Every app development company faces a challenge to design software which is both efficient and secure. Mainly the display, performance, and efficiency are observed by the customer, so many companies are working to make these components up to their standards. But what’s missing from many of the apps is the security aspect of the application development, which is not only vital for the business integrity of customer but also helps to safeguard the company’s reputation from any unfold security breach, especially if you are dealing in M-Commerce related services.
To counter such mishap and enable your application with a solid security arrangement, we developers use what it called an Application Programmable Interface (API). To define the API into simplest form, its a door or passage for others software programs to enter into your code. Unlike your app’s ordinary source code, which should all your in’s and out’s, an API is secure, private and not shown to the public that makes it a good source of communicating with all the sensitive information taken by the user.
Another function of an API is to connect using 3rd party software by using any services from it without understanding the entire source code and in return, saving time and resource for a development firm. With various API working in conjunction to each other, the app makes it quite easy to understand by any outside developer which is also an important part in app development cycle, to make a reusable, manageable code.
Popular API Protocols
As we are discussing the API and its working, the next thing which sounds a little technical but important to understand is the API protocol upon which any API operates. Since the APIs are combined with the source code to make it more secure or use any external service inside your code, the communication takes place between your mobile app and the actual code where API takes its business logic and data, which includes a database as well. Hence, to understand the mechanics behind the API protocol, there are two most popular ones being used in the market as explained below.
Known as Representational State Transfer, is the widely used API Protocol in the market. Around 69% of all protocol being used is accompanied through REST mode of transfer. The reason for this huge market share is due to the simplicity and lower standards for transferring data across the sender and receiver. The mediums for transfer data is through JSON, XML or plain text. Not to mention REST is extremely lightweight as compared to SOAP, which we will understand next.
SOAP stands for Simple Object Access Protocol, which is the second most used protocol for API in term of market share, which is about 23%. SOAP is used to send a small amount of data using the internet, which indicates the protocol being used by SOAP is the same as used by the internet. The messages which are sent by SOAP is transmitted only through XML and uses HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) protocol.
The importance of an API
API is the single most used piece of code in every software in the world, whether its an app, or a web app. Using an API, a user can perform any operation like the book a cab, order a pizza, rate a video or even send an email. All of these function and heavy lifting is being done separately by a code which is secure and private, so tweaking with it is not possible. The best thing about API is that it runs silently in the background dealing with all the hefty details without expecting much workload by the prime developer.
To realize the power of API in practice, let’s understand a real-life scenario by taking an example of a hotel booking application. When a user is interested to book a Hotel, using any travel booking app, he is required to enter some details in a built-in form, which takes in information such as check-in and check-out dates, number of rooms and number of guests staying in the hotel. Once the user entered all the necessary information into the form, he enters ‘Search’ button.
The search button is interlinked with an API provided by a 3rd party software, which handles all the communication with separate API controlling every registered hotel inside its database. The API proceeds with communicating with its database and logic at the back-end that corresponds to over 1000s of hotels. All information is gathered into the app which happens within seconds. The use of API not only simplify the communication process and saves us time, but also make it more secure in terms of any false information such as a delayed hotel booking info, which can completely ruin the mobile app’s reputation.
Another real-life example we can learn is from flight booking app, which is even more relied on API. Using a mobile app or a website, a user first enters details about his flight info, such as date of flight, city or location, cabin seat and other information, such as meal, luggage weight etc. Once the information has been gathered and user press button ‘Search’, the system uses an API which transmits all user input into the Flight’s website to communicate with the database and get the information based on the user preference. The application then provides the information about the allocated seats and also its corresponding costs. This inter-connection of data transfer and ready availability of information transmitted is possible through the sophisticated development of API, which in further inter-connected with many flight databases and agents across the globe, to provide a consensus of all the flights available for a preferred booking. Likewise, the flight seat booking and payment also follows another API integration which has its own purposes such as booking a seat for the passenger and accept payment respectively.
History of API
Though the API existed in the paper few years after the introduction of the WWW web era, in practical usage, it came into existence by Salesforce on February 7th in 2000. This was the same year when the company was incorporated into reality at IDG conference in the same year. Right after the Salesforce and its successful operation for API, the next major player in the world of the internet who used API was Amazon, which was in the year of 2002. Subsequently, many software companies started to upgrade their existing software and thus improving their internal structure with the assistance of APIs, among such large corporations, which were the leaders in API adaptation were Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Google Maps, Foursquare, and Instagram.
API used per industry
According to the ProgrammableWeb, the statistics have shown that every industry with a web access and online presence uses API. Let’s found out the industries and their usages of API corresponding to their services.
– Food and beverages: 62 APIs
– Sports: 106 APIs
– Music: 191 APIs
– Photos: 219 APIs
– Payment: 268 APIs
– Shopping: 319 APIs
– Reference: 393 APIs
– Financial: 419 APIs
– Social: 477 APIs
These numbers are based on the report published by API Protocol usage and APIs by category from WebProgrammable.com.
