What is an API?

September 13, 2021

T-Minus Team

For the non-technical founder, sometimes technology and its acronyms can become overwhelming. At T-Minus, we make it our intention to help entrepreneurs better understand what they may not yet. We cover the simple to the complex and back again.

In this case, when you’re building software or working with software to run parts of your business, the term “API” can crop up. The easiest explanation for the term today is that an API or, “application programming interface” is the mechanism that allows two disparate software pieces to talk or, interact with one another.

For example, in the financial technology space, many easy-to-use payment apps have hit the market. From PayPal and CashApp to Venmo or Zelle, these programs interface via an API to talk with your bank so that it can pull funds in or take funds out and apply them in the ways you instruct.

It can be valuable to remember how something got started and often, it helps provide the missing context in why something got started. Before the term “API” became as commonplace as it is now, there were other ways for two disparate systems to talk with one another and that was something called FTP or, File Transfer Protocol. As with any technology, better ways of doing things replace antiquated processes and using APIs over FTP is certainly no exception. FTP was great for its time and as more cyber threats became prevalent, and more people adopted computers to quickly exchange information, FTP became more unstable. What’s more, it introduced plenty of opportunity for error. Files may go missing or get out of sync updating on one system which could generate an error in FTP with no resolve. API’s can be more sophisticated to prevent these types of operational errors and that’s a piece of the story on how API’s have evolved to become what they are and used how they are.

Additionally, the types of data shared through an API got an upgrade too. Generally speaking, there are two types of actions that an API can provide, either a “get” (pull) or a “post”(push) call. Either one system is asking for data or it’s pushing data and depending on how you configure your API, it can do simplistic tasks or highly complex tasks. The data package or structure that typically used to be sent through API (and sometimes even FTP back then) were XML files or SOAP files.These took an evolution themselves and now JSON is the more common, lighter-weight data package that gets sent through an API.

All that to say, when you’re talking with someone over how your systems can talk with one another, we’re really talking about an integration and an API may very well be the best way.It is worth noting that not everything can be integrated between systems. It takes a strategic level exercise to map out the plan, pair up fields of data transfer and truly integrate pieces. Sometimes there may not be an opportunity to integrate certain pieces of data if say, one system doesn’t even provide a typeof data that the other system needs or uses.

Here at T-Minus Solutions, we are always happy to help you brainstorm the best paths forward for your startup using software and technology. Whether we stand in as your CTO or support your existing team, we’re always happy to build something great.

T-Minus Team

Building software projects the way they should be done; predictably, strategically, on task. Very importantly, let's have a good time while we do it!
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