When it comes to human interaction, people often find it helpful to follow some basic rules of the road so they can “play well with others.” Interaction between software applications needs to follow some basic rules as well. That’s the purpose of an application programming interface (API). An API is a toolset of software, definitions and protocols that help applications interact with other applications. An API defines and automates how two or more software components will share data in real time. It specifies what kind of requests can be made and how they can be fulfilled.

Example of API integration with Informatica API Manager

For example, to be valuable to users, weather applications need up-to-the-minute meteorological data from other applications. Travel applications need to access real-time information on flights and hotels. This interaction is known as API integration. API integration means software applications are connected to allow data, devices and systems to work together and interact. With API integration tools, software developers can seamlessly connect and build capabilities between multiple applications. Although APIs connect software components, you need API integration to connect two systems — whether on-premises or in the cloud. API integration platforms enable seamless data transfer in real time, allowing both experts and laypeople to add to and organize their data structures. While application and data integrations can and do happen without APIs, APIs fuel efficiencies. They help improve and accelerate communication, leading to better user experiences and business growth.

How APIs work

Think of APIs as messengers. A user or computer program makes a request. Then the API translates that request into a language understood by the target device. The API collects the requested data and delivers it to the point of origin. These API calls carefully follow defined parameters to fetch and send data. The calls synchronize in both directions. This means that a change in one system results in a change in another. When a request is made, an answer is returned.

APIs are integrated into functions and software applications everywhere. This includes internet searches as well as popular applications like weather and game applications. APIs are also used on social media sites. They are prevalent in business-critical applications like CRM, CRP and HRM. Without API integration tools, people wouldn’t have easy access to the data they depend on. Here are some important benefits of APIs:

APIs serve as building blocks for program and business process automation development

You can reuse and repurpose API code. Using existing APIs adds functionality and simplifies complex coding. APIs boost application effectiveness, conserve resources and reduce development costs. APIs can be consumed by enterprises to automate business processes that span multiple clouds and on-premises systems within and outside their firewall at any latency.

APIs and security

As an alternative to creating custom APIs, developers sometimes use public (or open) APIs. Among the tens of thousands of APIs in use today, there are at least 24,000 open APIs available over the internet. Any developer anywhere in the world can use an open API. It’s important to note that using an open API can make your data more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Organizations use private (or closed) APIs to improve operational efficiency while maintaining high security and privacy. Private APIs are available for internal use only.

APIs provide flexibility

APIs can connect to any on-premises or cloud-based system. They can be tailored to specific needs. APIs improve usability for both internal functionality and user experiences.

APIs enable microservice architecture

API integration is essential for establishing connections between systems and applications. Large legacy enterprise applications must be broken down into smaller, separate services or microservices. Microservice architecture organizes these smaller services in cloud ecosystems using APIs.

APIs help conserve system resources and promote agility

APIs allow developers to limit coding redundancies. They can replace some code with more advanced, existing APIs. Developers can devote their time to enhancing the functionality of a discrete microservice. Since each microservice is surrounded by a distinct API, another development team can work on a separate microservice independently. The teams don’t have to worry about breaking another team’s code. This enables agile program changes.

APIs allow for secure transmission of data

API integrations connect databases, devices, operating systems and applications, allowing you to exchange data more quickly with less effort. As an entry point into your operating system, each API must be secure. Private APIs that exchange data through a firewall or VPN authentication provide an extra layer of protection. Thanks to API integrations, secure websites can quickly confirm your credentials when you log in. API monitoring adds a layer of protection by quickly identifying any unauthorized API access attempts. System intruders can then be stopped in their tracks.

A brief look at API protocols

API protocols are design specifications or styles for APIs. There are several styles you can use to build APIs. Each protocol uses a specific programming architecture to allow communication between applications. Each API protocol is used for different application requirements.

Types of API protocols include:

  • Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) APIs and XML Remote Procedure Call (RPC) APIs
    • The protocols on which other APIs are built
    • Developers have used these protocols for decades to connect code within a computer or on-premises system
    • Provide a solid foundation for distributed computing environments for enterprise computing systems
    • Generally limited to sending and receiving XML documents
    • Rarely used for websites, smartphone applications or social sites
  • Representational State Transfer (REST) APIs
    • Provide a high level of agility and flexibility
    • Conform to REST rules even though REST APIs don’t have official protocols
    • Used to send texts, videos and other media using HTTP protocol that requires low bandwidth
    • Stateless to hold all the code needed to execute a request. While nothing is stored on a server, they can cache data to speed up transactions
  • Open Data Protocol (OData)
    • APIs built on RESTful API principles
    • Not bound by URL conventions, media types or query options
    • Commonly use JSON and Atom formats

Regardless of which API protocol you use, it will help you organize and reuse code. It also helps you tap into functionality and data from other systems.

How can API integration help your business?

API integration lets businesses send automated text messages, verify login credentials, translate content and compile consumer data. Some use cases include:

  • Marketing automation and CRM
  • Ecommerce and order fulfillment
  • Project management tools with time tracker applications
  • Travel aggregators and airline, hotel and rental car websites

API integration is also used by healthcare, banking and service industries for activities like:

  • Scheduling and confirming appointments
  • Driving end-to-end hyperautomation
  • Checking balances and paying bills
  • Accessing records

Without APIs, software components cannot effectively exchange data. As a result, data can be lost, duplicated or misinterpreted. API integration is right for you if you want to:

  • Quickly build and integrate applications
  • Increase the functionality of your website or application
  • Maintain data integrity
  • Enable business process automation
  • Generate more opportunities or revenue

Informatica solutions support API integration

Some API integration solutions need less time and resources than others. Informatica API solutions are built on:

  • Democratization: Eliminates time-consuming processes. These include writing code and building UX. Users only need a simple click to use APIs.
  • Advanced data access parameters: Delivers secure, controlled API calls. These are controlled, throttled and monitored to ease the integration process.
  • Artificial intelligence: Uses AI and machine learning to discover and describe data.
  • Documentation: Eliminates the need to create new or additional documentation and automatically generates API documentation.

API Integration Success Story

API integration is the path toward application and business innovation. It helps you connect your lines of business, customers and partners to any application, process or data. A cloud-led banking leader, nCino, sought an integration and management solution. With pre-built APIs, they could bring trusted data into Salesforce. Then they were able to process more loans, grow their business and save development costs. Now they can deliver the speed and digital experience that customers expect, backed by the quality and transparency that bankers need.

Next Steps

If your organization is on the path to data transformation, your processes need to work across and between applications. API integration can help. Get started with a 30-day free trial of Informatica’s API Creation and Management Tool.

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