Understanding API

API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. In other words, an API is the messenger that delivers your request to the provider that you’re requesting it from and then delivers the response back to you. We can say that an API is a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing a Web-based software application or Web tool.

As we understood API is a software-to-software interface, not a user interface. The most important part of this name is “interface,” because an API essentially talks to a program for you. You still need to know the language to communicate with the program, but without an API, you won’t get far. With APIs, applications talk to each other without any user knowledge or intervention. When programmers decide to make some of their data available to the public, they “expose endpoints,” meaning they publish a portion of the language they’ve used to build their program. Other programmers can then pull data from the application by building URLs or using HTTP clients (special programs that build the URLs for you) to request data from those endpoints.

Endpoints return text that’s meant for computers to read, so it won’t make complete sense if you don’t understand the computer code used to write it. A software company releases its API to the public so that other software developers can design products that are powered by its service.

Examples:

When bloggers put their Twitter handle on their blog’s sidebar, WordPress enables this by using Twitter’s API.

Amazon.com released its API so that Web site developers could more easily access Amazon’s product information. Using the Amazon API, a third party Web site can post direct links to Amazon products with updated prices and an option to “buy now.”

When you buy movie tickets online and enter your credit card information, the movie ticket Web site uses an API to send your credit card information to a remote application that verifies whether your information is correct. Once payment is confirmed, the remote application sends a response back to the movie ticket Web site saying it’s OK to issue the tickets. As a user, you only see one interface — the movie ticket Web site — but behind the scenes, many applications are working together using APIs. This type of integration is called seamless, since the user never notices when software functions are handed from one application to another

Docker engine comes with an API. Docker provides an API for interacting with the Docker daemon (called the Docker Engine API), as well as SDKs for Go and Python. The SDKs allow you to build and scale Docker apps and solutions quickly and easily. If Go or Python don’t work for you, you can use the Docker Engine API directly. The Docker Engine API is a RESTful API accessed by an HTTP client such as wget or curl , or the HTTP library which is part of most modern programming languages.

Types of APIs

There are four main types of APIs:

Open APIs: Also known as Public API, there are no restrictions to access these types of APIs because they are publicly available.
Partner APIs: A developer needs specific rights or licenses in order to access this type of API because they are not available to the public.
Internal APIs: Also known as Private APIs, only internal systems expose this type of API. These are usually designed for internal use within a company. The company uses this type of API among the different internal teams to be able to improve its products and services.
Composite APIs: This type of API combines different data and service APIs. It is a sequence of tasks that run synchronously as a result of the execution, and not at the request of a task. Its main uses are to speed up the process of execution and improve the performance of the listeners in the web interfaces.

API architecture types:

APIs can vary by architecture type but are generally used for one of three purposes:

System APIs access and maintain data. These types of APIs are responsible for managing all of the configurations within a system. To use an example, a system API unlocks data from a company’s billing database.

Process APIs take the data accessed with system APIs and synthesize it to create a new way to view or act on data across systems. To continue the example, a process API would take the billing information and combine it with inventory information and other data to fulfill an order.

Experience APIs add context to system and process APIs. These types of APIs make the information collected by system and process APIs understandable to a specified audience. Following the same example, an experience API could translate the data from the process and system APIs into an order status tracker that displays information about when the order was placed and when the customer should expect to receive it.

Apart from the main web APIs, there are also web service APIs:

The following are the most common types of web service APIs:

SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol): This is a protocol that uses XML as a format to transfer data. Its main function is to define the structure of the messages and methods of communication. It also uses WSDL, or Web Services Definition Language, in a machine-readable document to publish a definition of its interface.

XML-RPC: This is a protocol that uses a specific XML format to transfer data compared to SOAP that uses a proprietary XML format. It is also older than SOAP. XML-RPC uses minimum bandwidth and is much simpler than SOAP. Example – YUM command in Linux uses XML-RPC calls

JSON-RPC: JavaScript Object Notation, this protocol is similar to XML-RPC but instead of using XML format to transfer data it uses JSON.

