The word API has long become a household name in the web development world. Social networks, news media, standalone platforms with varied content all offer APIs to use and integrate. But should you use them in your freshly minted app, in the first place? What are the benefits of this approach? And how you do it with efficiency and safety?
Well, theoretically, if you want all proprietary rights and full control over your app, you need to create everything yourself. But this is a theory, and in reality, everything works differently. APIs of third parties, especially of such tech giants as Google and Facebook, provide access to their databases and operational facilities. You cannot create Google Maps from scratch (and there is no need to), and to ensure social integration you do not have to invent another Facebook. Just tap into the already existing one.
So, if you want to spice up your app so that it had more functionality and did not look stripped to the bone, go for third-party APIs and integrate them. It will also significantly reduce the development time and time to the market, which is another key advantage. Just be careful in the choice of APIs and follow the recommended integration path. All this (and even more) will be discussed in the guide below.
APIs: what it is all about?
Basically, API is an application programming interface, which is an interface or protocol of communication between segments of a program or program and hardware. API is a kind of bridge that enables interactions between elements of software and hardware without additional troubles or delays. APIs can be used to connect elements of operating systems, libraries, databases or web systems and apps. They deliver this service by employing a number of protocols, tools and subroutine definitions. Different APIs perform different functions and have different configurations depending on their purpose.
In our case, we are talking about Web APIs that are designed specifically to enable the integration of a certain web or cloud service into another web-based app. These APIs are a kind of interface between the given app (client) and the service or database it aims to tap into (server). In other words, such APIs, – and this article is about them, yes, – work as a kind of contract between two parties. Under this “contract”, if a client sends a specific request through the API to a server, it will get the desired response or start the required process (Google Maps will open in the client app and show the current location of a user, for example).
So, a third-party web API (this article is about this specific API type, so that not to make improper generalizations) and its operational path include three key elements:
- A client;
- An interface;
- A server.
One element is not possible without the others since a bridge cannot connect two non-existing points and the connection between remote elements is not possible without some kind of bridge.
If we try to imagine the whole system of API integration and functioning, it will take the following path:
Server (assets including databases, services, interactive feature, etc.);
- Mobile app;
Between API and a mobile app, one more element is required: a web developer. He or she will act only for some limited amount of time required for integration, and further on the user’s request will go from the app through API to a server and back.
Advantages of Third-Party APIs
Integration of a third –party API is relatively fast and simple in terms of time and resources used, so by going for this option you get a whole bunch of advantages.
Cost reduction: you don’t spend time and money on developing necessary features that are available through APIs. You get them as is, with support and documentation, which makes usage even more convenient.
Increased usability: if you integrate APIs that stem from platforms that millions of users engage with every day, your app will be highly likable and will appeal to a wide circle of potential customers. APIs of Google, Facebook and other tech giants (consider login via social or paying though embedded Visa or Paypal tool) have become tokens of reliability and simplicity, and this is what users want to see.
Uniqueness: if you choose to use less known but very efficient APIs that will facilitate daily operations or entertainment options of users, it will make your app the unique option on the market. This feature is called a unique selling proposition, and it is coveted by all developers. So, think carefully what unique offers you can embed into your app without overloading it.
Access to analytics available on the server-side: as you tap into the API pool, you automatically (or through additional agreements) access analytics accumulated by the services and databases on the server-side. Analysis of devices types, time spent, choices made or geotags placed provides lots of insights on what users want and what features or tweaks will make the app indispensable in the daily life of thousands, if not millions, of people.
With all this in mind, you are ready to deploy third-party APIs in your app. But before that, let’s see what services can be delivered through APIs and how to pick a good API and never regret your decision.
What APIs Can Actually Do For Your App
APIs, as we have said, are not programs or fully functional tools; they are protocols, the paths through which data is transmitted or command for action is sent. So, their functionality relates to these specific tasks – data transfer and commands:
Fetching services from remote platforms and software. In the online payment area, APIs are gateways to the actual payment software with a solid global reputation. The inclusion of original APIs guarantees the same level of security and encryption that the payment platform itself offers. If your app features a PayPal option, it will reasonably use PayPal API like Braintree, so no need to design and install your own system of payment. Streaming music from Spotify is another example of integrating third-party service through API into your app. Opportunities are endless here.
Fetching information from other services. API may fetch information available elsewhere. The weather forecast, train schedules, currency exchange rates, and what’s not. Instead of building your own informers or databases, pick a good existing service and use their API.
Connecting hardware of a phone to app functions. If you want to integrate QR codes into your app or make the app compatible with them, you will need to connect the app to the phone camera and QR scanner function. If you build some analog of Instagram, you will need to enable the app to use a camera, and so on. API can serve a bridge between hardware and software as well, so make use of this great option, and do not invent a bike.
How To Pick Right APIs
So, APIs are those cogs and gears that make the app work smoothly, without a hitch. Use them generously, but select them wisely. How? Read on, and find the pieces of advice that will benefit both the app owner and a developer hired to perform the integration.
