In the course of building a website for your business, developing internal software, or building web applications for the use of your customers, you will most likely have come across the term API (and if you haven’t, you definitely will). APIs have become an integral part of the way software and web applications are developed in modern times and it is very important that you learn how to use API and develop a strategy to incorporate this innovative piece of software into your application development/ software implementation processes.
APIs stands for Application Programming Interface and they are pieces of software that serve as interfaces between disparate pieces of software or web applications to help them communicate and share data and functionalities. Without the advent of APIs, the level of interconnectedness currently present on the internet that allows application developers to import existing data and functionalities directly from other apps into their own would be impossible. Imagine if your Uber app didn’t have a map for tracking your driver in real-time. That is functionality implemented into the Uber app via the Google Maps API and it has saved both the app developers and the end-users a lot of time, stress, and effort.
Over the past decade, there has been an explosion in the number of APIs, both public and private available on the internet and it has totally changed the way applications and software are developed. In this article, we’ll mostly focus on exploring a step-by-step analysis of how APIs do what they do, API uses, and how to use an API to get data (specific use cases). Feel free to navigate around the article with the table of content below.
Table of Contents
What Are APIs and How to Use Them?
As we mentioned earlier, an API is an interface that allows disparate pieces of software to communicate and share data plus expose functionalities. A good analogy for understanding how APIs work is the analogy of an electric wall socket.
How do APIs work?
Say you have an electric iron and you would like to use it to iron your clothes. What do you do? You plug it into your electrical outlet and then put on the iron, right? Your electric outlet is serving as an interface between your iron and the electrical wiring of the house helping to transfer electricity from one point to another. Instead of having to go directly to the power source to connect your iron, you simply plug it into the socket. The socket takes your iron’s request for electricity and refers it to the power source of your house, then comes back with the requested power and passes it into your iron. The socket also serves as a layer of abstraction that prevents you from having to bother with all the wiring of the house. It doesn’t matter if the power comes through the blue wires or the red wires, as long as it gets to the point of need. This is exactly how an API works.
When you set up an API between your application and another application, your application can make requests for data through the API to the other application. The API serves as a layer of abstraction that prevents your own application from having to bother with the underlying code carrying the data or functionality you need. All you need is to make a request and the API helps you relay that request and then brings back the result. And if the query is invalid, the API comes back with an error message. An API request is referred to as an API CALL and usually occurs in the following process:
- Route APIs: This is where the infrastructure confirms that the API is on the right path (redirects it if it is not).
- Authorize APIs: Makes sure your API has the permission to access the data it is requesting.
- Secure APIs: Encrypt the connection to prevent data leaks.
- Shape APIs: provides the needed bandwidth for the call to go through.
- Caching: This helps manage large volumes of requests by caching the APIs. Caching is a method of keeping the record of repeated API requests such that the API can skip all the above steps and just go directly to collecting the data it needs.
The value of APIs to an application development ecosystem
APIs represent a complete shift in the way applications and their functionalities are built and consumed. With the advent of APIs, it has become possible to build multi-faceted web apps for even the smallest of businesses. According to ProgrammableWeb, there are over 22,000 APIs currently available on the internet, covering such a wide array of functionalities that you will almost find an API for nearly any functionality you are building into your application. By incorporating APIs, you make application development and launch faster and more efficient since you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you need to add functionality to your app. This cuts down development time and time to launch by a lot and makes it a lot easier to connect even your in-house applications to data sources from outside your organization for a better-connected experience.
How to Use an API to Get Data
One of the most valuable uses of APIs (and the original reason why they were developed) is the easy transfer of data between disparate software systems and web applications. APIs can help you create a data collection vehicle that shuttles requests from you to the endpoint and returns results (or an error message depending on the validity of your query). APIs are an engine of data collection and transfer that makes it possible for you to collect data in real-time and also funnel data directly into your application or software without manual input.
There are several more API uses that have cropped up in the last decade and even more are popping up every day. However, all of them continue to rely on the basic premise of easy data transfer that APIs offer and this serves as a launch point for employing APIs for other uses like exposing app functionality to the internet. Getting data from a website or application is as simple as making an API call via your connected app. When you enter an endpoint (the target URL), the API proceeds to the provided endpoint, confirms that you have permission to access the data you requested, and then collects the data for you. The entire process of making an API call follows the step-by-step bulleted list above.
API Uses and Use Cases
So what are some specific uses for how to use API to collect data and expose functionality across the internet? Let’s take a look at some of them.
Real-time data collection
When it comes to how to use API, one of the first use cases that always comes up is the collection and analysis of data in real-time. The value of data that is continually updated as it occurs is incalculable. If you are a stockbroker, for example, a ten-minute gap can be the difference between you making a profit or a loss. Therefore, you need to be able to obtain data in real-time. APIs help you solve this problem by making automated requests for data from the endpoint at regular intervals and sending the data to your own software. This way, you can never miss any vital changes in your needed datasets.
Easier and faster software and app development
Right on the heels of real-time data collection, another use-case that embodies the premise of how to use API is in exposing functionality for app and software development. The majority of the applications that exist in the online world today are making use of APIs in one way or the other (and some even provide their own APIs). Twitter, for example, provides an API that allows you to embed tweets on your website that when clicked take the user directly to Twitter. Spotify and Youtube also offer similar APIs, allowing you to import entire libraries of music and videos onto your website, so your users can access them without having to go to Youtube or Spotify’s websites. Another good example is the Uber app we mentioned earlier. As a ride-hailing service, a map is a total necessity for the company to embed in their app. However, launching their own mapping satellite would have been too costly and too stressful. Instead, they simply use the Google Maps API to embed Google’s map on their website and pay Google for the access. This way, they can build and launch their app faster and more easily. APIs make it easy to incorporate functionalities across apps, so you only have to build a basic framework including your core offer when developing software. Every other functionality can be added via APIs.
Building data ecosystems
Knowing how to use API can help you immensely in creating an ecosystem of interconnected data streams that serve to create a complete data picture for your business purposes. With APIs, you can interface data from your suppliers, your partners, and all the various departments of your company. APIs make it very easy for all these components of your business to share data, thereby eliminating data silos and giving everybody a clearer picture of just exactly how the business is running.
How to Use API With Scraping Robot’s Scraping API
At Scraping Robot, we recognize the need to help you ease slowly into the API economy by first being a consumer before going on the provide your own APIs. For this reason, we have developed an extremely effective and well-documented API that you can use as a template to learn how to use API. Our API can interface with absolutely any software and coupled with our advanced web scraping software, gives a means of easily collecting and interfacing data from external websites that you have no direct control over. Our scraping API offers you all the benefits of a standard API with the added advantage of compatible scraping software and web scraping modules that can help you extract data from absolutely any website on the internet. Together, these two tools will ease your journey into learning how to use API and make your data collection and application development processes much more efficient. And if there is any aspect of our software you do not understand or any special request you wish to make, our developers are always on standby to answer your questions.
APIs have been around for a while now but never has it been easier and cheaper to learn how to use API and implement it in all the ways you want. We have dedicated our time to creating the perfect tool and all you have to do is try it out once. You’ll definitely agree with us. So what are you waiting for?