What is an API?

In the world of web applications, an API is a set of urls that you can use to access or create data on a website. More generally, an API can be any set of instructions for any kind of software, but today we're just concerned with the use of APIs for getting stuff from and making stuff on websites.

You can think of an API as a way for you to make a robot that uses a website the same way you do, only automatically. For example, for some reason you might want to tweet the message "I AM HAVING BREAKFAST" at 10 AM every morning. Instead of doing that yourself, you could make a robot that does that for you, using the Twitter API!

Why should I learn to use them?

APIs are relevant to anyone who is interested in either a career in web development or having fun with programming.

Most modern web applications use data from or push data to other websites. If you work at a company that handles monetary transactions, has a large volume of customer support requests, or analyzes large data sets, there's probably an API integration in their codebase. If you're a web developer or hoping to become one, it's likely that you'll eventually need to use an API.

APIs can be used to make creative software, as well. There are a wealth of bots and apps based on output from APIs, many with no practical or financial purpose other than personal enjoyment. Some of my favorites are:

  • Picnic, an app that orders random delivery food to a random location and an Uber to take you there
  • TMI Machine, a Twitter bot that tweets when and for how long someone uses a toilet
  • Godotify, an app that will show the typing indicator to all of your friends on Facebook Messenger forever

The possibilities are endless! 🌈

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