TMCnet Feature
May 15, 2020

How To Use An API



With the right API at your side you can turn an interesting, ambitious idea for an application into a fully functional service without having to overstretch your in-house resources or needing to limit your expectations.

Here is a run-through of what an API is and what you will need to do to make use of one on your next development project.

The basics

An application programming interface (API) can be described in any number of ways, although so many similes and metaphors float around online that it can be confusing. It is simpler to say what an API does in order to help newcomers understand it. Briefly, an API is the mechanism which allows two apps to communicate with one another, share data and interpret the information which they receive.



For example, you can use a travel API to draw down details of flight times, hotel room prices, weather conditions and others pertinent pieces of information offered up by respected sites and service providers. Your app can then interpret the data and present it to users to provide them with actionable insights and the ability to make arrangements for their next trip from within your app.

Third party developers can leverage APIs to add a host of features and functions which would not normally be achievable if they were relying on nothing more than their in-house resources.

Getting started

Choosing which APIs to use for your app is of course the first step to actually deploying them in a practical way. There are a wide range of options out there to allow your app to communicate with almost any other service, whether you might want to integrate social media features to make content more shareable or add mapping capabilities so that customers can find your bricks and mortar locations.

Once you have an idea of which APIs are worth working with, you will need to get an API key. This is a widely used solution that lets an API know which applications and users are making requests for general tracking purposes and to avoid exploitation.

Some of the most popular APIs are also paid-for services, and you may find that the price will scale according to the number of requests received from your app. This keeps things affordable for smaller developers with niche audiences, although whatever your aims it is always a good idea to keep API access costs in mind in these early stages.

Testing

To start experimenting with an API, you can make use of a number of popular tools which are built to allow for manual interactions which can be controlled precisely and conducted without the need for any extensive coding efforts on the part of users. These so-called REST clients are intended to let you try out requests and then assess how your app will respond according to the response it receives.

Of course not all APIs are compatible with the REST client approach, in which case you will need to take a different tact to start tinkering with them.

Testing is important regardless of the APIs you select, since this will not only help with implementation, but will also allow you to determine whether or not a particular service is able to perform adequately for your needs. If latencies are excessive or requests are frequently dropped, this may be a sign that the API in question is not quite up to the standard you need to make your app a winner.

Slow APIs can be especially problematic in a web app context, so performance should be high on your agenda when getting started. Seeking expert assistance is also sensible if you encounter any obstacles.



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