When you visit a website, it’s easy to assume that one organization owns and runs everything you see on the site. But these days, many websites are actually a combination of specialized tools from organizations across the Web. And making it all work is something called Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs.
Meet Carson. He has idea for really cool interactive maps and he sees an opportunity to sell them on his website, but he has a problem. The maps would require a huge amount of data to work and he can’t afford the programmers and hardware to make it successful. And maintaining it all is a hassle. He just wants to make the maps a reality.
Carson has two big concerns: First, he needs an easy way to access and manage all the map data. Second, he needs a way to collect payment from customer credit cards. These are complicated tools to build and he knows there must be options.
In doing research, he found companies that specialize in the software and data he needs. He considered buying their tools outright, but it seemed too expensive and he would have to manage it himself. He needed something easier.
That’s when he learned about Application Programming Interfaces or APIs. APIs meant that he could rely on organizations that specialize and connect his website to their tools over the Internet. They simply provide a way for websites and applications like Carson’s to connect to and use their system.
This connection, or interface, makes it possible for two different systems to talk to each other and make requests.
For example, instead of Carson having to store and manage maps and data, he can use a map company’s API to do the heavy lifting. His website just asks for data and the API delivers it.
The same thing is true for billing. Instead of having to manage credit card numbers and billing details, his website hooks into a billing company API that provides and stores this information.
All Carson needs is a bit of programming to make sure that his application and the API speak the same language. With this in place, information can be processed quickly and reliably, usually for a fee.
These days, his website visitors can try out and purchase Carson’s maps and it all works seamlessly. And behind the scenes, APIs are connecting his service to specialists via the Internet. And he’s not alone, today organizations large and small are depending on APIs because they create connections with specialists that help keep up-front costs down and provide a solid foundation for getting started.