What Is an API and How Is It Used?


API is the initial for an Artificial Programming Interface. In the tech world, an API acts as a conduit or ‘interface’ where applications can access data from other external sources like software or other applications. An API shares information from one app or software to another in layman’s terms.

How Does an API work?

An API is generally a web service that exposes software or data to applications. Other applications or apps can use an API to access information from one application to another. The most common types of APIs are REST APIs and SOAP APIs. REST stands for Representational State Transfer, and SOAP stands for Simple Object Access Protocol.


REST is an architectural style that uses HTTP as the server and the client protocol. A REST API provides functionality through ‘resources’ on the server, a collection of related data in one location, accessible via a uniform interface. The interface is usually an HTTP-based protocol such as JSON or XML, but it can also be a proprietary format like JSON-LD (JSON with Linked Data) or HAL+JSON.


SOAP was introduced in 1999 and has been widely used since then because it’s easy to use since it’s lightweight, and simple to implement. It takes advantage of XML, the language used to describe data structures. SOAP is a set of standards that provide a way for applications to exchange information over the Internet. For example, a SOAP API exposes the functionality of an application through a set of XML messages that are sent and received over HTTP.

Multiple clients can access the API simultaneously, each accessing different functionality within the API. The API is also flexible because it can be changed and updated as needed without having to update all applications using it. An example of an API can be found in the Wikipedia REST interface, which provides access to all articles on Wikipedia via HTTP requests.

How is it Used?

For example, an API might allow a customer to send a list of orders to a sales order system and have it returned as XML. The data exchange could then be done using SOAP APIs with WSDL over HTTP. This is often the case with notification systems that send email alerts when certain conditions occur.

The GraphQL API is used to access data in a REST-style API. GraphQL is a query language used to retrieve and modify information within an application. Facebook developed it to provide developers with a way of accessing the data in an application without having to make changes or re-write the entire application. For example, if an application uses this API, the developer can build an interface between their application and their API. That allows querying data from the API and sending requests for data to be returned from the API, which can then be used within the application.

Conclusively, API management is a vast area of concern for businesses today. Having a solid API management system in place can help you manage the API lifecycle and provide you with the tools to keep your APIs secure. In addition, you can access more information about the above on Contentful to understand APIs better.

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