Intro To APIs: What Is An API?

This is my first official post as Chief Evangelist at Postman. To kick things off, I figured I would start with what I consider to be the API fundamentals. Not the fundamentals of Postman, but the essential building blocks of APIs themselves.

It is my mission to help make the Postman tools, resources, and reference material accessible to people who aren’t quite as up-to-speed as some of us on the whole world of APIs – but curious enough to want to know how APIs can help accomplish common tasks in daily work.

At Postman, we firmly believe that APIs aren’t just for developers; they are something that anyone can put to use. So, with this in mind, let’s kick things off with a fresh introduction into what an API is for our readers who might be just getting started in the API game.

What Is An API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. In an Internet-connected world, web and mobile applications are designed for humans to use, and APIs are designed for other systems and applications to use. Websites and APIs both do the same things, like return data, content, images, video, and other information. APIs do not return all the details that are needed to make things look pretty for the human eye – you only get the raw data and other information needed to put the resources being delivered to work.

APIs are not a specific service or tool from a company, they are just like the web, but instead of getting HTML back with each request, you get JSON, XML, and CSV – providing structured, machine-readable information that can be used by other systems and within other applications with very little assistance from a human.

What Are APIs Used For?

While APIs are primarily used by desktop, web, mobile, and other application developers, they are also used by non-developers to work with services like IFTTT, Zapier, and the growing number of low-code or no-code solutions out there – even Postman!

Every company that has a mobile application has APIs – these APIs might not be easily found via a dedicated API portal like many common APIs you hear people talking about, but they are still APIs. All the big tech company names you know like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, and others – all have APIs. Any company who uses common services like WordPress, Quickbooks, SalesForce, and other common applications, technically also have APIs.

If your website runs on WordPress, your website has an API – and if you aren’t aware of it, then you aren’t getting the opportunity to put it to use. APIs are ubiquitous, and underneath the surface of everything we do online today – you just may not have been fully aware of it until now.

Are APIs For You?

APIs are how data is exchanged, content is published, media is consumed, and algorithms are applied across the web today. APIs are how you access your social data, your photos, your accounting information, and much, much more.

APIs are often viewed as being very technical, which can be true. However, many APIs are accessible by anyone who is curious enough to peek behind the curtain of the web. If you have ever clicked “view source” on a website, APIs are for you. If you are curious how you can get Tweets into a spreadsheet so you can play around with social data, APIs are for you. If you are curious how your Nest thermostat works with your mobile phone applications, APIs are for you.

Postman is working hard to make APIs more visible and accessible to developers as well as to non-developers. If you’d like to know more about APIs, we recommend starting by downloading the application and finding one or two interesting API collections in the Postman API network to begin playing around. You never know what you might learn along the way!

Author: Kin Lane

I am the chief evangelist for Postman, helping our community see the larger API landscape, and understand how Postman can help you be more successful across multiples stops of a modern API lifecycle.