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What is API (Application Programming Interface)?

Iveta Vistorskyte



Application Programming Interface, or simply API, is an intermediary between different software and its primary purpose is communication between them. API delivers your query to the provider and then gives its response back to you.

API is an essential part of the digital world because this middleman between software helps to save a lot of time for developers. In this article, you’ll find an explanation of what an API is and how it works.

What exactly is an API?

API is a tool that allows different software components to exchange data. API is the code that manages the access point (or points) for the server. The end-user doesn’t notice these exchanges on a website or an app.

Let’s provide you an API example to help you understand clearly what it is. Imagine that you own a training app. One day, you got the idea to provide your users with an ability to listen to music on your app while they exercise. For this idea to be implemented sooner, you can look for an opportunity to use an API where your website’s server communicates directly to the music streaming app’s server. Your app can request to integrate a playlist directly to your training app and provide all the required music for your users.

In this case, your developers can save a lot of time by integrating required music streaming platforms rather than working hard by doing nitty-gritty work and, for example, collecting the world’s biggest playlist.

Most applications or websites nowadays use at least some third-party APIs. It’s just easier to use existing solutions rather than come up with new ideas that require a lot of effort and time.

By using APIs, developers can save a lot of time

How do APIs work?

Simply put, the software sends a request to the other system to access the data or provide a required service. A request can only access a system’s API layer (also called an endpoint). Usually, with a query, there is a requirement to provide an API key additionally.

What is an API key?

An API key is a unique identifier used to authenticate requests to an API. Usually, an API key contains a string of letters and numbers that identify the website or app making the request.

Types of APIs

It’s not a surprise that there are different types of APIs, and we outlined the essential ones, defined by their access type:

1. Public APIs. These APIs are accessible for every developer who needs to get some sort of data or use it as third-party software. Usually, these APIs may require registration or an API key. In any case, the purpose of these APIs is to make data or services available to any developer.

2. Partner APIs. Let’s think of a previous example of a training app and a required playlist on it. If you need services from other companies, you usually make a partnership with them by promising that it’s worth collaborating. For example, you can offer them additional traffic to their website (or application). In exchange, they provide you with an API that you can integrate into your app. It doesn’t mean that their API will be available for other developers. There is usually a long process with a specific validation to access your partner’s API.

3. Private APIs. These APIs aren’t accessible for external users as they’re used in companies’ internal systems. Their primary purpose is to facilitate and improve internal development teams’ work.

There are different types of APIs

Can API act as a layer of security?

Before defining how an API can act as a security layer, let’s give you another example.

Imagine that you possess a music streaming app. You’ve got an opportunity to collaborate with a famous training app by allowing your services to be accessed through it. By providing an API, your whole app’s data is not fully exposed to training app developers. Instead, your and the training app’s server communicates with small packets of data, only sharing what is essential. You’re in charge of what kind of data you want to deliver.

When you’re providing your API for other apps or websites, you control what data is accessible. This is the reason why you can find information that API is explained as a layer of security. However, it’s not fully true.

The main idea of an API is to grant access to your data to other developers. Your exposure isn’t reduced by implementing an API. On the contrary, it’s increasing. On the primary purpose, APIs are not used as additional safety layers. Think of your server as a house. If you want to show your neighbors a little bit of your home decor, you can mount a window. The neighbor won’t see the whole house, but a window is not an additional security measure that prevents, for example, from thieves breaking in.

APIs aren’t used as additional safety layers

Public APIs and API integration

With increased ubiquitous networking, an allocation of communications base and wireless technologies to ensure constant connection, more public APIs have become accessible. The process of writing code and interacting with other sellers’ code online is called API integration. 

You should bear in mind that “public” does not indicate that it doesn’t cost anything. Yet, the vast accessibility of public APIs results in much easier integration. 

Oxylabs provides a public Residential Proxy API for easier proxy management. When using this API, you can:

  • Create, update, and delete sub-users’ accounts 

  • Control traffic limits for each sub-user 

  • Get statistics about traffic usage

Note that in one account, you can have up to three sub-users.

It’s a time-saving solution to get sub-users’ information that you require in seconds.

Oxylabs Web Scraper API

Oxylabs also provides a scraper API, supported by a proxy infrastructure and maintained remotely by professional developer teams. It’s a customized scraper designed for data retrieval operations on a large scale.

Our Web Scraper API is a suitable choice for gathering public data from most of the websites.

Wrapping it up

API (Application Programming Interface) is an essential part of the tech world. The use of APIs saves a lot of developers time and resources. They can focus on more critical tasks and devote their time to developing new technologies rather than thinking of creating something that is already made.

If you’re interested in how to extract data from any website or what a proxy server is, feel free to check out our other blog posts.

About the author

Iveta Vistorskyte

Lead Content Manager

Iveta Vistorskyte is a Lead Content Manager at Oxylabs. Growing up as a writer and a challenge seeker, she decided to welcome herself to the tech-side, and instantly became interested in this field. When she is not at work, you'll probably find her just chillin' while listening to her favorite music or playing board games with friends.

All information on Oxylabs Blog is provided on an "as is" basis and for informational purposes only. We make no representation and disclaim all liability with respect to your use of any information contained on Oxylabs Blog or any third-party websites that may be linked therein. Before engaging in scraping activities of any kind you should consult your legal advisors and carefully read the particular website's terms of service or receive a scraping license.

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I’m interested


  • What exactly is an API?

  • How do APIs work?

  • Types of APIs

  • Can API act as a layer of security?

  • Public APIs and API integration

  • Oxylabs Web Scraper API

  • Wrapping it up

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