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What is an API?

November 15, 2023




What is an API? 

APIs are a set of definitions and protocols that allow two software components to communicate with each other. For example, stock exchange software, contains daily stock data. The stock app on your phone uses APIs to communicate with this system and displays daily financial updates on your phone.

What does API stand for? 

Application Programming Interface is the abbreviation for Application Programming Interface. The term “application” in the context of APIs refers to any software that performs a certain task. A contract of service between two applications can be thought of as an interface. This agreement specifies how the two will communicate using requests and responses. Their API description explains how to arrange requests and responses in a way that developers can comprehend.

How do APIs work? 

Client and server architecture are commonly used to describe API architecture. The client is the application that sends the request, and the server is the application that sends the response. In the case of stock exchange, its database serves as the server, while the stock app serves as the client.

An API in action 

Let’s assume you need to double-check a credit card transaction because you fear it is fraudulent. Sign in to your account first, then find and submit the transaction you want to verify. The credit card company recognized that you wanted to double-check this transaction. However, how do they know? Sure, you clicked the button on the website, but how does it convert into a balance check?

The key is in the act of pressing the submit button and the sequence of events that followed. Let’s separate the layers a little more and get a little deeper into this. When you press the Submit button, information about you, the user, and the account on which you’re acting on is sent as an instruction to another computer on the credit card system’s network.

Now inside this instruction contains all this information about the transaction you want to check, who you are, the amount the vendor and so on … and this computer on the other end received, understood, and submitted the request for processing. But how does this machine know what to do with all of this data? How does it even know that the information you’re sending is about a particular transaction, let alone the fact that it might be a fraudulent transaction?

The answer is API, also known as the Application Programming Interface.

API acts as a Contract

The credit card system in this example knows how to interpret the passed information through an API that the system creates and exposes. You can think of an API as a type of puzzle, and you need to match the missing pieces to complete the puzzle.

So, in this example, the credit card system might create a “checkTransaction” API, and when it is created, the programmer may say that this API will take a string called “accountNumber”, an integer called “amount”, and a string called “vendor”. When this API is invoked, it returns the the information regarding this transaction in the list.

An API can be thought of as a type of contract. The name of the API, what it does, the parameters it will accept, and the output it will spit out are all defined by the creator.

The API is unique because of this pattern of precisely describing our input and output. It adds order to the chaos on the internet, where data is moving around between systems at lightning speed. It challenges developers to think carefully about what they want their system to accomplish and then encode those behaviors into APIs that clients may use.

Benefits of using APIs 

Increase Collaboration

APIs allow you to integrate different platforms and services so that you may communicate with one another in real time. Organizations can use this integration to automate procedures and boost workplace cooperation. Many businesses would be disconnected and suffer from information silos, which would jeopardize productivity and performance if APIs were not available.

Better Innovations

APIs provide flexibility by allowing businesses to connect with new business partners, offer new services to their existing customer base, and, ultimately, get access to new markets that can produce huge returns and drive digital transformation.

Added Security

APIs put an additional layer of security between your data and the server. Using tokens, signatures, and Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption, as well as establish API gateways to control and authenticate traffic.


Written by Ethan

Cloud Solutions Architect. Full Stack Web Developer. Cloud Enthusiast. Gym rat. I'm a driven, detail oriented, Cloud Solution Architect based in Pittsburgh, PA. Experienced in both networking and software development cycles where I enjoy designing scalable, flexible and cost effective solutions with a focus on end user experience and business objectives. When I'm not working or at the gym I enjoy continuous learning, experimenting with new technologies and sharing what I learned to the communities.



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