An API — application programming interface — is the access mechanism used in software that enables two or more applications to share data, powering use cases like price comparison websites, finance apps, and ecommerce platforms that depend on constant streams of data from elsewhere to function.
They form the foundation of platform businesses — enabling organizations to securely generate revenue from their own apps using third-party services and data, and even create open service ecosystems such as the Apple AppStore that others can build on.
A piece of software that enables two or more apps to talk to one another and share data securely.
The opportunity to embrace platform thinking and securely build rich, interconnected apps and services
Building APIs from scratch requires specialist expertise, and they’re a popular target for hackers.
What is it?
APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are access mechanisms of software created to help other applications and software share information with one another. They define commands and data (like macros in Microsoft Excel) for what, when and how data is shared, and automate the movement of that data between services that allow systems to "collaborate" and perform specific actions.
When one software service acquires new data about a customer, for example, it can be automatically fed to another software service through an API. That enables both apps to deliver consistent customer experiences, in line with the choices that customer has made.
What's in it for you?
APIs are the backbone of the application and service infrastructure that millions of us engage with every day. They enable seamless journeys between the applications and services offered by an organization — enhancing experiences and adding value for users.
APIs also enable you to enhance your apps by pulling in data and services from third-party sources. Public APIs exist for a wide variety of data sets and types, helping your dev teams add features to services without having to generate or source that data themselves. This makes it cheaper and faster to go to market with new offerings.
What are the trade offs?
Because APIs are a direct gateway to applications, they’re also an increasingly popular target for hackers and other malicious attackers. Public APIs are particularly vulnerable to attack, as they’re completely visible to virtually anyone that wants to use them. Security architecture is important here to protect these APIs for legitimate use.
Exposing applications through APIs also has significant implications for the teams responsible for managing and maintaining those apps. They need to be ready to work with APIs, and specifically need to understand how to manage APIs over time, as the applications that each API connects evolve.
How is it being used?
By enabling organizations to seamlessly connect services and pull in valuable third-party data and functionality to enhance their own applications, APIs provide the foundation that today’s platform businesses are built on. With the right security architecture, they can be the secure connectors that power consistent, seamless experiences across application ecosystems that millions of us engage with every day.
Some of the most common examples of APIs in use today are third-party digital payment options like the ‘pay with PayPal’ option that you see embedded into a lot of digital checkouts, and single sign-in tools (e.g.login with Facebook) that enable you to register and log in to new services using your existing social media account credentials.
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