What Is an API?
Imagine one day after work, you get home and realize you have nothing to eat in your fridge. You hop online and browse restaurant listings from your favorite food delivery website. As you’re browsing, you notice a new Thai restaurant has recently opened and garnered several great reviews.
After quickly scanning the embedded Google Maps next to the listing, you see the restaurant is located just a few blocks away can deliver your food within 30 minutes.
Pretty common scenario, right?
What makes it possible to view Google Maps on the delivery website, without having to open a new tab or window, is an API. An acronym for application programming interface, APIs let one program (the food delivery website) communicate with and use another program’s functions (Google Maps).
APIs are simply a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing software applications or web tools. APIs make it easy for one website to communicate with another’s. Without them, websites wouldn’t be able to read and retrieve data easily. With an API, however, your website can send a message to another website’s API and receive data in a structured response.
All this communication goes on behind the scenes, which is invisible to web viewers.
Many eCommerce websites use APIs in different ways. If you want to place Tweets or Facebook comments as social proof, an API would let you do that. If you want to let customers check out using their Amazon accounts, an API would also make this possible:
APIs are also used on eCommerce sites to provide product information, display reviews from third-party websites, as well as internally for data processing.
At the end of the day, APIs are powerful tools that allow users to send and extract information in an easy way. You can think about them almost as a contract provided by one piece of software to another, allowing one program to directly communicate with another and use each other’s functions.
Ben Batchler is an applications engineer at LYONSCG.