The principles that power application programming interfaces (APIs) can be difficult to comprehend due to their ambiguity. What exactly is an API? How can they be used by developers and consumers alike? How does the utilization of APIs make everyday data more valuable?
To put it simply, an application programming interface is a set of instructions for how software components should interact with one another. An API is a language library that includes specifications for data structures, routines, object classes, and variables in a more technical sense.
APIs can take several forms. One such example is that of the Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX). POSIX is a group of standards created by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in the 1990s to maintain compatibility between operating systems (i.e., Windows and Mac).
Another example is that of the Windows API. Commonly referred to by developers simply as WinAPI, Microsoft’s core programming interface is available solely for Windows operating systems. In fact, practically all Windows applications interact with the Windows API at one time or another.
Oracle, a multinational computer technology corporation, also offers the core Java API in three flavors: Micro Edition (ME), Standard Edition (SE), and Enterprise Edition (EE).
Application programming interfaces are not to be confused with application binary interfaces (ABIs), which are primarily binary in programming nature. APIs are traditionally source-code-based.
In its most simple form, an API can be used to define a set of functions that accomplish a specific task or allow interaction with a specific software component. For example, Amazon’s API allows web and software developers to design products that are ultimately powered by Amazon’s services. If you’re on a blog and see an “Add to Amazon Wish List” button, this is an example of the Amazon API in action.
Although APIs have primarily been associated with online services, Web 2.0 trends have moved away from this and towards more direct representational state transfer (REST) system web resources and resource-oriented architecture.
Traditional API standards require the source code to be re-compiled when implementing on each platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.). Today, though, APIs are being coded so that they can continue to function without any changes to the system implementing the API.
Object-oriented programming for APIs is incredibly beneficial for both software providers (because they can release components of their software across multiple platforms with little to no manipulation) and users (because they can install older software and newer systems without having to purchase upgrades or install specific applications). Everyone wins!
Fun fact: in 2010, Oracle took Google to a judicial court because they believed Google distributed a new implementation of the Java language within their own Android operating system. Google did not receive any permission to do so, but projects such as OpenJDK allowed such usage. The judge ruled for Google and enforced the principle that APIs cannot legally be copyrighted within the United States.
Now that we know exactly what an application programming interface is, what are some real-world applications for its use? How does it correlate to the phenomenon of big data?
The average computer user does not equate the purchase of everyday products or the search for services with the production of data. But the data really is there, and the variety of uses this data creates is infinite with endless possibilities.
Consider this: you have decided that you’d like to purchase a new desktop computer. You search Google for the most reputable sellers, compare wish lists, and send emails to your peers asking for advice. Each of these steps utilized APIs without your knowledge, and each action produced a decent amount of data!
APIs are a tangible concept because they are real, programmed objects. However, “big data” is just an ambiguous term. Together, they can achieve amazing things.
Netflix supports over one thousand devices with its uniquely engineered API. Amazingly, around 20,000 developers are registered to use the Netflix API with the hopes of expanding this reach even further, which, in the long term, poses the added benefit of promoting innovation.
By itself, software has limited value; but once you connect the two, the software turns the API into programmable nodes. Similarly, data is irrelevant on its own. Connect it with APIs, and transformations occur that were simply just not possible before!
To conclude, pure data has practically no value. When you begin thinking of data in the context of application programming interfaces, that’s where the real magic begins to happen. Atlantic.Net understands the value of having reliable cloud hosting solutions and encourages customers to control their hosting options by fully utilizing the Atlantic.Net API.
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