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Demystifying APIs For Non-Technical Entrepreneurs

Web & Mobile

Josue Castillo wrote this article


API is a heavily used word in the app development world and we believe everyone should have it in their technical toolbox, especially when dealing with programming.

Having at least a basic understanding of what ‘API’ means can allow you to have more clarity throughout the app development process and stay proactive while building your app.

To start, let’s explore what in the world ‘API’ stands for….

API stands for Application Programming Interface

You might have known that already, but what exactly does an API do?

This is a trickier question to answer and where some people can get tripped up.

“API is a set of subroutine definitions, communication protocols, and tools for building software.”

“Alexa: Translate ‘API’ From Computer Speak Into English, Please”

If you’re like most people, that definition really isn’t helpful at all…

In plain English, an API is basically a messenger; taking your request to an external system and telling it what you want it to do. Like a dutiful messenger, it always returns a response back to you.

Here is a great video to help you take a deeper dive into understanding API’s:

A perfect analogy is a waiter in a restaurant. The waiter first takes your order from the menu (the request), then sends it to the kitchen (the system if you will) then sends out your order (the response).

Now, let’s apply that same analogy to the app world.

Let’s say you are shopping using an app and want to pay for a product. You click the ‘buy now’ button and input your payment information (your request) into the app.

Unbeknownst to you, this app has integrated the Stripe API into its programming in order to process their payments securely.

The Stripe API sends your request to the system and sends you a response that your payment was either accepted or denied.

All API’s are coded libraries made from scratch by a developer and documented so that other developers can use it without having to re-code it.

Documentation (or docs) are how developers can understand and use these APIs in the apps they create.

When you understand that someone created the entire API, you begin to appreciate it more.

While developers can build their own code for doing just about anything under the sun, this is much more difficult, time consuming, and costly then simply plugging in an API that is gift-wrapped and ready-to-use.

In order to better understand the role API’s play, it is important to understand their history and what caused the “API Boom.”

APIs Changed the Web Forever

API’s weren’t always around and originally, they actually were not that popular.

Web APIs got their start in the early E-Commerce era of the Internet, specifically, on February 7th, 2000 when Salesforce officially launched at the IDG Demo 2000 Conferences. The XML APIs they introduced were a part of from day one.

You might say they were a bit of a pioneer when it comes to the API.

But without social media platforms booming, the cloud developing, and the need for mobile applications growing, APIs wouldn’t have become as important as they are today.

eBay launched the second API in 2000, with Amazon following shortly afterwards in 2002, followed by Facebook, which had just started becoming popular in 2006.

Soon thereafter, APIs proved to be useful in mobile apps with APIs such as: Paypal, Twitter, Gmail, Youtube, Amazon, and Accuweather, just to name a few.

It was around 2012 that APIs truly reached primetime and began to closely resemble the powerhouse they are today in programming.

Okay, now that you have an understanding of its history and a few great examples of APIs, you may be wondering: What can an API do for my app?”

Fact is, most of your favorite features in apps are probably one way or another an API that connect two applications together and allow them to exchange data.

If you’ve ever logged into an app or website using a social media login, you’ve used an API!

The skies the limit when it comes to API functionality

Common API Functionalities:

– E-commerce payment

– Link Amazon products to your website

– Use google maps for directions

– Interact and exchange information with social media apps

– Login with Facebook, Github, or even Google

– Weather

– Data collection (Data is the new oil, after all).

Now that you understand what an API can do, it’s time to brainstorm what types of APIs might be out there to help make building your app easier and more cost effective.

Let’s say your developer is attempting to input a login system with Google to your application. You soon find out that OAuth can do just that, so now you can integrate that into your app. Your developer simply goes through the documentation and inputs the proper code to integrate the API into the working app.

Of course the process is more complex than that, but now you have a rough idea of the internals of building an app.

Now that you understand this process as an entrepreneur, you can design your blueprints or improve on them with your knowledge of what functionalities can and cannot be accomplished with APIs. Not only does this help with communication with your app developer, but it allows you, the entrepreneur to fire on all cylinders and be more involved in the process, too. And in our book, that’s always a good thing.

Common APIs used at Chop Dawg

Now that you’re knowledgeable about APIs and how crucial they are to programming, we want to give you a list of popular APIs we use at Chop Dawg and other resources to stay caught up in the fast-paced world of programming:

Mailchimp– email, advertisement, marketing, and branding

Stripe– online purchases

Google Maps– directions, location, and places all updated by Google

OneSignal– handles push notifications, email, and makes communications with users less complex

Facebook Graph– fetch and provide your app with data from Facebook

Coinbase– integrate bitcoin, bitcoin cash, litecoin, and ethereum into apps

Plaid– connect bank accounts to apps

There are so many API’s out there, and the list grows everyday. For now, here is a list of the 50 most popular APIs for you to consider when it comes to your future or current app.

When it comes to app development, there are many other technical concepts it helps to be somewhat familiar with. We made it easier for you by creating a technical dictionary for non-techies to get you up to speed quickly.

If you have any questions about using APIs for your app, please reach out to the team at Chop Dawg for your free consultation!

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