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What is an API?
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In this section, we will discuss the concept of an API, a term frequently encountered in the world of computing. API stands for "Application Programming Interface". Although it may sound complicated, let's see how we can simplify this concept to make it easier to understand.

Let's imagine we are in a restaurant. When you order food, you don't have direct access to the kitchen to prepare it yourself. Instead, you interact with the waiter, who takes your order and passes it on to the chef:



The chef prepares the food and sends it back through the waiter, who serves you the final order. In this analogy, the waiter is similar to the API.

In the world of computing, an application is like the restaurant kitchen, and the API is like the waiter who allows communication between the different components of the application. The API defines a set of rules and instructions that developers can use to interact with a particular application or system. Through the API, developers can access functionalities, data, or services of an application without knowing the internal details of its implementation. Below is a schematic representation of an API that allows querying a specific database:



Another simple example is a weather API. Suppose you want to create an application that displays the weather forecast on your phone. Instead of writing all the code necessary to collect and interpret weather data, you can use an API that allows you to request updated weather data, which you can then use in your application to display in a user-friendly manner. See an example of this in the section [Mars Weather Bulletin].

There are also APIs for various services, such as online payment services or social media platforms. These APIs allow developers to integrate the functionalities of these services into their applications without developing everything from scratch.

In essence, an API is a way for two applications or software components to communicate and interact with each other. Through APIs, developers can build applications more quickly and efficiently by using existing functionalities from other applications or services.

Types of APIs

There are many types of APIs depending on who has access to them, and this organizational framework can include the following:

  • Private APIs, also known as internal APIs, are used to connect different software components within the same organization and are not available for third-party use. For example, a social media application might have a private API that manages the authentication flow, another private API that manages the news feed, and yet another private API that facilitates user communication. Some applications may include dozens or even hundreds of private APIs.
  • Public APIs provide public access to an organization's data, functionalities, or services, which third-party developers can integrate into their own applications. Some public APIs are available for free, while others are offered as paid products. For example, an e-commerce application can use a public payment API, such as Stripe, to handle payment processing without having to build this functionality from scratch. See also the material about the [Google Translate API].
  • Partner APIs allow collaboration between two or more companies to share data or functionalities for a common project. These are not available to the general public and use authentication mechanisms to ensure they are only used by authorized partners.
APIs offer significant advantages in software development, facilitating communication and interaction between different applications and services. Through APIs, developers can access and use existing functionalities in other applications, reducing the time and effort needed to build everything from scratch. Additionally, APIs enable the creation of modular and extensible applications, as they can be updated or replaced without affecting the entire system structure.

From an architectural perspective, they can be of types such as REST (Representational State Transfer), SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), GraphQL, Webhooks, gRPC (Remote Procedure Call), etc.

Practical Use Cases. Advantages

APIs are extremely versatile and support a wide range of use cases, including:

Integration with Internal and External Systems
One of the most common reasons developers use APIs is to integrate one system with another. For example, you can use an API to integrate your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system with your marketing automation system, allowing you to automatically send a marketing email when a sales representative adds a new lead to the CRM.

Adding or Enhancing Functionality
APIs allow you to incorporate additional functionalities into your application, which can improve the customer experience. For example, if you are working on a food delivery application, you can integrate a mapping API provided by a third party to enable users to track their order while it is in transit.



Connecting IoT Devices
APIs are essential for the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, which includes devices such as smartwatches, fitness trackers, doorbell cameras, and smart appliances, among others. Without APIs, these devices wouldn't be able to connect to the cloud or to each other, rendering them useless.

Creating Scalable Systems
APIs are used to implement microservices-based architectures, where applications are built as a collection of small services that communicate with each other through private APIs. Microservices are managed, deployed, and provisioned independently, allowing teams to scale systems in a reliable and cost-effective manner.

Reducing Costs
APIs help organizations reduce operational costs by automating time-intensive tasks such as sending emails, extracting reports, and sharing data between systems. They can also reduce development costs by allowing teams to reuse existing functionality instead of reinventing it.

Improving Security and Organizational Governance
APIs power many workflows essential for organizational security. For example, single sign-on (SSO), which allows users to use the same username and password for multiple systems, is made possible by APIs. APIs are also used to enforce and automate corporate governance rules and policies, such as requiring expenses to be approved before employees receive reimbursements.

This list is far from exhaustive and will continue to grow as developers create innovative solutions that change the way we live, work, and interact with each other.
This section is now over.
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