Intro To APIs: What Are APIs Used For?

Building upon our most recent story introducing APIs, we wanted to continue our series with an introduction to what APIs are used for.

Since APIs are so ubiquitous, it can be difficult to fully understand how they are used by both developers and non-developer business audiences. APIs have been around for decades. Modern web APIs have become the default way to share data between systems and applications, making them the lifeblood of our online world.

Your view on what APIs can be used for tends to be related to how you were introduced to APIs in the first place, and we’d like to help expand your horizons and introduce you to the full spectrum of how APIs are being put to work today.

APIs Are Powering Desktop Applications

The software we run on our desktop was, historically, a very local affair. Desktop applications executed code, read, and wrote to local files on the hard drive of your desktop or laptop machine. With the growth of the Internet, these desktop applications have evolved and become much more like web and mobile applications, where they rely on real-time API connections to transmit, store, and receive data like content and media, and other resources they need to operate.

Desktop applications are known for being more performant because they are perceived to be operating in this local capacity. More often then not, they are just leveraging APIs to do what they do, and they often rely on APIs to maintain heartbeat connectivity between the application and the cloud. This shift in the way data is communicated is making APIs a critical aspect of how modern desktop applications are developed, supported, and operated.

APIs Are Behind Most Web Applications

While browsing a website or web application, it can be easy to believe that all the content comes from a database behind the website domain we are operating within. However, almost every website or web application today relies on APIs to fetch the data including content, media, and the other information available on each page.

Websites have been dynamic for over 20 years. In the last decade, most websites have transitioned to relying on APIs to receive or transmit data. Many APIs are used to transmit data from multiple domains for use on a single website page.

Tech-savvy individuals have long used the “view source” option within browsers to understand what is happening behind the scenes of websites they use. Now, API-savvy individuals are using Postman as the “view source” of APIs. Postman allows people to understand what’s happening behind the scenes of modern API-driven websites. APIs are front and center when it comes to determining how we receive information on a daily basis and how we engage with the hundreds of domains we do business with on any given day.

APIs Made Mobile Applications Possible

After Apple released the iPhone in 2007 and Google followed with their Android phone in 2008, developers began using APIs to power the growing number of mobile applications that users were demanding on these new devices. Over a decade later, APIs are now the essential building block for all mobile applications. APIs provide all of the data, content, media, and other resources that mobile phones depend on to be useful for us in our personal and professional lives.

If a company has a mobile application, then they have APIs. APIs not only deliver gaming experiences to your phone, but also allow your phone to auto-update and find the closest restaurants by providing a feedback loop to outside resources. Our mobile phones make hundreds, or thousands of APIs calls each day over the cellular networks we operate on, keeping our location, messages, calendars, payments, and other critical resources in sync with the cloud.

APIs are responsible in part for providing the lifeblood of the modern world by allowing us to stay connected with our friends, families, co-workers, and making sure we always have the information we need to stay up-to-date and involved in the world around us.

APIs Are Integrations For No Code Solutions

With the number of SaaS platforms that require APIs, the number of integration platforms as a service, also known as iPaaS have also increased. These platforms allow anyone to migrate data, content, media, and other resources between services using API integrations.

iPaaS empowers developers and non-developers with no-code or low-code solutions for managing how they conduct business online. Integrations have become so easy and so expected by customers, it is common for a service to invest in building their own iPaaS or direct integration solution. Providing iPaaS ensures customers have what they need to move data around the web at their will. 

API integrations demonstrate that APIs are not just for developers. APIs are something that businesses and non-developers are using. As the use of APIs expands further outside the scope of developers, solutions like iPaas will ensure that anyone is able to receive and send data in their own workflows.

You don’t have to be a programmer and know how to write code to put APIs to work. The more you know about APIs, the more successful you will be in getting access to the information you need in order to create the most successful services or workflows.

APIs Drive Business Within Spreadsheets

Adding to the business value that APIs bring to the table, one of the top integration destinations for APIs is the omnipresent spreadsheet. The iPaaS and direct integrations offered by the growing number of online services offer up spreadsheets as both a source of data, but also as a designation for data acquired via API integrations.

