API is an acronym that stands for “Application Programming Interface”.
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Here are two defitions, we prefer to simplify it.
Wikipedia: An application programming interface (API) is a computing interface which defines interactions between multiple software intermediaries. It defines the kinds of calls or requests that can be made, how to make them, the data formats that should be used, the conventions to follow, etc. It can also provide extension mechanisms so that users can extend existing functionality in various ways and to varying degrees.
Magnetar IT: We think of an API like a menu at a restaurant. The menu provides a list of options you can order with a description of each one. When you specify what menu items you want, the restaurant’s kitchen does the work and provides you with some finished meals. You don’t know exactly how the restaurant prepares that food and you don’t really have to know either.
A is for Application
Basically any software that can be distinctively separated from its environment, can be an A in API, and will probably also have some sort of API. For example Reddit, Spotify and Google Calendar all are applications in their own right but also offer the ability to communicate with them to integrate them with other services.
APIs are also used to control access to functions that an application may not necessarily have permission to use. That’s why APIs often play a big role in security. This creates a layer of control in front of what is likely sensitive information.
Communication Between Services
APIs are used for all kinds of other reasons for example, if you’ve ever seen a Google Maps object embedded on a website, that website is using the Google Maps API to embed the map. Google exposes APIs like this to developers, who can then use the APIs to put complex objects right on their website. If APIs like this didn’t exist, developers might have to create their own maps and provide their own map data just to put a small interactive map on a website.
There are some great examples of services designed to just communicate with application API’s, such as Zapier and Integromat. These services help you connect your applications together without any preexisting development knowledge and can enable you to save hours and remove lots of your manual processes all together!
Here is a great video on helping you understand what an API is
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