Home > Knowledge Base > What are APIs and API Integration?

What are APIs and API Integration? A Comprehensive Guide

Highlights

  • API stands for Application Programming Interface
    • APIs acts like a postman delivering information requested by the sender to the receiver and vice versa
      • REST and SOAP APIs are the most commonly used API architectures
        • You’ll need an API Integration strategy if you are running an online business and or have cloud-based products

        What are APIs?

        API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a collection of protocols and tools that facilitate the interaction and communication between software applications.

        APIs enable seamless connectivity, interaction and exchange of data between the applications without human interference.You don’t even realize it but pretty much every time you use an app, most likely you are using an API. Whether it is to book a flight, order food online, buying online products, making online payments, send an instant message on Facebook or Instagram and a whole lot.

        How do APIs work?

        APIs essentially are like postmen who deliver your request to the receiver you are requesting it from and then deliver the response back to you. At the pace with which people develop applications in this day and age, APIs are a blessing because now the developers don’t have to write any code from scratch. Instead they can use the existing code and make modifications wherever needed to best suit the work that is needed to accomplish that particular task.

        You need to have an in-depth understanding of how APIs work in order to understand what all great things you can do to with them to get what you need.

        Let’s start by saying as a human you are interacting with the user interface of an app and applications use APIs to interact with other applications and that’s how a particular task gets done and achieve what you as a human want to achieve.

        Technically, what happens is you as a user will open an app on your phone which means you are initiating an API call that tells the application to do a particular task. So, API in the middle as a postman is requesting another app the information you need. The API then delivers then delivers the information back to you and also tells the app what to do. This way you may be telling the app to do multiple things and most of it is done by different APIs.

        Real life example of how APIs work and why we need them:

        Let’s say you are going to book a hotel on hotels.com. You need to enter the city you are going to, check-in and check-out dates, number of people staying and search. When you perform this operation, hotels.com is performing an operation of connecting you to different hotels in that area along with their prices on the backend. You need access booking information from the hotel database online. APIs are the intermediary that facilitate this communication between applications and even devices.

        What are different types of API Architectures and their differences?

        The most commonly used API architectures today are REST and SOAP. Let’s understand these in detail

        REST APIs

        REST stands for Representational State Transfer which means that these APIs work by taking requests and returning all the information in the format that clients can easily interpret. Today, majority of APIs are built on REST because of its utility with CRUD (create, read, updates and delete) operations in computer programming.

        Apart from being lightweight, scalable and flexible and easy to use, REST APIs are able to accommodate multiple data formats most commonly used JSON and XML, plain-text among others.

        REST

        SOAP APIs

        SOAP stands for Simple Object Access Protocol which means an application sends a specific request to a server and the server returns a response abiding by certain a set of rules between the SOAP sender and receiver. SOAP uses XML for exchanging information in its message format.

        SOAP

        No matter which APIs you use for your business, you need to have a good understanding of their functions and how they will benefit your business

        Here’s a detailed video explainer on REST vs SOAP APIs

        What is API Integration?

        API Integration is a process of creating a path for APIs to communicate with each other, share data and achieve a desired outcome. In this digital world, it is hard to overlook the importance of APIs because seamless connectivity between your systems is no more a luxury, it’s a necessity for smooth operations greatly saving time and money.

        Today, you cannot run a business online without integrating all your systems because there is always going to be an ongoing data exchange whether it is your EDI and ecommerce shop, EDI and warehouse management system, EDI and your online accounting software, payment gateway integration to your online store and so much more.

        An API integration strategy is a must have for your business if you have cloud-based software because your systems cannot function in silos. It adds a layer of automation between multiple applications for seamless data flow.

        1. You need to start with establishing goals for your business
        2. Understand your IT infrastructure and what all is needed (gaps) to achieve your goals
        3. Determine how APIs can help you connect your systems and what all need to be connected
        4. Create an API integration roadmap and share it with your potential tech partners if you are involving or taking advice from any of them

        If you are thinking of growth by growing your trading partners and customers and investing the right amount of resources and time, you’ll not regret in a long-term investment into connecting your systems.

        How do I achieve API Integration?

        There are several ways to achieve API Integration namely:

        1. Pre-built Connectors– These are applications designed for multiple cloud-based services that can connect to any open or custom APIs
          1. Custom Integrations- These integrations are handled by a team of software developers who write custom codes to connect to different applications.
            For example, if you were to integrate your web- based EDI software into your custom ERP, then you can go to tech consultants or a managed EDI service that specializes in custom integrations and their technical team writes custom code and helps your data flow from your EDI system to your ERP.
            1. API Integration Platforms- These platforms help you securely create (using any format like JSON, TEST, SOAP etc.) run and analyze APIs with just a few clicks. These are designed to simplify your API development and move things faster while meeting high performance and security standards. For e.g. Google Cloud has come up with Apigee, Microsoft Azure offers a multi-cloud API management tool and there are many more.

            Read next

            Take a look at an EDI mapping guideline example and know how to read your trading partner’s too