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What is an Application Programming Interface (API)?

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July 12, 2022

Today, APIs are omnipresent in web hosting and in using them you can quickly and efficiently integrate existing useful external services onto your platform.

In this article, we will give you an overview of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

Keep reading to learn what an application programming interface (API) is, their purpose, and how API programming can be beneficial to your online business.

What is an Application Programming Interface (API) — Including the SOAP API & REST API?

Whether you are a developer or a business owner trying to host their site, you must have seen the shorthand API thrown around, and you might be wondering what the fuss is all about.

In this article, we will give you an overview of what Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are, their purpose, and how API programming benefit to your online business.

If you have just started using Nexcess services and need to find your way around, check out our Nexcess Portal Guide to get you started.

What is the Difference Between the Terms API & Software?

An API is limited to the portion of a software program's code that allows two software programs to communicate with each other. An API defines the proper way for a software program to request services or data from an Operating System (OS) or other application and in turn expose data to those software programs/OSs.

How Does an API Work?

An API defines a set of rules governing how two software applications or components talk to each other. Some examples of API-based interactions include a web application communicating with a web server, web servers talking each other programmatically, or applications interacting with an Operating System (OS).

Software API Definition

To give you a brief software API definition, it is a central software hub through which different, otherwise disjointed applications communicate. All of the applications which want to communicate through the API need to follow the rules set by the API, or their requests will not be able to be processed.

If this sounds a bit too abstract, you can imagine the API as the motherboard in your computer. Basically, it is the central interface into which all the other components of the system are plugged into, which enables them to send information through the motherboard, which handles the flow of data, enabling the system to work as a whole.

The motherboard in a computer defines the routes through which signals travel from one hardware component to another similarly to how an Application Programming Interface routes requests between software components.

If your motherboard does not have the necessary ports for a particular component, you will not be able to plug it in and use it. In a similar fashion, an API will not be able to process requests from an application that is unknown to it or which has not been properly configured to access the API.

Therefore, documentation is possibly the most essential part of any API. The API documentation needs to contain extensive information on which services the API offers and how those services can be accessed and used. An API that does not provide this information is effectively rendered useless.

API Tokens

To work with an API, we need to get access to its services. This kind of access is most commonly done through the use of API Tokens. In short, API Tokens are little bits of code that are used as a method of authorization for access to the API. Every time your site sends a request to the API, the access token is sent along with the request, verifying your identity. This way, the system stays secure and unauthorized requests to the API are discarded.


Over time, as APIs have become more widespread, several different API design models have been created for developers to use as guidelines when developing new applications. While many other models exist today, two of the most common ones you will come across are SOAP and REST.

Simple Object Transfer Protocol (SOAP) API

SOAP stands for Simple Object Transfer Protocol and is the older model of the two. Being the more heavy-weight and strict model, SOAP excels at managing distributed enterprise applications.

REpresentational State Transfer (REST) API

Meanwhile, REST stands for REpresentational State Transfer, and it was introduced as a simpler, more lightweight alternative to SOAP. While SOAP is an actual protocol, REST is just a set of constraints. It is primarily used for direct point-to-point communication. Today, the majority of public APIs are based on REST principles. A well-known example of REST is the WordPress REST API, which you can learn more about in the What is WordPress REST API and How Do You Use It? blog article.

When Do You Use Application Programming Interfaces?

Depending on the size and type of your business, there are many ways in which APIs can be implemented as a part of your site. One of the most common ways you interact with APIs is when you embed content from another platform onto your website.

For example, if you wish to have Google Maps show the location of your business on your website, you would be connecting to the Google Maps APIs. Likewise, if you want YouTube videos embedded on your site, you must connect to the YouTube Data API. Finally, any time you want your site loading information from a separate platform, you will most likely be connecting to an API. And to make all this work, your developers will have to study the documentation of that API and then implement it onto your website.

If you run a Magento website, you will almost certainly be connecting to the Elasticsearch API. We can learn about connecting to the Elasticsearch Container in the Nexcess Knowledge Base.

Consider Managed Hosting with Nexcess

Today, Application Programming Interfaces are omnipresent in web hosting. While in the past, you would have to code every part of your website yourself, today, using APIs, you can quickly and efficiently integrate existing valuable external services onto your platform.

We, of course, acknowledge this at Nexcess Managed Hosting, and as such, we offer many different containers which can simply be integrated into your site through the use of APIs. In additional, our expert support team is available 24/7 via mail, phone and chat to answer any questions you might have.

Be sure to take a look at our Fully Managed WordPress and WooCommerce Hosting Plans, and let us help you make your business grow.

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Paul Stubblefield
Paul Stubblefield

Nexcess Knowledge Base Owner
Content Marketing in Nexcess Digital Marketing
Nexcess, A Liquid Web Brand

Paul Stubblefield
— Technical Writer & Knowledge Management Professional

"Delivering the next generation of life-enhancing technology platforms, software solutions, and mobile-ready applications for technology pioneers, thought leaders, and market innovators in a robustly connected world."

Paul lives in Bonita Springs, Florida, USA. He is an aficionado of art, coffee, good-natured humor, lifelong learning, music, nature, pets, technology, world cultures, and his Zen Patio Garden project.

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