Everything you Need to know about APIs

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API. You’ve heard about it, but you’re not sure about its meaning. Let‘s make it clear today!

API, aka application programming interface, is a way for a computer program or application to talk to another program. 

Imagine API like a set of rules that make it possible for systems built using sometimes completely different technology to communicate, even if they’re on the other side of the world. Whenever an application needs something from another, it can send a message. That message, or API request, has to be worded in just the right way to get a response. The API tells developers how to word their messages and clearly explains what response they will get. They can use those responses or data in their applications and programs.

API — a crucial tool for everyday automation

From that, you might already guess that APIs play a crucial role in our everyday lives. Do you want to check weather reports on your phone? Thank API! Are you about to make a reservation on Booking or buy your flight tickets? APIs do the job. Do you pay with PayPal or buy shares online? It‘s an API again.

Brief history of the API

Ok, you got it. The Internet as we know it these days wouldn‘t work properly without APIs. But how do they pop up?

The concept of APIs has been around since the 1970s but didn‘t do a show until the internet came to help.

Some of the earliest e-commerce API examples were from Salesforce, eBay, and Amazon. The Google Maps API came along just as mobiles took off, giving users access to map data in a host of other apps.

But it was social media APIs that really kicked off the API explosion. The Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook APIs made it possible for developers to use content from those websites all over the web.

API vocab: Learn the most important terms

To understand the concept of APIs better, here are a few API terms you need to know if you’re a developer (or not; it‘s helpful for everyone who uses internet, that means just about everybody):

  • API Key/Token: Secret codes used by applications to authenticate their API requests.
  • API Endpoint: The specific URL where an API’s resources are available, acting like a unique address for API requests.
  • API Call/Request: The act of sending a request to an API endpoint to retrieve or modify data.
  • API Integration: It‘s the process of linking together 2+ software applications via API, which enable them to share and synchronize data.
  • Cache: The component, either within software or hardware, designed to temporarily store frequently accessed data to speed up data retrieval. 
  • Internal APIs: Also called private APIs, are used within one company. They provide seamless integration and communication between different company softwares across departments. That saves time and improves efficiency.
  • External APIs: Known also as public APIs are used, apparently, by general public. They are made to serve external developers and for wider private use.

4 great APIs that change the world

Seeking more examples of great APIs? Here they are:

  1. IBM Watson: At the cutting edge of artificial intelligence and natural language processing, the IBM Watson APIs enable third-party applications to use conversation, language, and advanced text analytics.
  2. Google Maps API: One of the biggest and best APIs out there is the Google Maps API. It’s been around for over 15 years and it has powered everything from navigation to crisis relief efforts. Google does impose some restrictions on developers using its API, so there are unofficial alternatives that let you do more. If you need to extract data at scale from Google Maps, you can always use something like Apify  Google Maps Scraper.
  3. Facebook API: With over 2.85 billion monthly active users, it’s easy to see why developers want to use the Facebook API to connect with customers and access the vast amounts of data that Facebook collects. Again, Facebook can be pretty restrictive when it comes to how quickly you can extract data, so it’s worth exploring unofficial Facebook API options such as Apify Facebook Pages Scraper
  4. Stripe API: Stripe is revolutionizing the world of internet payments for millions of businesses of all sizes. It brings together everything you could possibly need to build an app or website that accepts or sends payments anywhere in the world in over 135 currencies. It also helps that Stripe is committed to creating the “world’s most powerful and easy-to-use APIs”. Clean, organized, and predictable, the Stripe API is truly a world-class example of how to create an API.
  5. Apify API: With the artificial intelligence on its rise, data plays even more important role than ever before. Data engineers and developers need to streamline the data they got from web scraping, automate their transition to easy-to-use format to get what they want. On Apify Store, you‘ll find many crawlers that scrape the web for you, build-in automation tools and also Apify API that enables you to move your data whenever you want withou thinking about it for a long time. Take a moment to scroll through Apify Store and you‘ll explore many possible sources of data such as social site, e-commerce platforms, marketing and lead generation tools, job, education or real estates sites. Whether you are a business analysis, developer building a new app, or academic worked doing your research, thanks to Apify API, you‘ll get rid of hours of manual data gathering into a quick activity you‘ll enjoy.

Make magic with APIs and Apify on your own

Now you know the basics of API, and you are ready to use it in the real world. Congratulations! As you already know, APIs are not only an essential tool of the automated world called internet but only play a key role in more advanced dev techniques such as web scraping. You can try Apify‘s code templates for Python, JavaScript, and TypeScript, use a selected API, and craft a web scraper that extracts data from the internet on your own. Isn‘t that exciting?

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.