Web API Development

Web API Development

The term API may mean different things to different people, depending on the context. API simply means ‘application programming interface’. The API is not the database or even the server, it is the code that governs the access point(s) for the server. A publically available web-based API returns data, most likely as a JSON or XML file. There are APIs for operating systems, applications, and the Web. For example, Windows provides APIs that are used by system hardware and applications. When you copy text or a picture from Microsoft PowerPoint to Word, the APIs are at work. Most operating environments provide an API so that programmers can write applications consistent with the operating environment. In simple terms, APIs just allow different software applications to communicate with one another. APIs find many uses today. For example, there is Google Maps API for locating a place on a map, Facebook API for gaming or sharing content, and the Amazon API for getting product information. Technically speaking, an API is a set of programming code that enables data transmission between software applications which also incorporates the protocol, data format, and the endpoint for two computer applications to communicate with each other. There are two types of APIs – public and private. Public APIs (like google Maps and FB APIs for example), are open for everyone. Private APIs, which most probably for B2B applications, typically require some kind of login.

APIs are beneficial because they let two software applications talk to each other, without having to know what is going on inside. So, two (or more different teams) that have developed different applications can exchange data without having to wrack their brains about how the other application accomplishes the task of fetching relevant data. Let us take a common example to illustrate this point. When you insert the key and turn on the key, the car engine starts and you can start driving. You need not bother about how exactly the engine works internally to know how to drive the car. A common goal of all types of APIs is to accelerate the development of applications by providing a part of its functionality out-of-the-box, so developers do not have to implement it themselves. In order to do this properly, an API developer needs to furnish clearly information like the functionality provided, location of the API, response time, input and output parameters, and so on. Proper documentation is also essential.

Web APIs
APIs really became useful when the internet and websites proliferated. Especially with e-commerce leading the way, APIs grew in importance. An API that is specifically developed for the web is called as a Web API. Let us take an example where a web API comes in handy. Suppose you want to develop an e-commerce website, but do not have the resources to process payments directly, as that requires an https protocol (which means buying a SSL certificate), a payment gateway and access to credit / debit cards database. Instead, most new enterprises prefer using a third party payment gateway, which provides them with a web API. This API accepts values from the website (which typically includes the customer’s personal details), and processes the orders. The results are then sent back to the originating website for further processing. The originating website does not know how the third party payment gateway processes the payment; the payment gateway does not need to understand how it receives the values like personal, but knows how to process the credit / debit card information.

APIs are different from web applications and web services. A Web API is a unique type of interface where the communication takes place using the Internet and Web-specific protocols. Web APIs are generally served through an HTTP interface. Today, majority of the public APIs use REST, so let’s take a moment to understand what that is. REST is an acronym for REpresentational State Transfer. It is an architectural style for an API that uses HTTP requests to access and use data. That data can be used to GET, PUT, POST and DELETE data types, which refers to the reading, updating, creating and deleting of operations concerning resources. REST APIs are preferred for fast performance, reliability, and ability to scale by reusing modular components without affecting the system as a whole. Web APIs that use REST allow developers to expose your assets and services in a form that can be easily consumed by another application remotely over HTTP(s). As REST has grown in popularity for API development, they have slowly taken over the mantle from SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), which is now preferred for service interactions within enterprises. REST, on the other hand, is the choice for services that are exposed, such as public APIs using HTTP(s). RESTful services also have better cache support and are preferred for mobile and web apps. With REST developed Web APIs, apps run faster and more smoothly.

Web API Security
An API helps expose a business service or an enterprise asset to the developers building an application. Since Web APIs provide access to a company’s valuable and protected data and assets. it is necessary to protect the integrity of the data. Security is not only about authentication and authorization, but also about what data is exposed in which service contract and how endpoints are consumed by the consumers. Due to the programmatic nature of APIs and their accessibility over the public cloud, they are also prone to a different kind of threat attack. The API management platform should therefore address these concerns properly.

Web API Development Tools

You can develop web APIs in almost all languages like C++, Java, C#, PHP, etc. However, two of the most popular languages for developing web APIs are JavaScript and Python. To expedite development, there are many API frameworks available today that are based on Ruby, Python, Java, etc. If you really wish to be proficient in API development, visiting a recognized institute that teaches various web development courses would be a good idea. Renowned institutes that teach various facets of programming will help you choose the proper API development language and tools.