APIs are important to the proper functioning of modern enterprises. So, there needs to be a way for APIs to communicate with each other. This is basically what API integration is. A way for the APIs of two or more applications to integrate or communicate with one another and band together to perform one unified function. This is how applications talk to themselves. They get to have a virtual, behind-the-scenes conversation.
What Exactly Is An API?
An Application Programming Interface (API) is basically a messenger that facilitates interaction between devices, data and applications. APIs can be regarded as a set of rules that allow communication to happen between software components or applications. So far as the boundaries set by the API is not exceeded or compromised.
Here is a very simple way to explain what an API is and how it works:
Consider shipping. Before modern times, cargo was loaded onto freight ships individually carried on board by dock workers. This changed later as a new practice was instituted. In this new practice, as long as all your goods can fit into one container. A container whose size and weight have been agreed beforehand, then it does not matter what you are shipping. You could decide to ship 1,000 shoes or decide to ship one car that weighs as much as the shoes. Nobody cares, that container can be transported anywhere in the world.
This is exactly how API works. The cargo, in this case, would be all the interactions. This includes messages transmitted to (requests) and messages from (responses) an application. An API functions as a shipping vessel for information. It is important to note that an API is not the same as User Interface (UI). A user interface is the way you communicate with an application to get it to do what you want. While an API is the way your machine or device communicates with a software or application to do what you have asked it to do. There are now over 16,000 APIs in existence, and the number is bound to increase as time goes by.
Different Types Of API
There are different types of APIs for applications, websites or operating systems. For example, inside the Windows Operating System, there are several APIs that make communication within the many windows programs work. If you copied text, for instance from Microsoft Excel to Microsoft Word, it is an API that made this possible. There are also APIs that allow other developers to write programs that are consistent to and can work with the Windows environment. More on this later.
There are four main types of APIs. They are:
– Open APIs
These are also known as public APIs. Open APIs have no restriction to access, they are publicly available. Any developer can access these APIs which can usually be found in a public API developer portal. These are the types of APIs that companies use to interact with other apps or software outside the company. For instance, the Google Maps API allows developers to embed Google maps on their web pages, freely and simply.
– Partner APIs
This type of API is made available only to select business partners. They are used to improve communication and integration of software between any company and its business partners. They are not available to the public, and you would need some form of permission to access them. A good example of this is that of Omron, the Japanese health technology company. Omron collects quite a bit of data from their medical devices. They then sell this important data to their partners through APIs.
– Private APIs
These are APIs that are only available to teams within the company. Many businesses use private APIs to optimize their internal processes and make better decisions.
Web Service APIs
Apart from the major web APIs described above, there are also web service APIs. A web service is a program or software that uses an address like a URL on the World Wide Web to give access to its services. There are different types of web service APIs including SOAP, XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and REST. The most popular of them, REST API will be discussed here.
– REST API
This is the most commonly used API for web services. Representational State Transfer- REST is the successor to SOAP API which was developed in the 1990s. REST APIs make up about 70% of public APIs. It is easier to learn, and does not rely on XML, instead, it works straight from an HTTP URL. Even though there are different types of servers and software. REST API provides a standard through which all forms of API-enabled software can communicate with web servers.
What Is API Integration?
API integration is a term that refers to how two or more separate applications can be linked to one another through their individual APIs. This link is usually initiated to perform some joint function. When developers are building their apps, they usually come to a point where they realize that someone else has built a working app that performs the same function as they are trying to integrate into their own app. It saves time, money and a whole lot of effort and makes data syncing between apps a walk in the park. This is why integrating APIs is important in the IT world.
As helpful as allowing third party APIs to connect to your software can be, you also need to be careful. You do not have control over that API and you do not know how reliable it is. You should make it a habit to perform periodic tests and keep up with the application programming interface. You are literally placing your trust in another developer. This might not be a very comforting feeling. Have a contingency plan, maybe a plan B API that you can wrangle up if the one you are using decides to develop a fault.
What if you have connected your software to another using your APIs and it is all working fine? What happens when you have to integrate your API with other APIs? Your tech stack is probably not only just the one. For instance, if you are in marketing, your tech stack might number in the thousands. It would be difficult to make all those apps communicate. Thankfully, there is a solution to this. There are two different ways you can make your stacks talk among themselves.
– Middleware Integration Tools
These are built to tie different applications together. These types of programs range from simple point-to-point connectors that are useful for small companies, to huge enterprise software tools that can connect large organizations. As far as middleware integration tools are concerned, there are two classes:
This integration tool is very user friendly. So, it can be used by Small and Mid-sized Businesses (SMBs) quite easily. It is not sophisticated enough to service large companies with sophisticated tasks, though.
