However, what if you are not using the airline’s website––a channel that has direct access to the information? What if you are using an online travel service, such as Kayak or Expedia, which aggregates information from a number of airline databases?
The travel service, in this case, interacts with the airline’s API. The API is the interface that, like your helpful waiter, can be asked by that online travel service to get information from the airline’s database to book seats, baggage options, etc. The API then takes the airline’s response to your request and delivers it right back to the online travel service, which then shows you the most updated, relevant information.
What an API Also Provides Is a Layer of Security
Your phone’s data is never fully exposed to the server, and likewise the server is never fully exposed to your phone. Instead, each communicates with small packets of data, sharing only that which is necessary—like ordering takeout. You tell the restaurant what you would like to eat, they tell you what they need in return and then, in the end, you get your meal.
APIs have become so valuable that they comprise a large part of many business’ revenue. Major companies like Google, eBay, Salesforce.com, Amazon, and Expedia are just a few of the companies that make money from their APIs. What the “API economy” refers to is this marketplace of APIs.
The Modern API
Over the years, what an “API” is has often described any sort of generic connectivity interface to an application. More recently, however, the modern API has taken on some characteristics that make them extraordinarily valuable and useful:
- Modern APIs adhere to standards (typically HTTP and REST), that are developer-friendly, easily accessible and understood broadly
- They are treated more like products than code. They are designed for consumption for specific audiences (e.g., mobile developers), they are documented, and they are versioned in a way that users can have certain expectations of its maintenance and lifecycle.
- Because they are much more standardized, they have a much stronger discipline for security and governance, as well as monitored and managed for performance and scale
- As any other piece of productized software, the modern API has its own software development lifecycle (SDLC) of designing, testing, building, managing, and versioning. Also, modern APIs are well documented for consumption and versioning.
To learn more about APIs and how to design a great API, download the eBook Undisturbed REST: A Guide to Designing the Perfect API.