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What Is An API? How APIs Improve Application Development

Application development using an API

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s crucial to develop software as quickly and efficiently as possible. Thankfully, today’s developers and programmers have useful tools and advanced technologies at their fingertips for faster and smarter application development. The Application Programming Interface (API)  is one of those technologies. APIs are pretty common these days, with tech giants like Amazon (AWS), Google, and Facebook all using them. In fact, most people have used an API many times without knowing it. For example, when you use Facebook or check weather conditions on your smartphone, you’re using an API. Today, a wide range of the best free APIs are available for different use cases.

So what exactly is an API, and how do APIs help developers with better application development? Read on to find out.

What Exactly Is An API?

An API is essentially a set of functions and protocols that enable two applications or software to exchange data. It’s like a middleman that allows two different applications to interact and talk to each other.

Everything on the internet/online is stored somewhere on a remote server. For example, when you use Facebook, you send a request to Facebook’s server. An API then translates the response in a readable way and displays it in your browser. Similarly, when you use a weather app, it is the weather API that retrieves the data and translates it for you.

In short an API is capable of accessing the data, features, and functionality of other software, applications, or systems. 

Today, almost every business that uses advanced technology uses an API.

How Do APIs Work?

Elements of A REST API

Before we discuss how an API works, let’s first explain the main elements of an API.

A REST API consists of four actions:

  • GET: Allows users to retrieve data from a server
  • POST: Used for resource collection
  • PUT: Allows users to modify a resources
  • DELETE: Removes a resource or existing data from the server

API Key: To use APIs, users typically need an API access key, which is unique to each user. Most APIs provide all the information regarding access keys, API events, methods, endpoints, etc., in the API’s documentation. 

API Endpoint: Another crucial element of an API is the API endpoint. An API endpoint is a location the API uses to access the resources it needs to perform its function. Endpoints are what allow users to access the data they need. The image below shows the endpoints of an IP Geolocation API

An example of API endpoints for application development

How APIs Work

Here is how an API works:

  1. The receiving application or program makes an API call, also known as a request, to retrieve information. This is processed as a request to the Web server through the API’s URI. An API’s URI is Uniform Resource Identifier, which typically includes a request body, request verb, and headers.
  2. Once the API receives the request, it calls the web server of the other program.
  3. Next, the server responds to the API’s cal by sending the requested information.
  4. Finally, the API sends the data to the receiving/client app that initiated the request.

APIs, however, can return selected information or data that their developers made public. This is essential from a security point of view. For example, if you’re using an API to book a flight, the airline won’t share the data of other users with you.

Here is an example API response of a weather API:

API response

APIs add an additional security layer between business data and sever. Developers can strengthen an API’s security by using signatures, tokens, and Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption. They can also create API gateways for authenticating traffic.

What Are SOAP And REST APIs For Application Development?

SOAP and REST are both used by API programmers to develop different types of APIs. SOAP, or Simple Object Access Protocol, is just a protocol. In contrast, REST or REpresentational State Transfer is an architectural style. 

Since SOAP is a protocol, it cannot use REST. REST, however, can use SOAP as the underlying protocol for web services. Another notable difference is that SOAP consists of a standardized set of messaging patterns for performing different operations. REST, on the other hand, simply accesses data.

Today, most developers use REST as it allows developers to build lightweight, fast, scalable, and secure APIs

If you want to learn about why REST is a better option for API development, check out this article.

How Do APIs Accelerate Application Development?

Application development using APIs

In terms of application development, APIs are a blessing for developers. They allow them to quickly build applications and software using existing data and functionality. Using APIs, developers don’t have to start from scratch to create a specific application. For example, if you want to build a weather app, you can use a reliable weather API like weatherstack to integrate real-time data into your app. Similarly, you can use an email API like mailboxlayer to verify email IDs. APIs essentially improve productivity and accelerate innovation. They simplify the application development process and reduce costs. 

The main elements of a good API that helps developers with application development are as follows:

Clear Documentation

A good API comes with extensive documentation that clearly defines how two applications should communicate. The documentation should contain all the details about the API events, endpoints, methods, and coding examples. Here is an example of good API documentation. 

Ease-of-use

APIs should always be easy for developers to use. Some APIs also come with quickstart guides or a quickstart tool that lets you try the API’s functionality. 

Customer Support 

A good API provides technical support to users/developers whenever they need help. For example, the ipstack API has a highly dedicated customer support team that is always available to assist users.

Where Can You Find the Best Free APIs For Application Development?

APILayer marketplace

If you’re looking for the best free APIs, the APILayer marketplace is the right place to go. It consists of a wide range of best-in-class APIs for application development. All the APILayer APIs are highly scalable and come with a free plan. Additionally, at APILayer, we provide an uptime of 99.98% to ensure you create high-performance apps. No wonder over 1 million developers worldwide use different APILayer APIs for different types of apps. 

From email verification and IP to geolocation to Googe search and sound APIs, the APILayer marketplace has a variety of high-performance APIs.

Ready to use the best free APIs? Sign up for APILayer today and start using your desired API for free!

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