If you want to get into leveraging APIs effectively there are lots of great resources out there, including the RapidAPI tutorials which cover all of the major programming languages used and give expert advice on how to get started.
However, if you are looking for an introduction aimed at beginners, read on for a breakdown of the key points to take onboard before you dive in and the most pertinent pieces of information for budding API users.
Introducing the essentials
To use an API, you first need to know what one is and what it can help you to achieve. With the right application programming interface at your fingertips, you can call upon the functions and information offered up by a third party service and interpret this within your own application.
This lets you create compelling, fully-featured websites and mobile apps without needing to build every aspect from scratch yourself.
You might want to add a weather forecasting capability to your travel app. You might want to add up to the minute info on stock prices to your website. Whatever the scenario, an API will let you achieve your goals.
It is worth noting that APIs can be accessed in different ways depending on their nature; public APIs are freely available, while premium APIs require you to pay for access.
Comparing your options
Another core consideration when getting started with APIs is which of the multitude of solutions you should select.
In some instances, there will only be a single option that makes sense for your needs, but this is not always the case. For example, there are multiple weather APIs that pull data from different sources.
If you do have to whittle down your options, comparing the performance and reliability of an API is a good idea. Test out its speed, its uptime and its success rate to get a picture of how well it will serve you compared to its rivals.
You can find APIs on tailor made marketplaces where making these kinds of comparisons is much easier. Such services will also allow you to tinker with the code and automate the creation of snippets so that you can integrate APIs with your app quickly and without needing to be a complete programming whiz from the word go.
Getting an API key
Many APIs operate through the use of unique keys that allow for your requests to be identified and tracked from the thousands or millions of others being made by other apps.
The key not only helps to keep the service secure and free from exploitation, but also means that usage can be measured and charges calculated, if it is a premium service.
With this in hand you can then use your programming language of choice to combine an API with your app. This is where things get a little trickier and of course an understanding of app development will be useful, but hopefully by now you have enough information to progress smoothly.