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What is an API?

December 23 2016

Map application on iPad
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APIs, or Application Programme Interfaces, are sets of functions and procedures to allow the creation of applications in an operating system or service to access its data and features of another. Put another way, APIs allow devices to talk to one another. Just as I translated a jargonistic explanation of API’s into an easily digestible metaphor that anyone can understand, so APIs translate the ‘jargon’ of one device into the ‘jargon’ of another. APIs allow your computer to swap data between files.

Online, APIs are used by big web services like Google and Yelp to ensure that their applications are cross-compatible. Meaning that you can look up restaurants on Yelp using Google Maps. Whilst you might not have considered it, this easy transition between separate web services requires structured architecture and co-ordination. APIs are the unsung hero of the internet, toiling in obscurity to improve your online experience.

How APIs Work

APIs do this by exposing some of the internal features of a programme, whilst at the same time limiting the functional capability of any outside programme to a particular set of features. This allows an API to simplify the connecting of two programmes without exposing all of the code the programmes use. It’s a win-win for independent developers who want their apps to utilise big services like Google or social media sites like Twitter.

More and more businesses are using APIs for this reason: because it gives their users the freedom to make use of big name services like Google, which they’re already probably familiar with, and which they like. It also gives such businesses scalability if their app explodes in popularity, making it as broadly usable as possible. The most up-to-date online businesses are using API in order to stay ahead of the game.

If you want to learn more about how your business could use API, contact Wirebox for a consultation.