The Most Important Things You Need to Know About APIs Before Using Them

API stands for Application Programming Interface. Web and app developers integrate APIs into their websites and apps to add extra features. However, you can’t just embed an API code in your website or app and be done with it. That’s not how APIs work. There’s a process where you have to understand the APIs and how to use them before integrating them. 

That’s what we’ll be looking into today.

What is an API?

An API is a software-to-software interface. That means an API will only interact with whatever program interface or code you embed it in. It provides a secured and standardized communication path for applications to work and communicate with each other. APIs facilitate the delivery of information and functionality based on the end-user request.

In a way, an API is like renting or borrowing a functionality or service. So, you don’t have to build that functionality from scratch if you ever need to use or integrate it into your website or app. 

How Do APIs Work?

APIs operate based on a send-receive protocol. Here, the end-user will request a service or data, and the API will take that instruction and fetch the required service or information. APIs interact with their servers in real-time to deliver the user’s request.

Think of the whole system as a ride-sharing service like Uber. The company doesn’t own any cars but can still get you a ride by connecting you with a driver willing to provide their vehicle and service. 

Here, the company – Uber – is the website or app you are on. Your ride request is the API processing your request. The driver responding is the service or data at another server.

You must read the API documentation thoroughly before using it. That’s because different APIs work differently and under different situations. However, the principle working process is usually the same.

Using an API

We’ll break down the process of using an API into a few steps.

Choosing an API

Choose something that will enhance the user experience of your website. The API needs to add functionality to the site. That means it must serve a specific purpose. 

For instance, you can use a weather API to provide weather details on a news website. It can be a free API that provides real-time weather updates based on historical weather data and live weather station data. You can try this API for free and see what it’s like to use a modern AI-based weather forecasting application that works with such data.

Placing the API

When you receive authorization to use an API, you will receive a block of code. That code is what will connect you to the API. For the code to work, you need to find an appropriate spot on your website to place it.

Your API placement depends on what it does and its importance to the website. For instance, an API that fetches information about the stock market should go to your website’s top or right side. These are the locations where the stock market information can draw some attention without affecting the visitor’s experience of viewing your website.

Some APIs are visually appealing, and you can give them more space. The weather API we talked about earlier can change visuals depending on the weather. So, it will make the site look more dynamic. You can, therefore, place it at the bottom right corner of the site as a pop-up.

Getting the API Key

The key is what you’ll use to identify yourself as an authorized client. Since the program is on a different server, you must use this key to access it through the API.

APIs usually provide unique keys to their clients. That’s mostly because of security reasons. Besides, it’s also possible that two different users might not want the same type of service from that API. 

Keep your key private. If someone else gets your key, they can use it to cause security issues for your website or app.  

Go Through the Documentation

As we mentioned earlier, all APIs do not work the same way. So, you need to understand how to adjust the code for your app or website, where to place the code block, what you can and can’t do with the API, and so on. You can only do that by reading and understanding the documentation

Write an Endpoint Request

Use an HTTP client to write your endpoint request. You don’t need much coding knowledge for this. The documentation will have more info on how to write these requests. Once you’ve done this, you’re all ready to deploy the API.

Testing the API

You’ll have to test different APIs differently. The documentation for each API will have the details regarding that. However, the generic way to test an API is to cross-match the data on your site with that of the API’s origin website.

For instance, you’re using a weather API, and it’s showing that the temperature in Chicago is 70 degrees. Now, go to the weather API’s website, and check the temperature for Chicago. Your API is working fine if the two temperatures are similar. That means the API is responding to your request as intended.

Benefits of Using APIs

APIs offer plenty of benefits to app and web developers. Here are some of the most noticeable ones.

  • APIs allow developers to use existing programs without having to code them from scratch.
  • APIs save cost and time. They also increase productivity.
  • Websites and apps can connect and collaborate with APIs, often sharing information.
  • APIs improve user experience by adding new features to the app or website.

That’s all you need to know about APIs before you start using them for the first time. However, as you keep using them and familiarize yourself with more APIs, you’ll learn new things by yourself.