What is an API (Application Programme Interface)?
By Mariana Almeida Marques
It is common to hear about APIs in the technology sector. APIs have effectively changed how developers write and connect to applications. However, if you are not a developer, API may not be the easiest term to understand. In this article, we discuss what are APIs, how they work, and real-life examples of using this tool.
What is an API?
Succinctly put, an API, or Application Programming Interface, is a set of rules that connects two applications. Think of APIs as intermediaries that enable applications to talk to each other and exchange data and/or functionalities. They allow companies to share their software with third-parties, such as clients, business partners or other developers. These third-parties can make use of the software’s functionalities and work on those functionalities without having to write all of their own code.
Types of API
There are various types of APIs available. The types of API are defined based on its usage/who can access them. Below are some of the most widely known APIs.
Public– According to ProgrammableWeb, there are currently over 24.000 public APIs available. Public APIs open for external users and any developer or business can access them. Some examples are Skyscanner or Twitter. Essentially, any kind of travel booking or social platform that lets users share, post or request information from third-parties (such is the case of Skyscanner). You can find more detailed examples in the next section of this article.
Private- Internal APIs, on the other hand, are only available to the company’s own developers and are not shareable with external users. This means that only the company’s developers have access to the backend data and functionalities and can work together on them.
Partner-There are also Partner APIs that companies may share with business partners. However, partners can’t access APIs automatically. Though companies may show their APIs on a public developers portal, partners need to undergo a specific onboarding process to get the login credentials and finally be able to use the API.
Some API examples
Restaurant order- Using a real-life example, think of making an order at a restaurant. You first access a system/menu with all the meal options available. Then, you need to make your order either via the waiter or through a mobile app. The waiter or mobile app serve as the connection between you and the system/kitchen, allowing for your order to reach the final destination and be processed. This communication between “systems” is needed for everything that users search for. Initially, users trigger a request to the server, who performs the necessary actions and brings the results back to them.
Travel booking- Many travel websites let users compare the prices and availability, amongst other functions, of hotels and flights around the globe. This is only possible to API connections that enable users to access information from various websites at the same time. Whenever users make a search on a travel website, they trigger an API request to access information from a particular hotel or airline in real time.
Universal logins- It is common for websites to let users sign up or log in using another account. For instance, websites may let you sign up with your Facebook account, so you don’t actually have to insert your email address and a new password. This process uses an API that connects the website you’re entering to Facebook so you can be quickly authenticated. The API here is responsible for picking up your Facebook account details and sharing them with the website you want to sign up to.
More generally, APIs can also be used to share data (i.e. programmes that need data from third-parties), to do app integrations (i.e. Hootsuite for automating posts on another app) or to embed external content into platforms.
What is an API key?
An API key consists of a unique code to identify the developer/user who made an API request. It also serves for authentication and tracking purposes, almost like an ID used to monitor how the API is being used. API keys naturally help companies to restrict access to their software. Companies have the option to only give keys to a specific group of clients and to control how many people use their software.
How do APIs work?
The process starts with an API request, for which you need an API key. The third-party initiates an API call, requesting the API for information. The API effectively works as the connector between the third-party/application and the web server. If all details are correct, the API will collect the information from the web server and deliver it to the application. Much like in the real-life examples above, users trigger a request for specific information, such as a destination and date for flights, the application receives this request, collects this information from the airlines’ website and delivers it to the user.
How Imburse can help
Imburse is a cloud-based middleware connecting large enterprises to the payments ecosystem, regardless of their existing IT infrastructure. Through a single connection to Imburse, enterprises can collect or pay out using a variety of payment technologies and providers around the globe.
In a world where consumers payment preferences and technologies are ever-evolving, Imburse works with insurers to future-proof their payment requirements. Regardless of the business area, market, or requirements, Imburse will connect you to your choice of technology and provider.
Reach out to our team below should you want to discuss how Imburse can help you. Our team is happy to show you what our platform can do for your business and offer you a free demo.