What Is an API, and How Do Builders Use Them?


API defined as application program interface
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You’ve doubtless seen the time period “API” come up. Working system, internet browser, and app updates typically announce new APIs for builders. However what’s an API and the way do builders make the most of them?

What Is an Utility Programming Interface

The time period API is an acronym, and it stands for “Utility Programming Interface.”

Consider an API like a menu in a restaurant. The menu offers an inventory of dishes you’ll be able to order, together with an outline of every dish. While you specify what menu objects you need, the restaurant’s kitchen does the work and offers you with some completed dishes. You don’t know precisely how the restaurant prepares that meals, and also you don’t actually need to.

Equally, an API lists a bunch of operations that builders can use, together with an outline of what they do. The developer doesn’t essentially must know the way, for instance, an working system builds and presents a “Save As” dialog field. They simply must know that it’s accessible to be used of their app.

This isn’t an ideal metaphor, as builders might have to offer their very own knowledge to the API to get the outcomes, so maybe it’s extra like a flowery restaurant the place you’ll be able to present a few of your individual components the kitchen will work with.

However it’s broadly correct. APIs permit builders to avoid wasting time by making the most of a platform’s implementation to do the nitty-gritty work. This helps scale back the quantity of code builders must create, and likewise helps create extra consistency throughout apps for a similar platform. APIs can management entry to {hardware} and software program sources.

APIs Make Life Simpler for Builders

Let’s say you wish to develop an app for an iPhone. Apple’s iOS working system offers a lot of APIs—as each different working system does—to make this simpler on you.

If you wish to embed an internet browser to point out a number of internet pages, for instance, you don’t should program your individual internet browser from scratch simply to your utility. You utilize the WKWebView API to embed a WebKit (Safari) browser object in your utility.

If you wish to seize photographs or video from the iPhone’s digital camera, you don’t have to put in writing your individual digital camera interface. You utilize the digital camera API to embed the iPhone’s built-in digital camera in your app. If APIs didn’t exist to make this straightforward, app builders must create their very own digital camera software program and interpret the digital camera {hardware}’s inputs. However Apple’s working system builders have executed all this tough work so the builders can simply use the digital camera API to embed a digital camera, after which get on with constructing their app. And, when Apple improves the digital camera API, all of the apps that depend on it can benefit from that enchancment mechanically.

This is applicable to each platform. For instance, do you wish to create a dialog field on Home windows? There’s an API for that. Need to help fingerprint authentication on Android? There’s an API for that, too, so that you don’t have to check each totally different Android producer’s fingerprint sensor. Builders don’t should reinvent the wheel again and again.

APIs Management Entry to Assets

APIs are additionally used to manage entry to {hardware} gadgets and software program features that an utility might not essentially have permission to make use of. That’s why APIs typically play an enormous position in safety.

For instance, for those who’ve ever visited an internet site and seen a message in your browser that the web site is asking to see your precise location, that web site is trying to make use of the geolocation API in your internet browser. Net browsers expose APIs like this to make it straightforward for internet builders to entry your location—they’ll simply ask “the place are you?” and the browser does the laborious work of accessing GPS or close by Wi-Fi networks to search out your bodily location.

The Google Maps website asking for location permission

Nonetheless, browsers additionally expose this data through an API as a result of it’s potential to manage entry to it. When an internet site needs entry to your precise bodily location, the one means they’ll get it’s through the placement API. And, when an internet site tries to make use of it, you—the person—can select to permit or deny this request. The one solution to entry {hardware} sources just like the GPS sensor is thru the API, so the browser can management entry to the {hardware} and restrict what apps can do.

This identical precept is used on fashionable cell working programs like iOS and Android, the place cell apps have permissions that may be enforced by controlling entry to APIs. For instance, if a developer tries to entry the digital camera through the digital camera API, you’ll be able to deny the permission request and the app has no means of accessing your machine’s digital camera.

File programs that use permissions—as they do on Home windows, Mac, and Linux—have these permissions enforced by the file system API. A typical utility doesn’t have direct entry to the uncooked bodily laborious disk. As a substitute, the app should entry information by means of an API.

APIs Are Used For Communication Between Companies

APIs are used for all types of different causes, too. For instance, for those who’ve ever seen a Google Maps object embedded on an internet site, that web site is utilizing the Google Maps API to embed that map. Google exposes APIs like this to internet builders, who can then use the APIs to plop complicated objects proper on their web site. If APIs like this didn’t exist, builders might need to create their very own maps and supply their very own map knowledge simply to place a little bit interactive map on an internet site.

And, as a result of it’s an API, Google can management entry to Google Maps on third-party web sites, guaranteeing they use it in a constant means moderately than trying to messily embed a body that exhibits the Google Maps web site, for instance.

This is applicable to many various on-line providers. There are APIs for requesting textual content translation from Google Translate, or embedding Fb feedback or tweets from Twitter on an internet site.

The OAuth standard additionally defines a lot of APIs that permit you to signal into an internet site with one other service—for instance, to make use of your Fb, Google, or Twitter accounts to signal into a brand new web site with out creating a brand new person account only for that web site. APIs are customary contracts that outline how builders talk with a service, and the sort of output these builders ought to count on to obtain again.


Should you’ve gotten by means of this, you’ll have a greater concept of what an API is. Finally, you don’t actually need to know what an API is except you’re a developer. However, for those who see a software program platform or service has added new APIs for varied {hardware} or providers, it needs to be simpler for builders to benefit from such options.





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