Understanding API: Everything You Need to Know

Every now and then, a certain piece of technology will become a buzzword. Everyone’s talking about it. You’ll hear the term thrown around left, right and centre. In the office. Even outside of the office. One of these terms at the moment? API. If you’re unsure what API is and want to learn more, understand how it could be useful for you and how it works, read on!

What Is An API?

Let’s start out with a basic explanation that will let you know what an API is. Put simply, “API” is the acronym for Application Programming Interface. This is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. Chances are you use API on a daily basis. When you send a message on Facebook, you are using the Facebook API. When you post on Twitter, you’re using the Twitter API. Whenever you send an instant message, check the weather, or do anything else on your phone, chances are, you’re using an API.

The History of APIs

​​APIs first came about in the early days of computing. They even came before personal computers, dating them way before laptops, tablets and smartphones. Originally, APIs were typically used as a library for operating systems. Generally speaking, an API was almost always local to the systems it operated on, though it did have the ability to pass messages between mainframes. After roughly 30 years, APIs broke free of local environments and by the 2000s, they were becoming an increasingly important technology in the remote integration of data.

How Do APIs Work?

So, how do APIs work? ​​Whenever you use an application on your mobile phone, the app will connect to the Internet and send data to a server. This server will then retrieve the data, interpreting it, performing the necessary actions requested of it and sending it back to your phone. The app on your phone will  then interpret that data and present you with the information you wanted in a readable way. This sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty straight forward. Perhaps providing an example will help.

  • You want to book a hotel room on your mobile phone through the Booking.com app
  • You will need to communicate to your chosen hotel that you want to book a room
  • This is where API comes into play
  • You will use the app to select a specific budget, check in date and check out date
  • The app will then use API to communicate hotels, checking which have rooms available matching your search criteria
  • The app will then bring this data back to you, displaying it in a list that allows you to browse your different options

While APIs may seem daunting to begin with, once you familiarise yourself with the basics, they seem much more straightforward and approachable. Hopefully, some of the information outlined above has helped you to get to grips with API, providing you with everything you need to know about it for now. Bear it in mind. You never know when it might come in useful!

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