APIs and API management are the talk of the town these days – but what exactly ia an API and how do APIs work? Dive into the world of APIs and get answers to the question: What exactly is an API?
What’s an API?
From a technical point of view, APIs represent an interface between applications and systems. They connect them in a simple way, open data silos, and enable developers of new applications to access and reuse existing applications and data sources. Like most organizations, your business processes – such as production planning, accounting, warehouse management, sales, customer and supplier integration, web shops and mobile applications – are supported by various IT systems. Usually several systems are involved in a process and interact with each other via APIs.
APIs provide selected system functions in real time for use by other applications. APIs are service interfaces designed for real time scenarios, not mass data. They make interactions between any system, application, mobile device or app possible. And, any mobile app or website that provides a comprehensive user experience, any application deployed in a cloud service, use APIs. Therefore, APIs are also points of connection between platforms and ecosystems.
APIs open the door to applications for the outside world and vice versa. Whole platforms can be developed on the basis of APIs alone. This concept has gained widespread popularity in recent years and entire businesses are based on it. The development of APIs has transformed complete business models and stimulated new strategic business directions.
The bottom line is that APIs make various functional units accessible to the outside world. However, the consuming functional units can differ fundamentally from each other. Whether the integration scenarios are internal or external is irrelevant in the world of APIs.
How APIs work – simply explained
Imagine an airline that provides various services by telephone, such as information on the arrival and departure times of flights, or information on the status of lost baggage. You found this service on the airline’s website. So you call the number given, identify yourself and give the flight number or the identification number for your lost baggage. You expect, and receive, a response to your request in the same phone call. The background processes that are necessary to provide these services and retrieve the information you have requested, which systems are contacted and which languages must be spoken to complete the service, are all irrelevant to you as the person making the request. The only thing you care about is that you receive the right answer to your request from the person who answered your call.
Now, if instead of a phone call you use a smartphone app, replacing the person at the information desk, you have an API use case: you will reduce costs, have real-time access to information and features stored and available in your system, and you don’t have to spend any time sitting on hold.
APIs are nothing more than entry points into a system or an application for other systems or applications – they are interfaces. APIs provide a standardized way to clearly define what kind of data or functionality a system or application can provide.