APIs have been making the news lately, especially with Apple’s release of Metal API for iOS. But APIs themselves have been around for a long time. They’re a necessity in today’s ever-changing tech landscape, which is why understanding them is key to providing users with the interoperability they now require.
What is an API?
An API (short for “Application Programming Interface”) is a set of requirements that determine how one application can talk to another.
Why do APIs matter?
The short answer: APIs help make your life easier by making things more efficient. Say you have an application that checks the weather forecast for rain and, if there’s a chance of rain, it’ll display an umbrella icon on your home screen. The app does this by pulling the day’s forecast from weather.com.
Here’s the difference an API would make in our example app:
Without an API:
The app checks the current weekly forecast by opening http://www.weather.com/ and reading the webpage much like a human user would, interpreting the content as it goes. The app knows to look for the weekly forecast in one specific area of the site. However, if the site changes its layout, the app won’t work anymore.
With an API:
The app will call the message listed in weather.com’s API that returns the weekly forecast. Regardless of what the website looks like, the app will get the data it needs and will function as it should.
As you can see, APIs not only make interoperability possible, but offer a host of other benefits like improving functionality and streamlining processes.
How APIs work
APIs themselves are a series of different XML messages, each XML message corresponding to a different function. For example, a cloud hosting API may have an XML message that corresponds with creating a cloud server and one that will reboot a cloud server.
To tap into this functionality, a developer will write code that generates the right XML messages to either create or reboot a server and voila! The servers will be created or rebooted in real time, all without needing to log into a portal.
Advantages of using an API
Part of the reason why releasing APIs has become so popular is because of how much they benefit users. Some of the main benefits are:
- Easy integration. With an API available, developers can easily integrate other services into their existing software.
- Processes are streamlined. Back to our cloud hosting example, developers could integrate cloud hosting functionality into existing applications so companies wouldn’t need to train IT staff and employees on how to administer and use new software.
- It empowers users. APIs enable users to better access and customize a service in a way that suits their needs directly.
Thus, companies who release APIs allow their customers to access their services in newer, more efficient ways. If you’re interested in learning more about APIs and what they can do for you from a cloud perspective, check out our API here. We’d love to get your feedback on it, and know how you’re using it to power your business.