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What is an API?

Aug 17th 2020

What is an API?

You might have heard the term banded around and wondered what it is? It’s an Application Programming Interface, but what’s that actually in English? Let us explain…

Ok, so here’s the executive summary:

An Application Programming Interface (API) is a way for two pieces of software to talk to each other behind the scenes.

There you go, that wasn’t that complicated was it, and unless you want to get a little more under the hood, you’re welcome to leave at this point 😉

Ok, where are APIs used in the real world?

First off APIs have been around since before the internet, even before MS-DOS days. Applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Sage Accounting have all have an API allowing software to share data with their software. This has allowed your spreadsheet to pull in data from a 3 rd piece of software or add-ons for Sage Accounting to use Sage data to add on further functionality not provided by the Sage product.

Today, with the web, the concept is the same, the difference is you’re reading and writing data across the web rather than on a local PC.

So that’s the history lesson out of the way, some uses…

Let’s imagine you have an online shop and needed to push you order data in to your Xero accounting software. This is where your online shop would connect to Xero behind the scenes using the XERO API, login (Authenticate), then post the data through to your accounts).

Let’s image your shop was linked to MailChimp to add people to your mailing list. Yup, you guessed it, that uses an API too, this time the MailChimp API.

Want to embed Webinars from Zoom or GoToWebinar, you’ll be using an API.
How about pushing enquiries from your site in to your Sales CRM software? You guessed it, an API.

  • Pushing enquiries from your site to a CRM
  • Pull customer records from an ordering system to be available on your website
  • Downloading licensed fonts
  • Using Mapping services like Google Maps
  • Using Post code lookups on your shop
  • Getting shipping costs for your order
  • Getting the latest exchange rates in realtime
  • Looking up the market value of a property
  • Getting a car insurance quote from an insurance provider

All these things rely on APIs.

So, this can cut two ways of course, you don’t have to pulling in data from another source, what about if you wanted your data or service to be available online?

This is where having your own API can be useful allowing suppliers, customers or generally interested parties to access products, pricing, articles or just about anything!

Anything you should know?

One of the most common uses these days for APIs is with Mobile apps to retrieve data from a website. If you ever wondered how you can make a purchase on an app, log in to a website and by magic it knows about your purchase? Well now you know!

If this has sparked your interest, or you think linking utilising data this way could help your business, drop us a line, and we’ll pick up your query….via an API of course 😉