Organizations of all types and sizes depend on APIs or application program interfaces to access collaborative tools, such as cloud software. Surveys show that nearly 70% of organizations have adopted third-party APIs for their software development. APIs allow service and software providers to share their software without releasing the source code. They allow the software to remain proprietary but provide a client counterpart to access a service or function of the software through a web server or application using the API.
APIs deliver seamless interoperability for communications, collaboration, and cloud services to a piece of software, such as an app or CRM. This blog will explore how APIs can create custom business solutions, including what an API is, how it differs from other software, its benefits, and its challenges. We will also cover how to choose a third-party API provider.
What Is an API, and How Is It Different From Most Other Software?
An API is a software solution that permits interaction between two distinct pieces of software. It allows the software user to request services from another piece of software without either piece of software directly interacting with the other. For instance, an SMS API interacting with an organization’s Outlook calendar to send automated appointment reminders to clients does not require Outlook to interact with the SMS service but provides an intermediary between both solutions.
While a software developer can develop the function or service the API provides from scratch, an API saves hours of coding, reducing the cost of the service while providing a polished and maintained piece of software. The API can be integrated into an application in only a few lines of code and performs a task that might take hours to code from scratch. If it is developed by a reputable third party, it can offer security, maintenance, and reliability.
APIs typically function as follows:
- The user interacts with the client software, initiating an API call.
- The API call is sent to the API gateway, which chooses the correct API and communicates with a web server or software through an API proxy.
- The server or software receives the API call and sends the requested data back to the API gateway.
- The API delivers the data to the client software, which presents it in a human-readable fashion.
Many developers prefer a representational state transfer (REST) API because of its compatibility with the most popular programming languages and low bandwidth requirements. REST APIs rely on common HTTP commands and support data formats like XML and JSON. They offer scalability to facilitate cloud software and services and are stateless, allowing for client-side state management.
Related: Build vs. Buy: Essential Considerations When Choosing To Build or Buy an API To Integrate SMS into an App
The Benefits of Using an API
An API is easier to integrate than developing a software solution from scratch, allowing existing software to use a service from the cloud or another software solution. Integrating an API into an app, CRM, or software your organization or client relies on can provide several benefits.
An API offers inherent scalability, allowing your organization or client and its users to connect to a cloud-based service from an app and use the resources or software hosted in the cloud. Multiple users can use the API to access a cloud-based resource or software service simultaneously. For instance, if your company or client relies on an API to connect its app to an SMS service, users can reliably send and receive text messages from the app even as the user base grows exponentially. Scalability is especially flexible when your app uses a pay-per-use or metered service without the limit to the number of uses as found on a flat rate plan.
The flexibility of an API lends to its scalability and adaptability. As mentioned above, a REST API interacts with various data sets and programming languages. You can make changes to your client or company’s software and be confident that it will continue to work as intended throughout its lifecycle. Microservices can often be integrated into the software easily, such as adding E911 service to an SMS API, and your company or client can configure certain settings from an administrator portal.
Cost and Time Efficiency
As we’ve established, using an API instead of coding the software from scratch can save you or your company time and money. While an API takes several lines of code to integrate and you can run the software in minutes, developing a new feature can take hours of coding. An API satisfies your company or client with a polished product delivered quickly, allowing you to move on to other projects or daily tasks. It also helps your company or client satisfy customers with a quick new service or feature roll-out for their app or CRM.
The flexibility and efficiency of an API helps companies deliver custom solutions that satisfy their users. It allows your client or company to improve and update its existing software without developing an entirely new version. Since the software can be easily implemented and configured, it allows the company to offer more services and features to satisfy a broader range of users. For instance, if a financial institution wants to increase the security of online logins to accounts, it can integrate an automated text messaging API to provide two-factor authentication (2FA) to users when they log in.
Challenges of API usage
While APIs provide various benefits to organizations, they can also create challenges the business must overcome. An API from a reliable partner can minimize the risk these challenges pose.
The API interacts with your client or company’s software and another application, typically in the cloud. It is a vulnerable surface for exploits and attacks that requires adequate security to protect the company and its users. A cybersecurity provider found that over 75% of companies encountered an API-related security vulnerability during the first three quarters of 2022.
That said, the benefits of an API still outweigh the vulnerabilities, especially if your provider delivers exceptional security. An API provider should use authentication and secure data transmission to protect your client or company and its users.
Monitoring the API gateway ensures that exploitable errors are logged when the API call goes through, allowing developers to fix an error in the next version. Each version of the API released by the developer, whether in-house or from a third party, should be thoroughly tested for penetrations and exploits.
Organizations, users, and applications typically rely on an API to interact with a service or software. Security is a primary focus, but it must be joined by a comprehensive version control system, allowing developers to ensure their software is compatible with the latest version when implementing the API. Git is a well-known version control system for tracking and keeping a record of each software version as it is developed and released. An API developer that does not provide version control can lead to bugs and issues with incompatibility between the software and the API.
Related: A Guide for Voice API for Developers
What to Look for in an API for Business
While vulnerabilities and version control are concerns that the API developer or provider should address, several other considerations exist when selecting an API for your client or company. An excellent API provider will make implementing the service simple and provide value to your client or organization and its customers.
Documentation simplifies implementing and configuring the API to your client or company’s specifications. Well-documented solutions will include articles covering various use cases and API concepts. Quickstarts will be available to help you integrate the microservices your client or company needs into the software and compatibility with a wide range of languages will allow you to integrate the API in your preferred language.
Sustainability and Reliability
When you partner with an API provider, it should deliver reliable service for the entire lifecycle of the product. API providers at the cutting edge of technology will ensure your software provides suitable service and meets the demands of users until the end of its lifespan. Users come to expect reliability in their app’s usage for functions such as requesting authorization to log in with a 2FA via text message. The API should operate smoothly 24/7, using the ideal route and delivery method to ensure fast and reliable service.
A reputable API provider will protect your client or company and its users’ data as it interacts with web servers and cloud services using the API. They will fully test versions before they are released and prevent data from being exposed with secure protocols, such as SSL and TLS, along with authorization like multi-factor authentication (MFA). Your company or client will be confident that its users will be protected using the API.
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