Talk of integrating two or more applications, and you must mention API (Application Programming Interface). APIs are at the core of today’s technology, from IoT and Chatbots to Smart Homes and Wearables.
But what are they, and how exactly do they work? This is the Definitive Guide to API Integration in 2023.
First things first,
What’s an API Integration?
An API (Application Programming Interface) is a set of instructions that enables two software components to interact with each other. API integration allows multiple applications to communicate and share data. That means that instead of manually processing data, the applications can talk directly to each other through an API connection.
For example, if you wanted to integrate a payment gateway into your website, you could use API integration to securely and safely exchange data between the two applications.
In other words, an API works as a software intermediary between two or more applications, allowing them to exchange data more securely and efficiently.
API integration is a straightforward way to describe the connection. It describes the process of connecting two systems using an API.
How do API Integrations Work?
The simplest way to explain API integration is that while the user interface (UI) is meant for the human user, the API is meant for a computer.
To be more elaborate, the human user accesses the UI to input data or commands, and the API interprets these commands for the server and other connected devices. API integration makes it possible for these devices to communicate and exchange data with each other in a secure, reliable, and efficient manner.
A Real-life Analogy of APIs
The easiest way to understand an API Integration is to think of it like a restaurant. The API is the waiter taking the orders from the customers (you) and delivering them to the kitchen staff. The menu is the UI, which provides the customer with a list of items they can order. The kitchen staff is the back-end server – they do all the hard work to deliver the requested meal. And finally, the restaurant itself is your application – it puts it all together and serves an extraordinary customer experience.
Remember, the restaurant isn’t restricted to only selling to incoming customers – it can also take orders from other restaurants or customers at home. Similarly, your API integration isn’t limited to just one endpoint or system – it can connect multiple services and devices.
Integrating APIs is a lot like running a restaurant. You need to understand the customer’s needs, design the menu accordingly, communicate with the kitchen staff, and serve an incredible experience that everyone will enjoy — whether they’re eating in or taking it to go.
So, how do they work together?
Think of API integration as a translator. It helps two (or more) systems — such as web and mobile applications – understand each other to exchange data and information seamlessly and securely.
They provide other applications and servers with the information they need to complete a command or process. The API handles the communication between the two applications, translating requests into a language both can understand.
When a user places a command on their application or device, the application sends a request with their command to the API. The API then translates the request into the language of the target application, allowing it to execute the desired action.
API integration has revolutionised how we work, play and communicate with each other in numerous ways. It’s responsible for cloud storage, mobile applications and web-based services that have become integral parts of our lives. The possibilities are nearly limitless, and the future looks brighter than ever.
The above explanation paints a generation of how APIs work. But remember that not all APIs are the same.
Types of APIs
There are numerous types of APIs, each with its own function and purpose.
Here are examples of a few common ones:
These are the most popular type of APIs. REST stands for Representational State Transfer, and these APIs allow developers to send or retrieve data from a remote server easily.
SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is an XML-based protocol that enables two systems to communicate over a network. SOAP APIs are generally used for enterprise-level applications, as they offer more security features than REST APIs. They’re specifically designed for web applications.
GraphQL is a query language that enables developers to make queries and specify the data they need from a server. It’s quickly becoming one of the most popular types of APIs, as it allows for more flexibility when retrieving information from databases.
Open API (or Public API)
An Open API (sometimes called a Public API) is an application program interface accessible to the public. This type of API enables developers to access and use data from third-party websites and applications without building their own applications.
Partner APIs enables developers to access the data from another company or organisation, typically with a mutually beneficial relationship. These APIs are often used when two companies need to exchange data to complete tasks more efficiently.
Internal APIs are used within an organisation to facilitate data sharing between departments. It helps increase efficiency and reduces costs, as developers don’t have to build their own applications from scratch.
JSON-RPC is a remote procedure call protocol that uses JSON to transfer data between two systems. It can be used in applications such as web services or mobile apps, and it’s popular because of its lightweight nature.
The Requirements for API Integrations
APIs don’t operate in a vacuum. The right API management platform requires a number of functional and non-functional components to facilitate the integration.
Functional requirements are specific to the API’s features and objectives or what it’s designed to do.
- Transmit banners to search engines or Google
- Display real-time data from a third party
- Integrate with social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
Non-functional requirements are often related to the environment around the API. They’re required to ensure a smooth operation of the API.
Why Are API Integrations Important?
API Integrations provide modern businesses with the tools they need to unlock the advantages of digital transformation.
By connecting multiple APIs, businesses can create a powerful platform to process data quickly and accurately, build applications faster, and streamline workflows. In short, API Integrations are the backbone of modern businesses.
APIs aren’t limited to programmers and developers. Today, even non-technical folks can use APIs to integrate various applications and services with their business systems. This makes it easier to collect data from multiple sources, automate workflows, and streamline operations — all of which are essential for staying competitive in today’s marketplace.
