Understanding APIs: Definition, Types, and Technologies
Valentin Huang 06/13/2023 Glossary
2 Minutes

Nowadays, APIs are everywhere. These application programming interfaces enhance your software with features from third-party programs. They are an opportunity to support the digital transformation of companies while simplifying developers' lives.

Want to learn more about this web technology? Why can it be beneficial for your business? Definition, operation, advantages... Here’s everything you need to know about APIs!

Definition of API

An API (Application Programming Interface) is a software solution that allows access to the revenue data or functions of one application from another application. It is an interface that acts as an intermediary: it allows these two applications to communicate with each other even if they are not necessarily programmed in the same language or physically installed in the same place.
The API allows you to integrate third-party functions into your software, which saves you from having to develop them yourself.

Here are some examples of the use of these application programming interfaces:

  • Mapping in a mobile application: the API retrieves the data from Google Maps to allow the user to navigate an interactive and up-to-date map; 

  • Online payment: the API integrates a payment module (Mastercard, Paypal...) into your website or web application; 

  • Price comparison: the API collects data from the websites of suppliers to build a reliable and organized comparison directly on your own website.

  • Everything happens on your own website or web application. You don't have to redirect the user to external pages or build and update your own features. 


Different types of APIs

There are three categories of application programming interfaces:

  • The open or public API (open API):

    It is accessible to all. You allow third parties to enrich their own applications through your API;

  • The private or internal API (private API):

    It is not accessible outside the company that designed it, but can be used internally to maintain total control;

  • The partner API:

    It is accessible through a specific license, shared with certain partners of the company.

API Technologies: SOAP or REST?

Due to the diversity of applications and mobile platforms, APIs must rely on a standardized communication protocol: SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) or REST (Representational State Transfer). The second, which is rather considered a style of architecture, gives rise to RESTful APIs. It is now widely used on the web because it is more flexible and less restrictive than the SOAP protocol.

Why use an API in business?

Application programming interfaces are a vector for innovation. Today, they are found everywhere: in operating systems, application servers, databases, SaaS applications, etc. They enable data and functionalities to be shared on the web or within a company's local network.

The first advantage of this technology is the time savings. When using an API, it is not necessary to know how the software you want to access works or how it is programmed. This makes life easier for developers and reduces costs. In addition, the API modernizes a company's information system, allowing it to adapt to digital changes.

It is also a way to control access to your own resources. The API plays a role in the security and management of your data. Most require an API key to grant access to information. This is the case for applications that need your physical location to function. The geolocation API then asks you to activate GPS on your phone or tablet, which the user can accept or reject. The application cannot access this data without this authorization: it must go through an API.

The API is an interface that allows you to customize your programs and streamline your information transfers. Are you interested in customized software solutions? Harvestr is the all-in-one digital product management platform that brings together your customers’ data to help you build the best digital products.




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