APIs are the unsung heroes of modern software development. They allow different applications to talk to each other, exchange data, and collaborate, fostering software innovation, improving cohesion among employees, and promoting business growth in more ways than one. When building applications on the Blaze platform, we have many APIs that you can easily connect to without doing any extra work.
APIs have gained momentum with developers in recent years. And for good reason. The rapid growth of cloud technology has played a key role in accelerating API adoption. By the end of 2023, cloud automation will be a $623 billion industry, with APIs a staple among developers and enterprises.
This post will explore what APIs are, why they're important, how they work, their benefits, use cases, and how to integrate an API into your brand's website or software.
What is an API?
API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a software intermediary that allows applications to communicate with each other. This intermediary layer transfers data between systems, allowing companies to open their application data and functionality to external third-party developers, business partners, and internal departments within their own company.
Put simply, think of an API as the wire that carries your request to the end provider and sends the response back to you.
APIs help businesses integrate the applications they use every day into their internal processes and consumer-facing products, saving time and eliminating information silos that hamper collaboration and innovation.
For web developers, API documentation fast-tracks the integration process by supplying a framework for establishing a connection between applications, making it easier to focus on mission-critical tasks instead of tedious programming work.
How do APIs work?
As mentioned above, APIs are sets of guidelines and procedures that allow software components to communicate through a simple command language.
Let's look at how an API works and use a hypothetical situation for simplicity's sake. APIs are like waiters in a restaurant, delivering the customer's order to the kitchen and returning with the food.
When applied to software-to-software interactions, APIs pass your request (your order) to the system (the kitchen) before coming back with the desired response (your meal) in the form of data or functionality.
As long as the server (the application providing the resource) can provide what the client (the requesting application) asked, the API will return the requested resource or a message indicating success.
Types of APIs
APIs power many enterprise, mobile, and web applications. But not all APIs are created equal. API types, protocols, and architectures differ depending on applications and business requirements. Here are the four types of APIs you're most likely to encounter.
- Partner APIs: These APIs grant access to features and services that are only available to partners, like proprietary data or tools, support services, or special deals. It's important to note that while these APIs are shared externally, they are usually shared in a B2B context where companies team up to offer complementary products and services.
- Private APIs: An internal or private API is intended only for connecting systems within an enterprise. These APIs are only accessible to a company's internal team to boost productivity and transparency, like an enterprise's HR or payroll system. Developers working within the company can access these APIs, but third-party developers cannot.
- Composite APIs: A composite API allows developers to access data and services from multiple sources through a single API endpoint rather than contacting them individually. Composite APIs combine requests to produce a single unified response from multiple servers. So if your company needs to collect data from different applications, you would use a composite API.
What are the benefits of using an API?
The development of APIs has empowered enterprises to innovate, automate, and accelerate workflow efficiencies. When it comes to API capabilities, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are four more reasons why APIs are beneficial for business:
- Increased scalability: APIs facilitate business growth by making connecting and integrating with other systems and applications a breeze. Developers or IT teams don't have to overhaul existing infrastructure to add new features and functionality. Instead, APIs work with your existing system or product to ensure a frictionless integration experience. Additionally, by enabling more redundancy and failover capabilities, APIs help businesses avoid service interruptions and downtime.
- Better team collaboration: The average enterprise uses almost 1,200 cloud applications, most of which are disconnected. Without the help of APIs, businesses become fragmented, causing information silos that stifle productivity. By integrating APIs, platforms and apps can talk to one another on the backend, while a company's internal teams can collaborate more effectively and create integrated workflows.
- Faster time-to-market: APIs can help businesses bring new products and features to market faster through simplified integration. For example, a business might use an API to integrate with a payment processing platform, eliminating the need to build its own payment gateway. Companies can also use APIs to test and deploy improvements and new features to their products and services, helping businesses stay competitive and capture market share.
- Improved customer experience: Automating certain processes with APIs allows businesses to provide a more personalized and cost-effective customer service experience by eliminating redundant tasks. For example, a healthcare provider can use an API to pull a patient's medical records, schedule appointments, and send automated reminders.
API use cases
API integration is critical to software and web application development. For example, CRMs use APIs to integrate with their existing applications, such as messaging, customer data, social media, and email. Beyond integration, let's zoom out and explore other equally relevant use cases for APIs.