As the world moves more and more towards digitalisation, API Integration will become an even bigger part of the corporate landscape. Businesses must ensure they are up-to-date with the latest API trends and technologies, or they will quickly be left behind.
Let’s use HubSpot as an example. They’re one of the most popular COS (Content Optimization Systems), combining the power of content management and customer relationship management (CRM) in one platform.
Although they’re frequently compared to WordPress, HubSpot objectively offers more tools that take your business to the next level, like:
- A robust API integration that allows you to connect with third-party applications
- Flexible workflows and customisable web forms for better customer segmentation
- Production-ready themes optimised for mobile and tablet experiences
They have many integrations with popular services and applications such as Salesforce, Google Maps, Dropbox, SendGrid, and more. And, of course, you can quickly build your own custom API integration to connect HubSpot with any other system or service you need.
7 Examples of Common API Integration Use Cases
For more insight, here are seven everyday use cases of API integration that should make your life easier:
#1. Connect Cloud Apps
Cloud apps are the software applications where the back-end technology runs. It’s where data and the logical functions of the app live.
Considering AWS (Amazon Web Services) controls more than a third of the cloud market, you’re likely already familiar with cloud apps and API integration.
Connecting cloud apps is the easiest way to integrate data. It’s by far the most commonly used way for businesses to share information between applications.
#2. Pay with PayPal
Do you have an eCommerce store that processes payments through PayPal? Well, that’s API at work.
Just like cloud apps, PayPal has the API function that ensures the end application can only do what it’s supposed to do without exposing the platform to any malicious intent.
It’s also the most straightforward way to add payment processing to your eCommerce store without worrying about coding one from scratch.
So long as the API is supported by both the shopping cart and the payment gateway, you’re good to go.
In terms of inner workings, this handy function operates a lot like the log-in process we’ve described.
When the user clicks “pay” at the checkout page, the necessary information is sent to the payment gateway through the API, specifying the amount owed.
The payment gateway then sends a confirmation to the shopping cart, marking the transaction as complete.
#3. Facebook Log-in
In this day and age, convenience is key.
That’s why the ability to log in with existing social media accounts has become a trendy feature.
Facebook, for example, offers a powerful API integration solution that allows customers to access their shopping experience without creating a new account.
Users with Facebook accounts can simply log in with their existing credentials and purchase whatever goods or services they require.
Here’s how it works: a customer clicks the ‘log-in with Facebook’ button and is taken to their account page.
From there, customers can quickly authorise the app to access their profile and email address and start shopping.
Some apps may request additional permissions to access more information, such as the customer’s profile picture or friend list.
The best part is that customers don’t have to remember yet another username and password combination.
It makes it easier for customers to access their favourite apps anywhere, anytime, without memorising multiple log-ins.
#4. Twitter Bots
Another example of API integration is Twitter bots. You’ve probably seen a massive range of bots on Twitter and wondered how they’re programmed. Well, the answer is simple: APIs.
Twitter has a few permissions and accesses that enable bots to interact with customers directly.
Some of these bots can automatically tweet, retweet, follow, and like the content on behalf of the user.
A few examples of these bots include:
- TinyCareBot: Sends hourly reminders to users to drink water, get fresh air, stretch, and more.
- Netflix Bot: Automatically tweets about new releases and movies on Netflix.
- EventBot: Automatically tweets about upcoming events in your area.
- Grammar Police Bot: Automatically corrects grammar in tweets and reminds users of common writing mistakes.
As you can see, Twitter bots can do much more than post content on behalf of users. They can also autonomously monitor conversations, respond to customer inquiries, and create marketing campaigns. With the right API integration, these bots can become an invaluable asset to any business’s online presence.
#5. Music Distribution and Aggregation Service
Whether you’re a popular artist looking to get your music out there or an independent musician hoping for some recognition, getting your music onto all major streaming services is a must. But unless you’re already quite famous, getting your music on Apple Music and Spotify can be complicated, time-consuming, and costly.
Luckily, API integration in 2023 makes this process effortless. Companies like TuneCore and DistroKid use APIs to distribute music directly to all major streaming services, allowing you to reach millions of listeners with the push of a button.
Here’s how they work: Once you’ve uploaded your music, the API will automatically distribute it to all streaming services with no extra effort on your part. You won’t have to worry about different formats or other headaches associated with getting your music out there.
#6. Travel Booking
Ever wondered how to book a flight or hotel room without spending hours researching and comparing prices?
There are travel-related sites that make it easy to compare prices and book flights, hotels, cars, and vacation packages. These sites use third-party APIs to search for the best deals on flights, hotels, and car rentals.
They then pull this data into their own interface. Likewise, they also use APIs to facilitate bookings with airlines and hotels.
APIs are an excellent idea for travel sites since they simplify booking and help users find the best deals quickly.
They also make it easy for machines to exchange data and requests, allowing seamless booking.
