What is an API?

Discover what an API is, the different types of API and how they are used.

What is an API?
  • API stands for application programming interface.
  • Put simply APIs are a system where someone can “request” information from a third party piece of software.
  • APIs allow people outside of an organisation to access data from a third party without understanding how the third party software works. This means it encourages collaboration between different organisations.
  • APIs can be “open” or “closed”.
  • An open API means that it is available to the public, and any software developer can connect and extract data from the server for free.
  • A closed API is an API that is not available to the public. This may be because it is only used internally within organisations to talk between internal servers or in the case of enterprise APIs, it’s because the organisation wants to charge users for use of it’s API. Google Maps API is a good example of an enterprise API, where Google can make revenue off their software.
  • Sometimes development teams separate their software applications into separate servers and use APIs to “talk” between their servers. The smaller servers that perform actions for the main application server are called “microservices”.
  •  As APIs have become so commonplace and a cornerstone of the internet as we know it, API frameworks have been created to provide developers with a standardardised set of rules to create their APIs. SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and REST (Representational State Transfer) are two of the most used frameworks for building APIs.
  • GitHub has an excellent storage of public APIs covering everything from cryptocurrency, weather, sports & fitness and patents.
  • If you want to learn more about demystifying elearning standards including xAPI, check out our fantastic blog designed to clear things up.

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