This reality is worth noting because of the astronomical quantity of the world’s work that gets done in spreadsheets. APIs have moved spreadsheets from being a rich data silo (something you can only share via email or publish to a known location), and has made them centralized, distributed sources of rich data for use in any system or application.

APIs are being used by the average business user to augment the tools they already use in their daily world. In this way, APIs give people greater access to the data they need while also increasing the reach of data distribution and maintenance.

APIs reduce the number of copies of spreadsheets and reduce the need to share data with multiple local environments. Creating a common access tool to fetch and deliver data is greatly improving the way organizations share and use data, and will ensure that global businesses can scale in the as needs increase.

APIs Connect Devices To the Internet

Once APIs had been used to connect our mobile phones to the Internet to share data, content, and other resources, they were put to work connecting other physical devices to the Internet. By 2012 we began seeing a flood of Internet-connected devices such as fitness trackers, cameras, sensors, doorbells, appliances, and many other common household and business devices.

These devices use APIs to send and receive data about the functionality and features they are delivering, keeping the devices connected to the cloud to maintain their relevance and value to our changing environment. APIs are being used to reinvent almost every household and business device we depend upon, making them part of a larger ecosystem of capabilities. These devices share our data and habits with service providers who can then return more convenient, valuable, and functional experiences that (hopefully) enhance how we make our way through the world.

When it comes to APIs connecting devices to the cloud, the possibilities seem limitless. APIs are providing endless ways to put data to use in order to interact with the common objects we depend on and encounter in our daily activity.

APIs Make Our Automobiles More Connected

One other significant device where APIs are making an impact is in our cars. Every automobile manufacturer has a public API program, as well as hundreds of private APIs that deliver the capabilities we are coming to expect in our vehicles.

APIs exist on the hundreds of sensors that prevent collisions or help you park. They allow car manufacturers to orchestrate the experiences we have grown accustomed to when driving down the road. Automobile manufacturers also rely on many 3rd party APIs to integrate trusted partner services into our cars. These services can be anything from piping in music, news, maps, media, and other capabilities.

APIs do not stop at the vehicle and a growing number of cars are beginning to tune into sensors, lights, signs, and other Internet-connected devices along the roadside, increasing the surface area for how APIs are connecting our cars to us and our world. APIs are everywhere just beneath the surface of our daily lives, powering the increasingly Internet-connected reality that exists on the highway and in cities around us.

APIs Are Defining Networks Underneath Us

One last area where APIs are powering a fundamental shift in how business operates is at the network level. APIs aren’t just used to deliver desktop, web, mobile, and device applications, but they also are used to define, transform, and evolve the network underneath those applications.

They are enabling an adaptive and ever-changing flow of information underneath the feet of everything we do online. Networks can be pre-defined before they are deployed using APIs, but they can also be configured in real-time to respond to changing needs or security events. This flexibility helps personalize Internet traffic to meet the growing demands of businesses around the globe.

The future will look very different when an application can personalize the network experience that surrounds it. It changes how data is transmitted and when and where it is exchanged, all while keeping our data, content, media, and traffic patterns safe from potentially bad actors.

APIs Are Everywhere

It is no exaggeration to say that APIs are everywhere; you just can’t see them. We are fascinated with this world unfolding around us at Postman. It’s why we have developed our API collaboration platform for API development.

Don’t just think of Postman as a place to develop APIs, it is your browser for exploring APIs. You can use Postman to “see” the APIs behind desktop, web, mobile, device, and network applications. Leverage our platform to show the APIs that exist behind everything, inspect each call being made from your computer, mobile phone, connected home devices, or even your car.

Postman is a doorway to understanding how APIs are being used. Using it as a browser for the API landscape gives you insight into how the connections in the world around us. You can start exploring anytime by downloading the application and mapping out how the APIs connect your world at work, at home, or even out in public spaces – revealing that APIs are indeed everywhere.

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.