Are you a budding computer geek? There’s no shame in admitting that you are a computer nerd.
After all, it’s the people who know the most about computers, the internet, and technology that can ultimately make the most money. Just look at some of the top-paying careers today.
Some of the most in-demand, highest-paying job opportunities all have the words engineer, developer, computer, or programmer in the title.
But you need to know some basics before you can start raking in the dough in the technology industry. That includes understanding APIs, what they are, and how they actually work.
Most people pretend they know what an API is, but if you ever want to become a professional coder or expert programmer, you need an intimate understanding of how they work.
Keep reading to learn the basics of APIs today.
What Does API Mean?
First off, what does API mean? It stands for “application programming interface.” Most people don’t understand what that means, but as a future engineer, you need to pay attention.
APIs are the communication protocol for different systems. Basically, they allow different systems to connect with each other and share data with one another.
And it’s the backbone of what so many of us experience daily, without even realizing it.
It’s kind of like a website. Websites are used to communicate information from one person (the blogger) to the readers (the audience). The website is the tool that allows for this flow of information.
Where are APIs Used?
APIs work similarly, in that they transmit information to other software applications. For example, think of an online store that sells shoes. While the experience may be simple for you, there is a lot going on beneath the surface (otherwise known as on the backend of the website).
When you purchase a pair of shoes on the website, you need to pay for those shoes, right? However, the store owner specializes in selling shoes, not in processing payments or building websites.
So the shop owner uses different platforms and systems, connected via APIs, to provide you with a simple shopping experience.
So the shop owner will likely integrate a payment processor like Stripe. Stripe is a separate piece of software, built by a separate company than WordPress, which hosts the website itself.
Stripe has the ability to process credit card details, verifying the information with the customer’s bank, and then transferring the funds from the customer to the shop owner.
But how do the website and the payment processor communicate? Through an API. The website sends customer and payment information to Stripe, the payment processor via API integration.
And once payment is complete, you want your shoes to get shipped to your home, right? Well, the shop owner is also not a shipping specialist. So they integrate shipping software into their website, such as Shipstation.
When in order is completed, the website sends information to Shipstaion (via API), to create a shipping label for the package.
So one simple transaction on the internet can use multiple pieces of software, all connected through APIs.
How do APIs Work?
APIs allow different systems to talk with each other, sharing important information that allows each application to work the way it’s supposed to. But how does this actually work?
APIs are a set of rules written in code. The rules dictate how to communicate with other applications or servers, what information to share, and when.
To initiate an API, the user of an application completes a certain action, known as an API call. This API call launches the API into motion, which proceeds to transmit or collect information from another app or server.
The API is essentially the middleman between all different types of systems, apps, and servers. They are tools that developers put to work in order to complete tasks in a fast, efficient, and scalable way.
In fact, all businesses rely on the use of APIs. They allow more work to get done with less manpower. They can automate many different tasks. In Amazon’s early life as a company, for example, it was the early use of various APIs which allowed the company to shift and start growing dramatically.
APIs empower technology and business, and without them, we would be stuck in the internet stone age.
As mentioned earlier, APIs are rules written in code. Essentially, they are created by developers to command systems to perform tasks on their behalf.
All applications rely on the use of APIs. And in the beginning, these all needed to be written from scratch, which takes time and a lot of testing. But today, we have a large open-source community.
That means that code can be shared, either for free or for a price, giving developers a head start. So now, when you need to build a new piece of software, you don’t have to start from ground zero. Developers can visit an API marketplace and purchase existing APIs, saving lots of time and getting a tested, verified set of code.
Smart programmers like to leverage what’s already available before taking the time to build or tweak things on their own.
How to Use APIs
So can people who aren’t programmers use APIs? It depends on the application.
With so many user-friendly platforms, more and more people are connecting systems with ease. For example, if you were to launch your own WordPress website, you can easily link together different plugins on your own.
Essentially, you would create an account with WordPress (your website), and a separate account for Stripe (your payment processor), for example. To connect them, each application would provide you with API keys, which are strings of letters and numbers.
You would take the Stripe API keys, plug them into your WordPress website, and boom, you’ve connected applications communicating with each other on your behalf.
Of course, not every connection is that simple and might require the service of an expert.
Try Them Out for Yourself
APIs are extremely important, and they are complex to the marked eye. However, to a trained programmer, they are the basic building blocks of applications.
If you are headed in the direction of a career in technology, you’ll want to gain lots of experience using and creating APIs on your own
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