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They’re everywhere and make life easier
Imagine that you’re a retailer and a customer wants to buy on credit, but you don’t know the customer. A few thousand years ago, you would ask a helper to go out to the customer’s village and ask questions to ascertain whether the customer could be trusted. Two hundred years ago, you would have sent a telegram. Although these comparisons may seem a bit banal, the fact is that humanity has always found ways to share data. The difference with APIs, of course, is that they are automated, detailed, and quicker than Morse code. They’re also everywhere and make life easier for millions of people. But few people actually know what APIs are.
Our API expert, Jens Näsholm, gives an example:
“Even a proficient user like me doesn’t notice that all of Google’s web services are based on APIs – they’re behind everything from Gmail to Google Maps,” he says.
The fact that APIs are in the background allows companies to build user-friendly programs. In short, APIs make it easier to use a service.
“If I visit an e-commerce store and enter my personal identity number in the system, the store gets my credit report in the blink of an eye. The advantage of APIs compared with a standard solution is that an API can be integrated into the store’s business system without the user even noticing. The customer doesn’t need to chop and change between programs themselves,” says Jens.
Evolution of API
APIs have been around for more than twenty years. Back then, programs shared information in a more viscous way, largely reflecting the internet – a new kid on the block at the time – which was also viscous. This was a time when our modems would beep and whine like a manic robot when connecting to the internet via the phone network.
Originally, data could be collected by an API and transferred in a file format once a week. Some people (but increasingly fewer) still use these file transfers. An automated and integrated API that constantly picks up information is preferable for obvious reasons.
Jens has noticed that until relatively recently, customers would first build their services and then add APIs. Now APIs are used to build a service from scratch in a process known as “API First”.
What are open and closed APIs?
There are open and closed APIs. The open interfaces can be obtained free of charge. The closed interfaces are either a commodity or else an authority (for example) has limited who can access its APIs. A relevant example is the healthcare website 1177.se, which now allows the regions to have real-time access to information and updates on the coronavirus – only the regions can request the key needed to access the API.
“It’s cost-effective and easier to support than having to maintain a system where you have a special code for your own internal functionality and your own code for the API that you make public,” says Jens.
API expert Mohamed Beyan has also noticed over the past five years that many companies have given their technicians a broader mandate to order, maintain, and develop APIs.
“It’s also the technicians who have the knowledge required to evaluate APIs,” he says.
Jens is seeing a further shift in demand.
“We have many customers with old APIs. What we’re increasingly seeing is that they’re switching to new APIs. From old legacy solutions that have been around for five, ten, fifteen years to our new REST solutions,” says Jens.
Benefits of REST (Representational State Transfer):
How to ensure smooth migration
Before a company switches to new APIs, it must prepare for the journey.
“The first thing you have to do is map existing systems,” says Jens. You have to compare the functionality you have today with the functionality you want in the new system. And you have to plan for the migration work and have staff who focus on working towards this goal. Make sure you give yourself enough time for the work to be done.
“This will give you the conditions to build anything,” adds Mohamed. Because real-time APIs provide access to data – i.e. what you want, when you want, how you want, and to the system you want – the only limit to the solutions you can create is your imagination.
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