APIs – an explanation

APIs – an explanation

It could be argued that the modern technical world has created a whole new language, which is confusing and extremely complex for the non-technical entrepreneur. Tech speak is peppered with jargons and acronyms which is useful to understand if we are to take full advantage of the opportunities that technology can bring to our businesses, and one such term is ‘API’.

Application Programming Interfaces (API) have been around since the 1960s. So, if they aren’t a new concept, why are they such a hot topic lately? The explosion of entrepreneurial activity in the past decade has created a virtual galaxy of API-enabled service providers, for everything from credit checking, to web speech and beyond.

In short, without APIs, the digital experiences that we expect every day as consumers wouldn’t be possible. They’re doing everything from driving information-rich marketing campaigns, to connecting mobile apps, and streamlining internal operations. Many businesses now know that investing in an API strategy can pay significant dividends.

What is an API? Breaking down the acronym

API stands for ‘Application Programming Interface’, and that’s exactly what they do – they provide a doorway for one application, or service, to access the data and services of another.

Let’s look at an example of an API.

APIs do a lot of heavy lifting, both on mobile and on the web. They’re responsible for nearly everything we do; with just a few taps or clicks, you could order a pizza, book a hotel, rate a song, or download software. APIs work quietly in the background, making the interactivity we expect, and rely upon, possible.

So, you’re searching for a hotel room from an online travel booking site. Using the site’s online form, you select the city you want to stay in, choose your selected dates, number of guests and number of rooms. Then you click “search.”

As you may know, the travel site aggregates information from many different hotels. When you click “search,” the site then interacts with each hotel’s API, which delivers results for available rooms that meet your criteria. This can all happen within seconds because of an API, which acts like a messenger that runs back and forth between applications, databases, and devices.

APIs let you build amazing apps, fast & cheap

Over time, developers have standardised more and more elements of their software, avoiding re-inventing the wheel, enabling firms to open their services up via APIs. It used to be the case that websites and software services needed to be vertically integrated making it expensive, slow, and risky to even develop simple software. However, the standardisation of software means you don’t need to recreate those services, and can often benefit from a billion-dollar infrastructure for your business no matter how small or large.

Almost anything you want your website or app to do has been solved by a start-up and is offered as an API. This means creating a demo of your idea can often be a simple matter of stringing together APIs, creating a user interface and some basic logic, and presenting it to your first users.

Some firms charge for use of their API, and it becomes a major service delivery channel, whereas other firms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter offer these things for free to add value to their existing users, as you need to have a Facebook profile for that sign-in process to work.

Application Programming Interfaces: Vantage Online and the ‘REST’

“RESTful,” or “REST” API’s are easier to use and are rapidly becoming the standard. They make the use of other firms’ services within the reach of developers that might not be quite as back-end conversant as in the past and use web standards, with all the power and flexibility that implies.

All access to data within Vantage Online is via its OData RESTful API which models the entire database. This API is used by all the applications in the system.

OData APIs are easy to consume and have several advantages over standard RESTful APIs. The description (or structure) of the data model is contained within the API making coding easier. The most important advantage of this is the ability to query the data from the client, reducing the work load on the server and database, and reducing data being returned. Functions and Actions provide custom operations to reduce the complexity for the user, such as performing security validations during login.

The security designed into Vantage Online for users is directly mapped to the API, meaning that it is easy to control what data is available and what can be done to the data. e.g. You can access all customers but cannot change any data.

The full API for Vantage Online contains over a thousand resources and we are working on creating documentation with a few samples to get you started. We aim to have this work completed by the end of Q1 2018. It will form a standard part of our ‘Enterprise’ version subscription.

Once released, to use the API you will need to contact Vantage to create the API login which will appear as an application in your Vantage Online system, just like the SMTP and IMAP services. You’ll be provided with an API key that you’ll need to use in your application to authenticate it with before you can access any resources.

In Summary:

 APIs:

  • Allow creation and iteration of new services quickly and cheaply for start-ups and established software firms alike.
  • Benefit the broader ecosystem because they allow businesses to focus on developing their core idea rather than spending time building services that have been perfected elsewhere.
  • Allow relatively simple integration between databases and services where reduction of data-entry duplication and sharing of common data between different systems enable you to save time, reduce costs and increase productivity.

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