, vendors are at your beck and call to deliver what your palate craves—from peanuts to hot dogs, soda to beer—when you want it.
Each vendor roaming the aisles of the ballpark is like an API. They have a specific function and deliver the desired good in a convenient and rule-based transaction. If you had to cook your own hot dog or brew your own beer each time the urge struck, you probably wouldn’t get to watch much of the game, if any.
In the world of software, APIs are the equivalent of the Dippin’ Dots vendor who delivers you a refreshing, icy delicacy. It is a high-value treat that is either difficult or impossible to make on your own (saving time and resources), but each vendor’s function is limited (the Dippin’ Dots guy, for instance, can’t give you hamburgers or foam fingers). Each vendor is a gateway between the source and the customer, the interface that makes each delicious transaction possible.
What is an API?As we noted, API stands for application programming interface. The name sounds complicated, but it does exactly what it says. An API exposes an interface with functions of an application or service that aren’t available without it for the purpose of programming. A programmer can use the interface to integrate those functions with another application known as the client. The client makes specific requests, or calls, to a defined set of the application’s procedures or functions. The API makes the request of the application and then returns the results to the client. Doing so creates functionality that neither the application nor the client has on their own.
For example, at the bottom of this post, you’ll see a bar that says, “Share this article.” There are icons for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more. If you click on the Twitter icon, a window will pop up that allows you to post a tweet to your timeline. Congratulations! You’ve just made several API calls through Twitter. The API gives the client (the blog) the ability to share content on social networks and the application (Twitter) to extend its ability to tweet outside of Twitter.com or the mobile app. So, what is an API? It’s a connection of functionality of a service to a client.
There are APIs Driving Nearly Every Website You VisitWhile there may be dozens of vendors at a ballgame, there are thousands of APIs for developers to choose from. When you visit a page and see sports scores from ESPN in the sidebar or company stock quotes from Bloomberg at the top, you can be sure that the owners didn’t write all that code. Instead, they integrated the APIs from ESPN and Bloomberg so they could essentially run these mini-programs on their own server, and add value to the experience of visiting their page. You’re not enjoying the full ESPN experience or accessing everything that Bloomberg offers. You're getting a small, but relevant, subset of their features.
Customers, who are now accustomed to obtaining information on demand, are driving this API revolution. Homebuyers like to calculate what their monthly mortgage payment would be if they bought a house they view online. APIs, such as the ones developed by Zillow, do the heavy lifting by passing data from the visitor (e.g., down payment amount, zip code) to a reliable source with current interest rates and tax information, that passes back a pinpoint estimate. Crucially, the customer can do this without leaving the page. In this case, what is an API? It’s a way to provide customers and consumers with the functionality they need without leaving your app or web page.
APIs are the FutureWith each advance in technical sophistication, customers are conditioned to expect more. Rather than completing simple tasks, customers increasingly seek contextual information and insight. Vacation planners aren’t just looking for airfare quotes, but want to know if prices will change in the coming days. As the technology matures, APIs can broaden your understanding of customer needs and behavior. The only limit is your imagination.
We’ve answered the question what is an API? Next week we’ll discuss how APIs are the future of IT infrastructure and how services like SIP, TCPA compliance and more fit into that picture.
Sip Trunking about how Voxtelesys and its experienced development team, Vox DevGroup, can provide your business with access to our extensively documented API and our crew of experts. Whether you need an easy way to integrate our SIP service into programs like Salesforce, or have ideas for custom applications, we provide the collaborative know-how to answer the age-old question, “What if we could do…?”