January 20, 2021
5 min read

What Is an API?

A hand holding a smartphone displaying a stock market app using an API.

An API stands for Application Programming Interface. Simply explained, it is an interface for two or more applications to communicate data. Many comparisons were made to simply explain what an API is. You might have come across the comparison of the API with a waiter in a restaurant, going back and forth between a customer and a kitchen.

How an API is working?

At Blobr, when we want to explain what an API is, we chose to refer to our coffee machine. This may sound weird, but we truly care about our coffee machine as much as we care about APIs, so that example just made a lot of sense.

In order to quickly wake up in the morning, we need to prepare our “request”: this consists of loading water into the coffee machine tank, putting the coffee pod into the coffee machine and adjusting the coffee machine parameters if needed. Such as an API, if all our request’s parameters are valid, we are authenticated: the coffee machine will release hot water into the coffee pod so that water is spilled in our mug. 

As it is the case with an API, with little to no understanding about how the pod machine (the API) is actually working, we are able to serve qualitative coffee for all at Blobr.

Thanks to this leading coffee machine example, the basic process for requesting an API is simpler to understand and is as follows: 

  1. A client application initiates an API call to retrieve information (request). The request is processed from an application to the web server via the API’s Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) (including a request verb, headers and optionally a request body)
  2. Given a valid request, the API makes a call to some external program or web server
  3. The API gets the response from the external program or web server
  4. The API gives the data to the client application

What real-world examples to illustrate APIs?

APIs are responsible for nearly everything we do on the internet: from ordering food, logging in a new application with our Facebook/ Google credentials, to booking a hotel...
In a few clicks, without any deep technical knowledge, we receive the data we asked for.

Let’s imagine what your day could look like and see which APIs you might come across:

  • 7:30am - By the time you wake up, you check your Facebook account and watch an embedded Youtube video on Facebook. Thanks to an API, Youtube allows the access to the video on your Facebook news feed.
  • 8:30am - Before going out of your house, you check what is today’s weather by typing “City Name - Weather” on the internet or your weather app. The information is sourced from a third party via an API in order to display the accurate temperature. 
  • 10:45am - Some of your colleagues are currently working on your company’s Google Ads account. The idea is to compile Google Ads data with other inventories. This is made possible by the Google Ads API.
  • 11:00am - You reply to a colleague using Slack. At the same time, you receive a slack notification, warning you a meeting is about to start. Slack comes with an API that allows companies to integrate third party applications for a better user experience and productivity.
  • 12:30am - You check that new restaurant on Google and automatically open Google Maps to go there. It uses the Google Places API to research the location you want to go to.
  • 2:00pm - You check your campaigns and go to your CRM to update your down funnel. All the discussions you had by emailing your prospects automatically appear on your CRM account. This, again, was enabled by APIs. 
  • Another way of communicating with new leads in your company is through Whatsapp Messenger. Indeed, Whatsapp Business API provides a way to reach companies’ customers with a high level of security.
  • 4:30pm - Time for a small break. You are dreaming of nice holidays and check flights’ prices on a flight comparator (e.g. Skyscanner). A travel API is applied to display multiple travel options to you.
  • 5:00pm - You need to sign a contract with a new provider, you are using Adobe Sign. The API allows to integrate electronic signature features into applications.
  • 7:00pm - You decide to take a self-service bike to go home (e.g. Velib). The operator reads the availability of all his bikes every second and exposes it on your application.
  • 9:00pm - After dinner, you decide to watch a movie on Netflix. The platform measures the quality of your internet connection and adapts the video accordingly. Are you sitting next to your supplier box? The definition of the image is great. Are you moving to your bedroom holding the computer? The quality is poorer so that you are not interrupted.

See, these days, there’s almost an API for everything! Yet, among users and providers, too many are still thinking about APIs as technological tools whereas they should be seen as “products”. The latter is the approach taken by Blobr, the no-code API technology to expose and monetize your APIs.

Learn how you can put the power of APIs on your side with our experts.