Usage of API in software development
To understand the importance of API and how developers use it with their code, its necessary to hear what the experts have to say. According to Apigee Chief Architect, Greg Brail, he states that API makes it possible to communicate with a mobile app, a TV set box or home automation appliance to response with a service. In corresponding with their company, Apigee, the develop API which provides specific services to either external users or their own company related activities.
Further, Greg mentions an important concept behind the abundant usage of API into the market. According to him, after the outburst of Mobile devices such as Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android, the API is necessary to link the mobile phones by communicating with the remote location and get information based on the user input. He added, that before the introduction of mobile apps, all the API protocol and communication was handled over the internet, but now after the mobile app development is becoming a norm these days, the API call is now specific to mobile apps, which not only make things fast for the user but also helps the app to further secure its connection and hard to bypass the sensitive information through app-to-server connection.
API is being implemented for quite some time in the private sector, but now, as the technology-dependent society, we have become, the government sector is coming into the fold to have a bit of starting taste in the world of API development and its usage, all thanks to mobile app development and its success. Likewise, the US defense is planning to improve their existing network-based system which works through a compound restricted manner, to be interconnected with various devices in order to further tune in the details received from onboard processors and sensors. This effective use of API across each defense zone will help to transmit real-time data to each body with great security and integrity, said by Robert Lentz, president of Cyber Security strategies as well as the advisory board with Apigee.
For government and high profile communication, API must be operated in next-gen technology accompanied with highly sophisticated layered security checkpoints. As explained by Robert Lentz, the API must have a credential system which takes login details for the user before using the cascaded information. Additionally, the API must record and show user trail information to the administrator and security auditors which can then trail and analyses each user details that have entered into their system.
Benefits of using API
There are few but most significant advantages a developer acquires by using API into their code. The first biggest advantage of using an API is that our code becomes abstract in nature, which means API hides the service part with the core coding for our system. We are not interested in what type of information is inside an API, or how is it coded, if its well documented and properly labeled about its signature and endpoints, we can use the API with ease. In fact, if a developer wants to tweak on the core mechanics of software, the API service will still hold its unchanged position intact, due to the modularity and abstraction in nature. Not to mention the less code a developer has to write while using an API.
Other cool benefits provided by many API is the universal accessibility using a cloud. As we know, the API operations are handled by a server, we can call it from anywhere using either REST or SOAP protocol, all we need is internet connectivity. Now, the great thing about API is the service provider behind the web server, where the API is hosted, if, by any chance, an API call experience a delay or unresponsive signal, the service provider will switch its connection using cloud-based virtual servers, which helps it run uninterruptedly. To understand this concept, let say you are using a credit card processing system which is developed using Java programming language and is hosted on an Oracle-based Java application server, but once it’s experiencing some trouble connecting with it, the service is migrated towards a Node.js based language and is hosted over a Microsoft Azure application server.
How API does operate?
After learning about API, their uses and importance in the software development, let’s understand the actual working behind the API when a user triggers its function.
– API can function as a specific doorway for users that are separated based on any subscription service, such as paid subscription etc. An API has the ability to issue a key based on the user, which depicts its user access around the application, either it can become read-only, write or both.
– API can communicate in real-time, which is the most powerful service provided by it. It can communicate with inter-connected devices together, either from mobile to web or web to mobile or across the similar platform, API is independent of any certain device, but what it requires is an internet connection and you are all set and ready to go.
– API helps to build an app based on another one, which not only saves an abundance of time but also money. Much highly renowned service such as Zapier, IFTT, and Hootsuite is based on series of API, which has its own set of functions and features, but a developer, working on his own application, can integrate this application on its own, using API provided by its author. This process is extremely efficient, which reduces the code complexity, make it more reusable and helps to get things done quicker.
– API works as a filter which removes harmful substances (illicit activity) with the allowed ones. It’s one of the most important considerations in the modern API development and its construction, to include checkpoints, access key and also monitor the user access and traffic flow from the endpoint, which will identify a malicious user from a genuine one.
– API works as a platform independent, which is a huge treat for developers. Either you belong to different time zone, language or platform, single API could be used from anywhere, either using a mobile phone, wearable, website, or desktop application, API operates in a proper way. Consider an API as a universal plug, which has the capability to plug with every household item, in any switchboard you can come up with.
This API has a bright future ahead and it doesn’t have any intention to slowing down. According to the WebPrgammable, by 2005-2013, a survey shows that over 9300 API has been hosted during this period and it will continue to rise exponentially. The reason for this growth is the wide acceptance by developers and companies, which heavily rely on the API. Not to mention the cost efficiency and code best practices have indeed provided a great turn around to the developers and API users in general. According to the founder of Web Programmable John Musser, he states that APIs are the key element which will be used to build software in the future; all we need is to glue them together.
API, though how complex in order for a newbie perspective, but an important ingredient in any mobile app development, or any development whatsoever. The API not only has your great deal of resources but also provides a foundation upon which your future apps can build on. Make sure your API is well documented, tested and fully maintained to be used in a production environment. Not to mention the security standpoint for API, which works as an icing on the cake, a must-have feature into every app or web development startup who are looking to provide the best application into the market.
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