- Good APIs have sufficient documentation of their functionality and use. A developer can benefit greatly from reading the docs before integration (mind the old joke: if nothing helps, it’s time to read the user’s manual). Specifics, limitations, edge cases and what’s not should be described thoroughly. If the API you need does not feature the mentioned explanations or lacks documentation at all, it’s time to look elsewhere.
GitHub demos: reputable platforms and software developers usually place the demos of code and API endpoints in the GitHub repository. Thus, others can evaluate the complexity and the use of API and plan work in advance.
- Testing via Swagger: before doing code integration, it is a good idea to test the API in the Swagger tool. Similar testing services are Postman (Google) or Rest API (Firefox). Just be sure to run a check on a selected API before you actually implement it.
Check if API is available on free access basis or needs IP whitelisting. It means that the server and API vendor deny access to the public and opens it on-demand for User Acceptance Test procedure to selected IPs only. So, if necessary, ask for whitelisting, otherwise, users will be denied access.
- User Acceptance Test (UAT) is also known as beta testing, the final testing of the product before its release to the broader public. The best app with the coolest APIs will be of no use if it is hard to use, is inconvenient, crashes along the way or does not bring value to users. UAT is a crucial step to take after API integration. So, while conducting the testing, and especially if API will work with data, ensure that your API and users have credentials to access this dataset on a server. Check-in advance with the API vendor, otherwise your users will see white screen or access denied warning instead of desired response or feature.
API vendors may put other kinds of limitations to prevent fraud and hacking attempts. Namely, these limitations can include the requirement for certification. Only if certification is granted you can use the API in your app for commercial purposes for millions of customers. Certification may require actual demonstration of your app functions paired with API in hands of end-users (UAT-like) or it may require purchasing API as a package together with a certificate. Also check in advance, since it will tip your budget towards increase and will take sufficient time to run certification procedure if required.
- Locking the API users out and other troubles: it may happen that to prevent attacks or fraud, the vendor implemented lockout function is ping comes with wrong credentials (think typing incorrect password). In this case, the response will not come from the server, and if a certain number of wrong pings come, the access is denied to the client. Ask if there is any such option and be careful.
Overload protection that includes limits on traffic coming from a certain client. If a vendor is not interested in extremely high numbers of users coming through the API path, the daily limits on traffic may be imposed. After the limit is reached, the requests from the client are ignored until the next day. So before using the API, check if any of the limitations are in place, and think how you will counter them (or choose a different app).
Examples of the most popular APIs
Just to give you a clue what API can do for your app, we will list some reputable and much-used apps. But actually, there are thousands of them, known or not so known, so pick ones that suit the vision of your app and its functionality (just run the checks we’ve listed in advance).
- Google Maps. No trip can be accomplished today without their help. They deliver navigation and geolocation options, and these features can be inbuilt into your app through Google API.
- Facebook API (or Instagram or Twitter, for that matter). Authorization that does not require efforts but happens through your social profile has become a norm. Your keys to Facebook have become keys to the web, for better or worse. So yes, authorization via Facebook is a useful service you can integrate via API.
- Uber API. Right, it enables catching a taxi, paying and leaving a comment.
- Booking API. Build in the hotel booking into your app, if it is a travel app, for example. Booking provides an API for this purpose.
- Skyscanner API. Flights, tickets, reviews and everything related to planning a flight.
There are API of services that find and recommend restaurants and shops, movies and music, gyms and yoga classes. Consider what your app should offer and integrate the right API.
How to Integrate Third-Party API Into Your App?
If you are an app owner, pick a good developer and leave it to him. If you are a developer, use the following guide as a checklist to follow while performing the integration task.
- Check your SDK toolkit and see if it fully corresponds to the requirements of the app and the API to integrate. SDKs (software development kit) go in one installable package, so failure or lack of update in one feature will hinder the workability of the whole kit.
- Create a new project in the API ecosystem. This is especially important if credentials for processing incoming ping requests are required. This project will be your working environment on the vendor’s server.
- After project creation, the key and the token for authorization are provided to you. By this token and key, the project will be identified as valid and its calls will be processed and requests returned properly.
- Now it is time to employ SDK and APIs and integrate them into the app. Tools like dependency managers will streamline the installation process. For Android, it is Maven, for iOS it is CocoaPods.
- ‘Teach’ the app to use new features with the help of dependencies installed before. This step means that the app smoothly interacts with API and the server backing it and that the feature works as expected.
The whole process may last 1 or 2 working days (UAT not included in the count) and may cost up to $2000 (depending on additional steps and tasks performed).
Using a third-party API can significantly boost the appeal of your app and make it a favorite go-to tool for daily life. This kind of APIs also speeds up the development process and spares you and your developer many hours and dollars. Just be sure to find an expert in API integration and to follow all listed steps to avoid failure right at the finish line of development.
And remember, if you need a very good developer with experience in API integration, we at JatApp can find you the one. Our devs know all ins and outs of the process, so as an output, you will get a perfectly functioning and efficient app with all desired features.