What are APIs? Your Keys to the Internet

What are APIs? Your Keys to the Internet

Chances are, if you have ever tried to add a plugin on your website or had trouble with a social media site, you’ve gotten a message telling you needed an API. But what are APIs anyway? And why does it seem like every app and website needs them?

APIs Defined

API stands for “Application Programming Interface”. But unless you have a background in software development, that probably doesn’t mean much to you. APIs are the tools applications, programs, and websites use to talk to each other. They are an important part of systems integration and cyber-security protections. Here’s how it works.

Each mobile app, program, or web server stores certain information as part of its program. That information may be as simple as identifying which computer it is operating on, or it could be as detailed as a full customer profile or consumer order. Sometimes it even includes personal information like credit card numbers and billing information.

When the program on your computer talks to a different application on another server, it needs to communicate some of that stored information. APIs are the messengers for that information. They allow programs to talk to each other without sharing everything they have stored in their databases.

How APIs Give You the Keys to the Internet

APIs let your apps communicate with everything from Facebook, to cloud storage, to online content management systems. But beyond access, they also help lock down your cyber-security by limiting access to your data. Without APIs, when one app talks to the other, it would expose all the user’s data to the entire web.

Think of it like going to a restaurant. In most cases, you never talk to the chef who cooks your food. Instead, you talk to a waiter who gets all the necessary details (entrée, side dish, salad dressing, and any special requests). He or she then takes that information to the kitchen where the food is prepared and then brings back the dish to the table. APIs work the same way. They gather up the necessary data and communicate only that data to the other application.

You wouldn’t want the chef knowing the details of the credit card you used to pay for your food, so the waiter doesn’t pass that information on. The API filters out what should be shared and what shouldn’t, so your personal data is protected.

Using APIs for Content Management on Your Website

APIs are used for a lot when it comes to web development. They can also be used to control what gets changed after your website is finalized. If you have a variety of content creators, editors, or contributors all working in your system, you don’t want them to accidentally affect the layout or structure of your site. APIs help you improve your content management by keeping the framework solid while letting your employees and marketing teams do their work.

Going back to the restaurant analogy, just because a restaurant lets visitors build their own salad at the salad bar, doesn’t mean they need to have access to the whole kitchen. By keeping the guests out of the food-prep areas, the restaurant knows they can’t contaminate the meat or break the stove!

APIs are just one of the tools available to web developers to make a high-performance custom website tailored to your business needs. Whether you are hoping to connect into other content on the web, or just need let multiple content creators all work together without compromising your site, the web development team at Provisio Technology Solutions can help. We will meet with you to come up with a plan for your web needs and help you create a custom website using APIs and other tools to protect you and your users. Contact us to set up a free consultation.