What is an API?

Definition Application Programming Interface | API
What is an API?

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API stands for Application Programming Interface. It is an interface for programming applications. Commands or information can be structured and exchanged with a defined syntax via this interface. The connection of applications or program parts takes place at the source code level. Many systems, applications, internet services and cloud services make APIs available. In the web environment, they are referred to as web APIs or web service APIs.

An API is an interface for the structured exchange of commands and information between programs or program parts, with a specified syntax.
An API is an interface for the structured exchange of commands and information between programs or program parts, with a specified syntax.

API is the acronym for the English technical term “Application Programming Interface”. The German translation is “application programming interface”. It is an interface via which commands and information can be exchanged in a structured manner with a defined syntax between applications or application parts. An API facilitates the connection to an application. It is precisely described and fulfills specific functions. It is precisely defined how it receives commands, information or data and what feedback or answers it provides.

The program connection via an API takes place at the source code level. APIs are usually provided with extensive documentation that describes in detail the interface’s commands, functions, protocols, or objects. Depending on the type, the interfaces allow access to hardware functions, databases, user interfaces, application functions, Internet services, cloud services and others. Internet and cloud computing have rapidly increased the use of application programming interfaces. Huge amounts of information are retrieved, exchanged and processed via APIs every day.

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Different kinds and types of APIs

Application programming interfaces can be classified according to various criteria and distinguishing features. For example, there are the type classes of the function-oriented, file-oriented, object-oriented or protocol-oriented APIs. With regard to the accessibility of an API, a distinction is made between internal, public and partner APIs. Another classification option is the subdivision into local APIs, program APIs and web APIs. If the method or protocol used in an API is considered, there are, for example, SOAP APIs (Simple Object Access Protocol APIs), RPC APIs (Remote Procedure Calls APIs), WebSocket APIs and REST APIs (Representational State Transfer APIs).

What are the advantages of using an API?

The use of Application Programming Interfaces offers numerous advantages. Complex applications and software solutions can be modularized and simplified. Certain functions are outsourced to program modules and operated via APIs. The software is easier to maintain and less error-prone. A cleanly documented application programming interface allows the transfer of programming work to external developers and improves the long-term stability of the application. If the API remains unchanged, the program code can be adapted without affecting the program modules connected via the API. Other advantages of APIs are:

  • they standardize the way developers work
  • they make it easier for programmers to work together
  • they can be monetized and generate additional sources of income
  • they make the program code more transparent through predefined rules, syntax and formats
  • they enable a quick and easy exchange of information
  • they improve the efficiency of program flows and processes
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Examples of Application Programming Interfaces

Some examples of APIs are:

  • Twitter application programming interface for accessing tweets, user profiles or trends
  • Google Maps Application Programming Interface to access map features
  • Dropbox Application Programming Interface for accessing Dropbox data and data functions
  • Facebook application programming interface for accessing social media services
  • Microsoft Graph Application Programming Interface – for accessing Microsoft cloud service resources
  • DHL Application Programming Interface for accessing services of the logistics company Deutsche Post DHL Group