API stands for Application Programming Interface. It is a well-defined interface point to a piece of software or code.

99 times out of 100 when the term API is used, it is in relation to a specific type of API, that is a ‘Web Services API’ or Web API. Here, the software is a program on a server, and the interface point is the set of endpoints used to interact with that program.

Web APIs are an essential tool for building mobile and real-time web apps. They are a departure from traditional web technologies, where web-pages are generated in their entirety on the server and delivered to the browser for display. Web APIs deliver raw data to the app, whose responsibility it is to display it in the most suitable way.

A growing number of tech companies release Web APIs to their products, so that they may be used in different ways than offered by their core product.

A developer might use Uber’s API, to do something unique when the rides request endpoint has surge pricing in effect. Or use the Twitter API to create a robot that answers questions.

‘In Plain English’ is a series that, in 200 words or less, describes technical “jargon” in a non-technical way. The descriptions aim to provide ‘just enough’ detail to allow non-technical stakeholders to understand and contribute to, high-level technical discussions.

Eoin McCarthy
api, in plain english, manager, non-technical
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