APIs for Dummies
APIs. What are they? Do I need to understand them? What are my developers constantly talking about? Do I really need to monitor APIs? Help! I don’t understand! I need an APIs for Dummies book!
Take a deep breath. Relax.
While the way people talk about APIs sounds horribly complex, in reality they are very easy to understand. That said, if you run a website or supervise people who do web development, you do need to understand what an API is – and why they are mission critical to your business.
APIs for Dummies: APIs Defined Simply
An API (Application Programming Interface) is simply some software that sends information back and forth between a website or app and a user.
Imagine back in the day, before cell phones. You’re in your house. Your mother is in a house down the block. You need to ask her for a recipe. But you’re too busy to run down the road yourself. So you send one of your kids with a message for your mom. Your kid runs down there, gets the recipe, and brings it back to you.
In this example, your kid is the API. You stay where you are. Your mom stays where she is. Your child brings your message to her, and then brings her response back to you.
It’s really that simple!
But what do I need to know?
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APIs for Dummies: Why APIs Are Important
The first reason why APIs matter is that your site, app or service isn’t doing anything without them. You need them to process an order and confirm payment if you are selling anything. You need them to collect data if that is the goal of your solution. A service can’t just sit there doing nothing. The Internet is too interactive for that.
The second reason is that APIs these days are packaged as products that developers can use to build your site or app or even to add value or a new way to deliver value for the systems you build.
Let’s say you wanted to sell products from Amazon on your site. You could build an entire architecture to do it. But that would take a ton of time and effort. Plus whenever Amazon updated their site you’d have to do it all over again.
Instead Amazon will provide you with their API. You simply place the API in your code. Then when the price changes it changes on your site. It is displayed correctly. If Amazon changes their site in any way it’s updated on your end. In fact, Amazon almost certainly created the modern API eco-system when they realized the value inherent in common components everybody could use.
Doesn’t that make your life much, much simpler?
There are a ton of APIs like that out there. They are built so that you can create a website or app and link to their websites. So if you want to have Google Maps in your app you don’t have to design it yourself. You can take the API and have the map – and all its updates – in your app forever.
All in all APIs are easy to understand. They transmit data back and forth in the background. They make the web interactive and useful for people to use. They mean you can interact with apps, smart TV services, your car and more and yet you never see them. They simply work.
Now you know what an API is. What you don’t know is if the API you are using is working correctly. Because if it is not you’ll have problems down the line. But we can help you with that too.
Things you ought to consider are some of the technologies behind making APIs work, measuring how well they work (monitoring), getting what you pay for (Service Level Agreements) and why they don’t always work as you expect them to.
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