REST (Representational State Transfer): REST is not a protocol like the other web services, instead, it is a set of architectural principles. The REST service needs to have certain characteristics, including simple interfaces, which are resources identified easily within the request and manipulation of resources using the interface.

SOAPREST
It has strict rules and advanced security to follow.There are loose guidelines to follow allowing developers to make recommendations easily
It is driven by FunctionIt is driven by Data
It requires more BandwidthIt requires minimum Bandwidth
SOAP vs REST
JSONXML
Supports only text and numbers.Supports various types of data for example text, numbers, images, graphs, charts etc.
Focuses mainly on DataFocuses mainly on Document
It has low securityIt has more security
JSON vs XML

The web service APIs honor all the http methods like POST, GET, PUT, PATCH, DELETE. if we compare these with the CRUD operations,

HTTP MethodsCRUD
POSTCreate
GETRead
PUTUpdate/Replace
PATCHUpdate/Modify
DELETEDelete
HTTP methods vs CRUD operations

POST – The POST verb is most-often utilized to create new resources. It will return HTTP status 201 on success and returning a Location header with a link to the newly-created resource with the 201 HTTP status. POST is neither safe nor idempotent.

GET – The HTTP GET method is used to read (or retrieve) a representation of a resource GET returns a representation in XML or JSON and an HTTP response code of 200 (OK). GET is idempotent

PUT – PUT is most-often utilized for update capabilities. PUT is not a safe operation, in that it modifies (or creates) state on the server, but it is idempotent.

PATCH – PATCH is used for modify capabilities. The PATCH request only needs to contain the changes to the resource, not the complete resource. PATCH is neither safe nor idempotent. However, a PATCH request can be issued in such a way as to be idempotent,

DELETE – DELETE is pretty easy to understand. It is used to delete a resource identified by a URI. There is a caveat about DELETE idempotence as calling DELETE on a resource a second time will often return a 404 (NOT FOUND) since it was already removed and therefore is no longer available.

We will now just try creating a RESTFul API with Golang. For those who haven’t tried your hands with Golang can click here to follow the basics of Golang.

We are starting the go program which creates an API. The source code for this is available in this Git repository. A discussion on the implementation of API is out of scope for this blog post. We can discuss that in another post.

Here we concentrate only on the API and the requests and responses we receive and retrieve from the API end point. So, we can start our dummy API interface.

executing the code

Now we can check whether our API is accessible and it’s giving responses for our requests. We are doing it in command line with simple curl request. our application is listening on port 8001 which can be modified as per your wish in the code. We are now hitting the end point ‘/’

curl request

Next we try hitting the end point /events to get all the events in the dummy database created with slice and strut in the main.go file.

curl request to get all events

Now we will simulate the requests with an opensource Firefox extension RESTer. This is available for Chrome too. So for hitting the endpoint “/events” we are using the GET method. the Response 200 states that the request was successful.

GET method

In this simulation, we are using the POST method to create another event in the dummy database inside the application programmatically. Response code 201 is provided for successful creation of the event.

POST method to create new event

Now we can try hitting the endpoint “/events/{id}” which is the endpoint to retrieve one event with a GET method which will display the newly added event with “/events/2”

GET method on /events/2

We will now hit the “/events” endpoint and see whether both the evets are in the response.

GET method on /events endpoint

In the next simulation we are using the PATCH method to modify/update an existing event. In this case we are hitting the endpoint “/events/2” to modify the event id 2.

PATCH method to modify event id 2

Try to GET the expected results from the endpoint “/events” to verify our PATCH request.

GET method to verify PATCH request

In the final simulation we are hitting the endpoint “/events/1” with a DELETE method so that event id 1 will be removed/deleted.

DELETE Method to delete event id 1

Voila..!! We just created an API and tested it with dummy data. I believe we got a quick overview of what an API is and how we can use different HTTP methods to retrieve data or modify data using an API.

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