Basic Information about an API
An API, which stands for Application Programming Interface, is a programming interface. Through this interface, two independent programs can communicate with each other. They can share data and/or services without revealing their own code. While the API is connected to the respective programs, it only allows external users to access specific commands, such as "get articles." Behind this command lies the internal code. An API thus enables a company to provide its services to other websites, programs, or apps without worrying about the theft of their hard-earned code. Provided documentation (instructions) makes it possible for even non-experts to integrate the code. Some companies secure their API with an API key, which is a key required to access the API. This key sometimes costs money but is often free and can be requested with just three clicks and an email address.
Explanation of Function with Concrete Examples from Everyday Life
By now, APIs have become an integral part of our everyday life. Every smartphone, smartwatch, and laptop uses dozens of them daily. The application is as simple as it is ingenious: the API acts like a courier. It transfers data from A to B and then waits for confirmation of the data from B before bringing it back to A.
In a flight price comparison website, multiple APIs are used at once. The website integrates APIs from every airline to compare all possible prices. Airlines are responsible for designing their own APIs to make their data available to other websites. Here, you can see the importance of interfaces! The data from the airlines only arrives at the price comparison website through an API. This data transfer also operates on the courier principle.
Imagine you enter an event in your calendar, "Weekend Parents' Visit," with location details, and you want to be reminded one day before the event. One day before, a reminder pops up on your laptop and your smartwatch, including a warning that says, "Plan an extra 30 minutes for the drive; traffic is expected." What happened here? Those were APIs! Your calendar app transmitted its information via API to both your laptop and your smartwatch. It also automatically requested data from your navigation app, which informed it that "traffic is expected."
What are REST and SOAP APIs, and how do they differ?
The two most popular types of APIs are REST (Representational State Transfer) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). SOAP is a protocol, while REST consists of guidelines. In SOAP, you are bound by the predefined rules of the protocol, making it less flexible. However, SOAP comes with integrated security and transaction protocols that meet certain enterprise requirements. But its setup is more complex, and due to this complexity, it can lead to longer website loading times.
On the other hand, REST excels with its simplicity and is often the faster alternative. It consists solely of guidelines, allowing for flexible implementation. REST is leaner and is therefore well-suited for modern applications like the Internet of Things.
The Great Advantages of APIs
APIs enable developers from around the world to share their own program features with other programs. This means that problems that have already been solved do not need to be solved again. Multiple APIs from different software systems can be used together to create entirely new solutions.