What Is an API and How Does It Work?
An API (application programming interface) is an information gateway that allows the back ends of software and services to communicate with one another. If you’ve ever wondered how the modern digital experience got so interconnected and convenient, the answer is APIs.
This is what APIs look like in the real world:
- Need to book a hotel? Fire up your favorite travel app and see hundreds of available rooms matching your exact search criteria.
- Find an interesting restaurant on Yelp? There’s an embedded Google Map ready to route you to your destination.
Everything from data-driven marketing campaigns to automated business workflows and sprawling app ecosystems relies on a hidden network of APIs. Let’s take a closer look at what APIs are and how they work.
How does an API work?
Data is typically stored in a database hosted on a physical server. To retrieve that data, you need to know how to talk to that database in order to get what you want. That’s what an API does: it helps by receiving requests and responding with the data needed to provide some functionality or service.
APIs can be used internally, to allow different teams to share resources, or externally to let third-party apps build off of your core technology. Without getting too technical, you can think of an API as a “user interface (UI)” that applications, databases, and devices can use to programmatically exchange data with one another.
For example, when you type a URL into the browser to visit a webpage, you’re effectively sending a request to a server for all the data needed to display that webpage. When you click play to start streaming video content, you send a request to a server to access a video file and start playing its contents.
In fact, APIs written for Upwork’s servers allow your browser to pull the very content you’re reading on this webpage!
How to participate in the API economy
Now that you understand how APIs work, you might be wondering how you can start participating in the API economy yourself. Here’s a quick overview of how the API economy works:
When you create an API, you make it easier for others to use your technology in their products and services. The more people use your API, the more popular your service becomes, allowing you to leverage the benefits of a larger developer community and increased visibility. Build something truly unique, and you might even be able to monetise your API as a premium service.