Application Programming Interface | Computerworld

You often have to rely on others to perform functions that you may not be able or permitted to do by yourself, such as opening a bank safety deposit box. Similarly, virtually all software has to request other software to do some things for it. To accomplish this, the asking […]

You often have to rely on others to perform functions that you may not be able or permitted to do by yourself, such as opening a bank safety deposit box. Similarly, virtually all software has to request other software to do some things for it.

To accomplish this, the asking program uses a set of standardized requests, called application programming interfaces (API), that have been defined for the program being called upon. Almost every application depends on the APIs of the underlying operating system to perform such basic functions as accessing the file system. In essence, a program’s API defines the proper way for a developer to request services from that program.

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Developers can make requests by including calls in the code of their applications. The syntax is described in the documentation of the application being called. By providing a means for requesting program services, an API is said to grant access to or open an application.

Building an application with no APIs, says Josh Walker, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., “is basically like building a house with no doors. The API for all computing purposes is how you open the blinds and the doors and exchange information.” APIs also exist between applications.

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