#7. Log-in Using XYZ
Many authentication APIs, such as OAuth, SAML, and OpenID Connect, are available. These standards allow users to log in securely using their existing credentials from various providers.
This type of authentication is becoming increasingly popular, as it allows users to access their accounts from any device without entering separate credentials each time they want to log in.
Behind the Scenes with APIs
We’ve covered 7 example use cases of APIs. However, it’s also important to recognize that APIs are used behind the scenes for much more than the examples we’ve mentioned. APIs are the foundation for many technologies we use today, such as Uber, mobile banking, and IoT.
Here are a few examples of how APIs power our lives from behind the scenes:
- Financial Institutions Like Banks use private API to manage and track checking accounts, credit cards, and other financial activities.
- Shopping Apps allow customers to check out with various payment methods via APIs.
- Social media sites like Facebook use APIs to let you share content from other websites.
- Smart Home devices communicate with each other and the internet through APIs.
- IoT (Internet of Things) devices connect and transmit data with APIs.
- Retail giants like Amazon use APIs to communicate with courier networks, ensuring packages are delivered and picked up on time.
- Streaming services such as Spotify, Netflix, and Hulu use APIs to provide a seamless user experience.
- Automotive companies such as Tesla, BMW, and Ford provide APIs to their customers so they can access vehicle data and control certain car features. They also use API to send software updates or to unlock car details to a third-party service.
The possibilities with API integration are endless– it’s truly a wild west out there.
How to Build API Integrations
Building an API is a lot like building a regular old software solution. It requires skills, dedication, and a willingness to learn new things.
So, how do you start?
Well, there are fours steps to building an API integration:
There’s a lot to be researched about APIs. First, you want to research APIs, from industry best practices to the latest technology. Find out how they work and their challenges for your specific industry.
Second, research the API itself. Look through documentation to understand its features and its limitations. See what systems you’d like to integrate it with and how you’d like to use it.
Also, if you’re building integrations for a web application, perhaps you’d want to research REST APIs.
Third, look into the security aspects of the API you’re using. Do you need authentication? If so, what type of authentication do you need—basic or token-based? Do you need to encrypt the data that’s passing through your integration?
Fourth, figure out the right architecture. Will you be using an ESB, middleware, webhooks, or something else? What message format do you need to use? If you’re looking for a robust system, consider the microservices architecture.
Fifth, and finally, figure out the cost of API integration. It would also help to consider the development and ongoing costs of running and maintaining your integration.
A prototype is a bare-bones version of your integration that allows you to test the concept and see how it works. Prototyping allows you to identify and address any problems before rolling out a full-scale integration. It’s also a great way to get feedback from internal stakeholders or end users.
Creating a prototype shouldn’t take long and can be accomplished with minimal resources.
MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
Once the prototype is complete, you can develop a minimum viable product (MVP). This version of your integration will include the necessary features and functionality. Still, it won’t necessarily have all the bells and whistles you plan to include in your final product. The idea is to get something up and running quickly so potential customers or investors can evaluate it.
An MVP is like a step up from a prototype in that it has been tested and is ready to go. However, don’t consider your MVP as the endgame; it’s merely the starting point. Figure out what features you need to focus on first and then add more as needed.
Transaction describes an API call that retrieves or sends data. Regarding API integration, transaction management ensures that all transactions are completed, and no errors occur. To manage transactions well, you’ll need to define the API calls used and ensure that the data being sent or received is properly formatted.
Here are a few questions you want to ask yourself when considering transaction management:
- What kind of data will I be retrieving or sending?
- How often do I want the API calls to occur?
- What is the best way to format the data for successful transmission?
- How can I ensure errors or timeouts are handled correctly?
- What backup systems should I have in place in case of data loss?
- If a transaction fails to go as planned, how do I withdraw it to debug or resubmit?
Top 11 API Integration Tools
Here are several essential tools to get you started on your API integration journey:
- Postman – for testing, developing and documenting APIs
- Zapier – for automating data flows between web applications
- Mulesoft Anypoint Platform – for building robust and secure APIs
- DreamFactory – for rapid API creation and deployment
- 3Scale – for controlling, managing, and analyzing API traffic
- Kong – for modernizing and managing APIs
- AWS API Gateway – for creating, deploying, and managing APIs
- Dell Boomi – allows low-code development of APIs
- Akana – for secure and reliable API management
- Apigee API Management – for creating API proxies. API proxies are bundles of XML configuration codes and files that couple and decouple the front-end and back-end systems.
- IBM API Connect – for creating API application networks and managing them from the cloud
- WSO2 API Manager – for designing, implementing, and managing APIs
The Final Wrap
A lot of technology has been built in the last decade to simplify the process of API integration. However, it’s not a cakewalk, and you still have many challenges ahead. Whether you’re just starting or are a seasoned API integrator, this Definitive Guide to API Integration should point you in the right direction.