- Universal logins: Websites can use APIs from popular services to quickly authenticate user credentials, eliminating the need for the user to set up a new profile for every web application or membership. The most common example of this API is the function enabling people to log in to websites using their Facebook, Twitter, or Google account credentials.
- Data access: APIs allow you to access data from third-party applications or services. For example, Apple's weather app uses an API to gather data from weather stations worldwide, populating the application with up-to-date weather information.
- Internet of Things (IoT): APIs can connect with and manage communications between different IoT devices. An example would be a home security system using an API to activate/disarm a smart lock according to the system's settings.
- Web and mobile app development: APIs play a crucial role in web and mobile app development because they allow the app to interact with other apps and services. For instance, a travel app may integrate with a hotel booking site so that users can book their accommodations directly from the app.
How to use and integrate an API
Now that you understand how APIs work and how they can benefit your business, you may be ready to hop aboard the API train yourself.
Realistically, you probably already use APIs to manage your business without even knowing it, but let's say you're eyeing a specific API to integrate into your website, application or software.
Did you know that Blaze offers dozens of pre-built integrations to help you connect your external applications to your software? Check out how ShipDudes integrated their Shopify store with a new inventory management system they built through Blaze.
The next question is: How? Through integration, of course. But API integration isn't a one-size-fits-all process. There are a few integration solutions available, each with its own pros and cons:
Option #1: Native API integration
A native API integration is when a pair of applications provide a direct means of integrating with one another via APIs. As soon as the apps are linked, data can flow between the apps and become available to your employees.
Here are some benefits and drawbacks associated with native API integration:
- It can offer faster performance and better response times
- It allows for high levels of customization
- It can offer better security
- It's often included in your software subscription at no extra charge
- It provides a reliable connection between systems
- It's not as scalable as other types of integrations
- It can create dependencies between systems, making changes to one system affect the functionality or stability of the other system
- It can create additional data silos if your systems are not integrated across all functions
Option #2: In-house API integration
Unlike native or third-party APIs, in-house API integration involves creating APIs from scratch and managing them internally. In-house API integrations use custom code written by a developer familiar with API documentation. This type of integration can eat up a lot of developer resources and demand a high upfront investment, although it has its advantages.
A number of benefits and drawbacks come with developing your own in-house API integration, among them:
- It gives full control over the development and management of the API
- It allows organizations to tailor the API to their specific needs
- It enables developers to build an API that’s embedded with specialized security protocols to protect proprietary data
- It enables in-house APIs to scale as the business grows
- In-house API integration can be complex and time-consuming, requiring significant development resources and technical expertise
- These types of APIs require ongoing maintenance and updates
- Smaller organizations don’t have the resources to develop and maintain in-house APIs
- In-house APIs will not have the same level of external support and documentation as third-party APIs, which can make troubleshooting more difficult
Option #3: Third-party integration
Modern-day enterprises rely on hundreds, even thousands, of cloud apps to run their operations, and manually syncing data between all of these applications is a time suck. However, with an API integration platform, you can integrate all of these apps and harmonize your data at the same time.
Here are some benefits and drawbacks associated with turning to a third-party API integration tool:
- It can help you quickly and securely integrate a variety of apps
- Users can monitor integrations from a single dashboard
- Third-party integration platforms often have large user communities, providing access to shared knowledge, expertise and support
- It takes some time to get comfortable with the platform and build integrations at scale
- It can present security risks since third parties have access to your organization’s sensitive data
- Vendor lock-in can make switching to a different platform difficult or expensive
- Third-party integration platforms are subject to downtime and other technical issues, making them less reliable
Discover how Blaze can support your company’s integration and automation need
With a helpful nudge from APIs, non-technical users can easily integrate third-party software and data sources into their applications without writing a single line of code.
Ready to supercharge your application with the help of APIs? Blaze offers hundreds of integrations to power up your apps, databases, workflows, and more – no code necessary.
Just getting started with no-code? No problem! Our knowledgeable Implementation Team will help you create your app so you can focus on growing your business.
Popular APIs that come ready for you to use in Blaze:
- SQL Server
- Google Big Query
We're empowering non-technical innovators to build web apps and tools that will delight their clients and users. And with Blaze, you can make your first web app in just a few clicks. Schedule a demo with one of our experts today to get started!