What is an API and what can it do for my business?

What is an API and what can it do for my business?

An API is a very useful mechanism that connects two pieces of software equipment to exchange messages or data in a standard format such as XML or JSON. Thus, it becomes an instrument that can be used to search for revenue, open the doors to talent or innovate and automate processes.

BBVAOpen4U
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07 Jun. 2016

Nowadays, almost all project managers, designers or programmers are talking about the 'API economy' as though it were the new world. Application programming interfaces are nothing new, what is new is the universal use that is currently taking place. The years 2015, 2016 and 2017 will be when APIs will be put to use by most companies that intend to increase and diversify the channels they use for creativity and to generate revenue; not only major corporations, but also SMEs.

Just like a user interface allows interaction and communication between software and an individual, an API (acronym for Application Programming Interface) facilitates communication between two applications to exchange messages or data. A set of functions and procedures that offers a library so other software can use it as an abstraction layer, an area to access and exchange additional information at the top. Thus, they both use each other’s information without compromising their independence. 

Each API is designed in a specific programming language and has several specifications that define it (APIs can include specifications for data and routine structures, classes of objects or variables, that are the cornerstones for the use of the interface). Moreover, complete and efficient documentation is usually available for each API (a set of guides, manuals or good practice rules).

API Types 

● Web service APIs: these are application programming interfaces that are used to exchange information between a web service (software that provides access to a concrete service through a URL) and an application. This exchange usually occurs via HTTP or HTTPS (the encrypted version of the HTTP protocol) requests. The request by the application and the response, as well as the HTTP of the web service, contain information of all kinds in the metadata of both the header and the message, normally in the two most common formats: XML and JSON.

There are four types of web service APIs used by developers: SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), a standard protocol used to exchange information and data in XML between two objects; XML-RPC, a protocol that calls a remote procedure and uses XML as the data format and HTTP calls as the communication system; JSON-RPC, which is the same protocol but in JSON format; and REST (Representational State Transfer), an software architecture for hypermedia systems in the World Wide Web; a REST API uses the HTTP protocol. 

● Library-based APIs: these types of APIs allow an application to import a library from other software to exchange the information. Nowadays, most of the libraries that provide access to products and services are designed in JavaScript. The APIs in JavaScript are usually a good example of library-based APIs, such as those that are used in the web mapping market (services like Google Maps, Leaflet, ArcGIS, CartoDB, MapBox or D3.js).  

● Class-based APIs: these types of application programming interfaces can connect to data organized around classes, which is common in programming associated with Java objects. The Java API uses abstract classes to create applications, just like any other program programmed in this language. These classes provide everything necessary to perform all types of functions within these applications. The Java programming interface is organized in packages, each of which contains a set of interrelated classes.  

● APIs used for operating system functions: software programs are continuously interacting with operating systems. This is an obvious statement. The truth is that this interaction is frequently carried out via APIs. Operating systems like Windows have APIs that allow this communication between programs and the OS. This is the complete list of Windows APIs: user interface, data access and storage, messaging, graphics and multimedia, troubleshooting, etc.

What can an API do for my business?

An API can place a company or business on another level in many ways. At BBVAOpen4U, we already explained Features to have an API: an application programming interface that was easy to use and learn, stable and safe. The main reason for using APIs is to make more money: to increase income.

But there are other reasons:

● A company's success comes from the outside: API's are a door to the outer world: to people and companies with all sorts of talent that can improve products and services with their experience and training. An API is a doorway to all that talent in an entrepreneurial structure that can improve, and enrich the company, solve unfamiliar problems, etc. The purpose of an API is not only to charge for using it; things can be learned and opportunities can be discovered through its use by third parties.

● Innovation: cutting-edge companies in innovation base a large part of their creative muscle on one or more APIs. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Square, Stripe, Amazon, etc. Large-volume companies or outsiders within their sector. Regardless of the market: advertising, technology, banking, etc., APIs are key to any innovative process.

● Process automation: within DevOps teams, automating processes result in large savings in expenses, effort and time. There are even technical names for this task: Business Process Automation (BPA) and Business Process Integration (BPI), business strategies that save on costs thanks to process automation and integration. To a large extent, the BPA and BPI strategies are based on programming and integrating applications, where APIs play an essential role. This gives rise to what is known as API Management, which affects business fields such as security, analytics, product and service developments, data, work flows, etc.

BBVA is committed to open innovation; from the API Market companies can access a series of APIs to develop new lines of business or just to improve user experience.

Get to know BBVA's API