These offer an array of functionality but have pretty complicated front ends. Complicated enough to require coding to make sense of. Big companies usually employ a team of engineers to work with this class of integration tool. It might not be a useful tool for everyone. Each company has to make sure that it will serve their purposes before going for it.
Before you decide to go for any of these middleware integration tools, you should consider some important factors:
- Would the system give you some form of alert or signal if something goes wrong? Say for instance, there was a runtime error. Would you be notified or would it just stop working without so much as a how do you do?
- Will your middleware tool pricing allow you to scale when you need to? You might not want to go for a solution that charges per user or per individual connector. That would kill your business when you company starts getting larger.
- Another question to ask is will the solution you go for be able to handle larger data demands? When your company grows and more data needs to flow between your stacks. Would it be able to handle that?
- Is your solution flexible when it comes to connectors? Would it be able to add support for new connectors? And also make old connectors work better? You have to be sure that the tool has a proven record of being flexible and adaptable to changing technologies.
– API Integration Platforms
If you do not want to deal with the limitations of middleware integration tools, then you need something with a bit more finesse. API integration platforms connect your stacks seamlessly, and are customized to deliver exactly what you need.
Here are some cool reasons why you should consider an API Integration platform:
o Connecting Cloud Apps
Cloud apps have crept into all areas of enterprise. There are hundreds of cloud apps that are in use today. Surveys show that most organizations make use of at least 6 cloud apps. With Google and Office 365 being some of the more popular ones, when you have to connect cloud apps, your go to solution is APIs. API integration platforms are perfect for connecting these cloud APIs. This is because API integration platforms are also cloud based and do not need to try to connect from behind a firewall.
o Compose New Apps Easily
Here is a pretty interesting fact: Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012. At that time, Instagram had only 13 employees! Yes, just 13, but they are not alone. WhatsApp had only 55 staff members when the same Facebook bought the messaging app in 2014. The question is how is it even possible to create and run such massive apps with such a small staff?
The simple answer is APIs. Yes, as it turns out, many of these famous apps when stripped down contain previously existing technology. This is now all brought together using APIs. The little additions to apps like Instagram that made it even more exciting like photo filters were around before Instagram. Instagram only used APIs to present them to users in a different way. This process can also work for the creation of new apps. API integration platforms can simply connect existing APIs or API integrations and repackage them as new apps.
o Create New APIs Without Hassle
Before now, if you needed to create an API, you had only two ways to go about it. You could either make use of an existing API, or build your own from scratch. The first option is a bit iffy as you don’t know the level of professionalism that went into creating the API. If it develops an issue, it would affect your program. The second is time consuming and could be quite difficult.
API integrating platforms have now provided a third option. You could create a new API from an existing integration with just a few clicks. Little time, no costs, and you get to squeeze more value from your existing technology cache.
o Easier API Management
As a company grows, the number of APIs they need increases. As the number of APIs in use increases, it becomes more and more difficult to keep tabs on them. Even for third party APIs, the job of oversight still falls on the developers within the enterprise that is using them. API integration platforms can help make managing these different APIs an easy process with little stress. You get to manage all your own internal APIs and third party APIs all from one platform. It takes a lot of administrative burden off the IT staff.
o Get Even More Value From Old Data
With companies that have been around for a while, data that is older than a year or sometimes even 6 months get stored somewhere. This data could contain valuable information that can still be of use to the company. But it is sitting somewhere gathering virtual dust. This is necessary because accessing this data could be difficult and time consuming.
API integrating platforms have also provided a solution for that. Since the platform can be used to create internal APIs. It is easier for an enterprise to extract this old data and make good use of workflows and business logic that has worked before.
o Improve Team Productivity
Creating APIs and managing them is time consuming and back breaking work. It would require dedicating hours every month from a team of developers to keep up with all the work it requires.
API Integration Platforms frees up the IT staff to focus their attention somewhere else. This is because it handles most of the maintenance and work that the team would have been doing.
API Integrations are the heavy lifters in any enterprise set up. They link the different parts of your tech stack together. They make them communicate with each other and pass data simply and quickly. Another importance of API integrations is that they make your work as a developer easier. They create automated workflows for apps that have been integrated through APIs. This takes the pressure off the IT team and reduces the amount of time dedicated to doing manual labor, maintaining and writing those APIs. It basically helps you to do more effective work in less time.