Discover what an API (Application Programming Interface) is and how it enables communication and data exchange between different computer applications. This article explains the basic principles of APIs, the different types of APIs, and their advantages


What is an API (Application Programming Interface)?

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If you are interested in new technologies, you have surely not missed home assistants. The principle is simple: just use the magic phrase and order the assistant to perform a task such as asking about the weather outside or simply the time.

But what you may not know is that behind a phrase as simple as “Ok Google, play the latest hit of the moment on Spotify” hides a complex system of communication and data transfer which is done by an API.

Today, APIs or Application Programming Interfaces are everywhere and simplify interactions between several different computer environments or platforms. 

We will try to understand better the challenges of these APIs and how they can help your company modernize its information system and grow faster.

What’s an API?

To put it simply, an API is a kind of socket that links two different systems that would normally encounter difficulties in understanding each other.

To schematize even more and get out of the computer environment, we can take the example of the remote control. To change channels, just press the corresponding button. 

And for this, it is not necessary to know the inner workings of the TV. In this case, you are a user of an interface proposed (the remote control) to interact with an external environment (the television set).

There are many APIs and not all of them have the same characteristics and above all the same accessibility. We thus first distinguish between open and closed APIs.

Open API

Some APIs are open, that is, they are freely available on the Internet. Anyone can then use them with, for a few exceptions, conditions to be respected. 

This allows the user not to need to develop specific software and for the company that offers it to stand out and advertise. This inevitably has an impact on Big Data since it considerably increases the volume of data and the storage of the latter.

Open or public API is an API that is made available and shared for free online. It can therefore be used by everyone. But what is the point of these APIs? 

The first advantage is of course the fact that it is not necessary to create functions from scratch. The developer will be able to connect his platform to existing tools

For many experts, this principle encourages developers to innovate. On the other hand, the company that made the API available can easily grow its user base without spending any money.

However, you have to be careful since the organization that owns the API owns all the rights to it. It can therefore change the conditions of use without consulting the users.

Closed API

Unlike the open API, the closed API only allows data sharing within a company. The latter can also choose certain partners with whom to share this API. We will then speak of a semi-open API.

It, therefore, makes it possible to centralize and inter-operate data in order to be more productive. In addition, this makes it possible to carry out numerous application tests, in particular on the security of so-called sensitive data during transfers for example.

The Netflix Case: From Open API to Closure

At the beginning of the 2010s, Netflix had put a public API online that many manufacturers of Smart TVs or Internet boxes used. The principle was simple: when the user started playing a program, he had to be able to find the exact moment when he had stopped if he changed the device. 

It was enough at the time to take care of integrating the Netflix API into its product while the American firm was in charge of support.

Finally, in 2014, it decided to close its API for lack of innovation from its 18,000 partner developers. Today, Netflix reserves its API for a few privileged partners.

The Different Types of APIs

RPC API, the First APIs ​

The oldest form (it dates from the 1980s) and the simplest form of API is called API RPC (Remote Procedure Call). It is a simple interaction where the client, connected locally, sends commands to a remote server. 

The conversion of information parameters is performed by pieces of code called stubs. The function will therefore be converted when it leaves the local network and then “deconverted” when it arrives in the remote server.

The operation takes place in reverse when the server sends its response.

RPC APIs are based on XML and JSON. They are very effective for the transmission of short and light messages. This is why Google has come up with its own RPC API (GRPC). This is also the solution used by Facebook or Twitch for their internal micro-communications.

API Rest vs API Soap: APIs of the 2020s

You may have noticed in other articles the names API REST (Representative State Transfer) or API SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). To understand all these terms a little better, you have to break down the name :

  • API: This is the goal, the “what?”. As we saw above, it is a means of exchange between two different environments
  • REST or SOAP: this is how the exchanges will take place, i.e. the “how”.

Even though they perform the same function, they are nevertheless very different. Indeed, REST is an architecture style providing a certain number of standards to be respected to facilitate communication between several applications. 

For its part, SOAP is a protocol allowing access to online services. We will now take a closer look at their characteristics.

With a SOAP API, communication takes place in an XML language, the basis of which comes most of the time from the HTTP protocol (other protocols can also be used, such as FTP or even TCP). 

We often speak of a SOAP envelope consisting of the body and an optional header. The process is broken down into a multitude of operations that can be defined as “calculate this” or even “give me the definition of this”…

With a REST API, communication can take place in a multitude of languages. The base will only be HTPP which implies a limitation of the operations called CRUD (create, read, update, delete).

Easy to implement, REST APIs offer the greatest flexibility since this architecture makes it possible to process several data formats or even to change structure with the correct implementation of hypermedia.

Offering increased security, they are to be preferred in the process of digitizing your organization.

The importance of APIs ​

APIs are real helpers within an organization. They have many features that can be essential to improving your organization’s productivity and maintaining a competitive edge

This technology can really turn your business into a go-to organization and reach customers or prospects you may not have thought of.

Here are the advantages of integrating them :

APIs can make life easier for customers and allow them to have a good experience on the company’s website. It is thus possible to add functionalities, customize interfaces, or even simplify certain tasks (the possibility of accessing certain parts without opening a new window for example).

Time saving
As they are already predefined codes on software, they save labor power, and time because there is no need to invent something that already exists. In addition, APIs are very often tested upstream, which reinforces their security
Automation and efficiency
Certain actions can be automatically performed through APIs, which reduces the time to perform certain tasks and increases business productivity. In addition, since they are connected to databases, exchanges are faster and easier
Autonomous operation
With APIs, your organization's server will be less busy. APIs have no memory and can process a high number of requests without affecting the operation of your computer system
Needs evolve and change over time and APIs help anticipate those changes. Indeed, this technology facilitates data migration and offers increased verification of various information
Improving the customer experience
In recent years, we talk a lot about user experience or UX. It refers to the quality of experience that is expected by a customer
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APIs can make life easier for customers and allow them to have a good experience on the company’s website. It is thus possible to add functionalities, customize interfaces, or even simplify certain tasks (the possibility of accessing certain parts without opening a new window for example).

API Bridge, our API REST platform dedicated to Multi-source and Multi-format Data for your Enterprise.

BRIDGE API is a REST API platform developed by VASPP and certified by SAP. It enables interoperability and secure communication between multiple applications by providing flexible access points to SAP systems.

It consists of three components:

  • Foundation: creates access points in your SAP systems to facilitate integration with external systems and extract data to enrich MS PowerBI, Excel, or any other application capable of processing web queries.

  • Quick extractor can execute any SAP report, query, or database table in a single tool. The goal is to provide the ability to extract data and make it available to other SAP and non-SAP systems. It is worth noting that no development or code addition is necessary to perform this operation with our product.

  • Smart Report: our latest innovation currently under development, is a data visualization tool. Designed to compete with the features of Microsoft Power BI, Smart Report offers a more user-centric approach.

To find out more, do not hesitate to visit our API Bridge page dedicated to this solution or contact us directly by clicking here.

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