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Thoughts by José Luis Agell
So…what’s an API?
February 13, 2009Posted by on
Since I started to work at 3scale, many people have asked me: “So… what’s an API?”. As it’s kind of difficult to explain, I figured it would be interesting to write a post. My purpose is to be clear, self-explaining and not use many technical words.
The term API stands for Application Programming Interface and is a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing a web-based software application or web tool. So it can be understood as a doorway through which you can access to a certain web service if you have the appropiate key.
Web services used to be offered mainly through the websites. However, the setting up of an APIs represents unbelievable benefits for the provider because other developers can design products that are powered by its service.
A clear example is Google Maps:
Of course, you can always go to the website and use this service. However, the existence of an API allows other developers to integrate a certain map in their website (for example in the homepage of a Hotel).
Moreover, through an API other developers can create the so-called mash up. A mash up is a hybrid application that combines data from different sources (e.g.different APIs).
For instance, a restaurant chain can take the info coming from Google Maps and combine it with its internal database to locate all its restaurants on its website.
This is a revolutionary technology that is transforming the Internet businesses. Companies are having extra revenues thanks this new distribution channel. However, as you might imagine, data flow doesn’t constitute the whole business. APIs need a solid infrastructure to exploit their huge potential. And here is where my company comes in. 3scale provides an on-demand API management solution that includes:
- A marketplace where developers can find great webservices to integrate and re-use.
- Access control (remember that you need to have the appropriate key).
- Contracting management (how much is the provider going to charge for its services?).
- Monitoring (the provider might be interested in have information about the transaction, who is using its API…).
- Payment and billing platform.