Chances are that if you work anywhere near a computer, you’ve seen the term ‘API’. Often, new APIs for developers are announced by app updates, operating systems, and web browsers. But what exactly is an API, and how do developers use them? API stands for Application Programming Interface. It lists operations that developers can use, along with descriptions of what they do. Their main purpose is to help developers save time by taking advantage of the platform’s implementation, reducing the amount of code that they need to create, and ensuring more consistency across apps that are built for the same platform.
How APIs Help Developers
Imagine you wanted to develop a new app for iPhones. iOS, Apple’s operating system, provides a large range of APIs to make this process either. Developers can often find APIs through lists offered by API Management Tools. For example, if you want to embed a web browser to show web pages, then you don’t need to build your own web browser just for the app; you can use the relevant API to embed Apple’s Safari browser in it. Similarly, Apple offers a camera API, which developers can use to embed the user’s iPhone camera in their app. This applies to every platform that developers can build for.
Controlling Access to Resources
APIs are also often used to control access to software functions and hardware devices that an application may not have permission to use, which is why one of their major roles is security. For example, if you have ever visited a website and gotten a message from that site to share your location with them, the website will be using your web browser’s geolocation API. This allows you as the user to decide to allow or deny this request as the only way that the website can get access to your location is to use the API to ask you.
Communication Between Services
There are many other kinds of reasons why APIs are used. For example, if you’ve ever been on a website and have seen Google Maps embedded to help you find the location of the business that you are browsing, then the developer will have used the Google Maps API to embed the map. This makes it much easier for web developers, who only have to copy and paste when it comes to embedding complex objects on websites, rather than building it themselves from scratch. It also allows Google to control access to Google Maps on websites, making sure that it is used in a consistent way.
Many APIs have been designed to make life easier for users. For example, the OAuth protocol defines a range of APIs that have been designed to allow users to sign up for or sign into the website using other services such as their Apple, Google, or social media accounts, without having to create a whole new user account just for that site.
Ultimately, only developers really need to know what an API is and how it works. If you are thinking about building a website or app, understanding what APIs are and how they work to make it easier for you is a good idea.