What is API and how is it useful in web development?

February 23,2021 - 10 min read
What is API and how is it useful in web development?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. In simple terms, it allows two applications to talk to each other, for example, sending a Facebook message, checking the weather on your phone requires an API. In this blog post, we are going to discuss the utility of API in web development after going through its basic concept and a few examples. Let’s get started!

Understanding API

As briefly mentioned above, API is used for the communication between two applications. After the user opens an application, it connects to the internet in order to send data to a server which retrieves that data, interprets it, performs necessary steps and sends the result back to the user’s phone. This result is treated and interpreted by the application which represents the data to the user in a readable way. All this communication is done via the API.

Let us understand this concept by a familiar real-life example of a restaurant. Think of a scene from a restaurant where customers order a dish from a set menu. All the dishes are prepared in a kitchen. Now, there are customers to order and a kitchen to prepare those dishes but what is not present is the critical link to communicate between the order to the kitchen and the delivery of food back to the customer’s table. In a normal, real life situation in a restaurant, this task is handled by a waiter.

In the world of computer science, this role is played by API. The waiter in a restaurant or API in software or applications plays the role of a messenger that takes your request and tells the system what it needs to do. The messenger then delivers the response back to you. In the example above, the messenger is the waiter, the request is the order and the response back to the user is the food.

Another real-life example where we can understand the concept of API is the process of searching for flights online. In this example also, the customer has a variety of things to choose from like different cities, departure and return dates and a lot of other options. Imagine a scenario where a customer is booking a flight on an airline website. Customers have to choose a departure city and date along with a return city and date, cabin class, and others. After you have decided all the other variables, you would need to interact with the airline’s website in order to book a ticket. The interaction with the website is basically to access their database so that availability of seats, dates and the cost can be checked. This interaction is done with the help of an API which is like an interface to get information from the websites’ database.

These two examples explain the role of API in the world of computer science. It is used to create a connection between a website and an application. API enhances the on-site experience and also streamlines a lot of the processes. API eliminated the requirement of many tedious tasks behind the scenes.

Now that we have looked at the concept of API, it’s time to look at how API is useful in web development.

API in Web Development

The advent of API in web development has improved experience and benefitted the sector of web development. Google has created a multitude of APIs and is trying to make it easier for web developers and designers to create impressive experiences on websites. Some high-quality APIs can be leveraged to build excellent, interactive and user-friendly websites.

Google is a top player when it comes to APIs in web development, however, there are other players too. In this segment, we are going to talk about some of the best APIs used in web design and development. We have made efforts to make this compilation as diverse as possible. These examples will help you understand the role and utility of APIs in web development. Let’s get started!

APIs in Google

Google uses APIs in a lot of its applications. There are various examples like Google Analytics, maps, fonts, translation, calendar and a lot of other applications by Google. Let’s discuss each of them in detail.

Google Analytics is popularly used to track visitor activity on a website. However, Google Analytics APIs can also be used to monitor custom data like conversion rates on an e-commerce website. It can also be used to create special tracking dashboards for the backend of a website. Google Analytics is also used to get deeper insights with sales funnel tracking and analysis.

Another interesting Google application is Google Maps. These are basically geo-location API from Google. The advantage of APIs is to show route data along with real-time traffic insights.

Google Fonts also make use of API to call on a Google Font from the directory so that they need to host any cumbersome font files on your server is eliminated.

Google Translate is another popular feature that helps users conveniently translate the content into numerous languages. Google’s Cloud Translation and API services take care of the international audience by providing easy translation services.

Another useful thing is the Google Calendar API, with which you can instantly make connections and start displaying public or private events according to your own calendar.

All G Suite Apps have their own corresponding APIs. For example, Google Sheets API can be configured to capture the data submitted by users. This helps the business or the organisation succeed in terms of sales and revenue.

One popular Google product is YouTube. It makes use of YouTube API to embed video players into your website and customize the playback settings. API can also be used to pull in data to your website’s dashboard. APIs in YouTube prevents the uploading of videos on a server.

Popular Use Cases for APIs

We have talked about the use of APIs in popular Google applications. In this segment, we would talk about APIs in other popular websites or web applications. Let’s get started!

The first example is Vimeo, a popular video playback solution with its own API. If customers manage their video content with Vimeo, they can leverage the API to embed videos on the site, pull in the usage data, and also customize playback.

Facebook Messenger and Facebook apps and plugins also make use of APIs. The messenger API can be used to build a Facebook Messenger chatbot for your website. These chatbots are very useful because a developer can program the interaction between bot and customers and hence visitors don’t end up waiting in a long queue waiting to connect with a real person on Facebook.

Facebook also provides APIs so that developers can get more out of their marketing efforts on social media and also provides a set of APIs and SDKs for websites. These APIs and SDKs help businesses and organisations to add Facebook login, embed social media posts and also track website conversions in relation to a social media platform.

Another popular social media leveraging the power of their own valuable APIs is Twitter. With the help of APIs in Twitter, customers can embed Twitter feeds, posts along with important buttons like share, comment etc.

Twilio API is another incredibly powerful tool for businesses. It helps in integrating voice, SMS, chat and AI bots with websites. For example, one interesting feature of this website is that it allows visitors to schedule appointments and ask for their phone numbers, there can be an API programmed to automatically send appointment reminders via text to its customers. These websites and applications help businesses and organisations to strengthen customer relationships.

Dropbox is a secure place to store files from a website. Dropbox API handles more complex tasks like enabling website visitors to upload documents to a Dropbox account.

Payment Processors like Stripe and PayPal also leverage the power of API. They enable developers to collect payments and even tracking, handling refunds and disputes, and other interesting and useful features. With APIs in payment processors, there is no need to manually process payment information anymore.

These are some of the most popular examples and use cases of APIs in web development. The list above contains all the critical features and essentials of APIs that you can leverage.

We hope this blog helps you understand the basic concepts of application programming interface and its use in web development across sectors and industries. API is an important programming concept that you should learn and understand as a developer. With the growing number of web applications and websites that are striving to create a connected web. If this blog helps you comprehend the concept of APIs, watch this space for more such amazing content on technology. However, if you still have any doubts or queries regarding the topic, please feel free to connect with us as we will be more than happy to help you.

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