Stands for "Application Programming Interface." An API is a set of commands, functions, protocols, and objects that programmers can use to create software or interact with an external system. It provides developers with standard commands for performing common operations so they do not have to write the code from scratch.
APIs are available for both desktop and mobile operating systems. The Windows API, for example, provides developers with user interface controls and elements, such as windows, scroll bars, and dialog boxes. It also provides commands for accessing the file system and performing file operations, such as creating and deleting files. Additionally, the Windows API includes networking commands that can be used to send and receive data over a local network or the Internet.
Mobile APIs, such as the iOS API, provide commands for detecting touchscreen input, such as tapping, swiping, and rotating. It also includes common user interface elements, such as a pop-up keyboard, a search bar, and a tab bar, which provides navigation buttons the bottom of the screen. The iOS API also includes predefined functions for interacting with an iOS device's hardware, such as the camera, microphone, or speakers.
Operating system APIs are typically integrated into the software development kit for the corresponding program. For example, Apple's Xcode IDE allows developers to drag and drop elements into an application's interface. It also provides a list of available functions and includes syntax highlighting for known elements and commands.
While operating system APIs have a robust set of features, other types of APIs are much more basic. For example, a website may provide an API for web developers that allows them to access specific information from the site. A website API may be as simple as a set of XML elements with a few basic commands for retrieving the information.
Updated: June 20, 2016