A lot of the “magic” that we do for our clients involves APIs, and we often get asked: What IS an API? For most people, API either sounds like a craft beer, or the sort of semi-real acronym put in the mouth of “nerdy” movie characters to make them sound smart. Let me assure you: APIs are very real, very powerful, and very cool. At their simplest level, APIs are how different pieces of software can communicate with one another.
Let’s take a look at a common example: Asking your Alexa (Or Google Home) for movie times. Your Alexa doesn’t contain the answer to every question in the universe in its tiny body — instead, it contacts Fandango (a database devoted to movie information) and asks Fandango to provide relevant information via its API- voilà! Software to software communication. If you ask your Alexa what the weather will be tomorrow, it will contact the National Weather Service’s database and ask it for that information via its API.
APIs have become so ubiquitous that it is not uncommon for websites and applications to seamlessly integrate APIs for greater functionality than they might be able to offer on their own. As you can see in the above example, often, you won’t even be aware when APIs are being used under the hood to provide you with the information you need. When this happens, it’s referred to as a “seamless” integration.
How Do APIs Work?
By now, you’re probably familiar with the basic concept of a User Interface (UI) — it’s the collection of buttons, menus, links, checkboxes, and other tools in any application that allows you to tell that software to perform actions and show you information.