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Application Programming Interface (API): What it is and How it is Utilized in the Transportation Industry

In the previous article, we discussed Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and its use within the transportation industry. In this article, we will discuss another, more recently adapted, yet very popular integration method known as Application Programming Interface (API).

What is API?

Application Programming Interface (API) in its simplest form is code that allows for two software programs to communicate with each other.  APIs within a program are a set of standards which permit outside software systems to request information from the original program.  Josh Walker, an analyst at Forrester Research, describes building an application with no APIs as “basically like building a house with no doors.  The API for all computing purposes is how you open the blinds and the doors and exchange information.”

API

To further understand APIs, consider the following example:

Not Utilizing APIs:

An app finds a Delta flight status by going to the http://www.delta.com, searching for the flight number, and interpreting the status of the flight search much like a human would.

Utilizing APIs:

An app finds the Delta flight status by sending a message in a standard format (API) to delta.com and the delta.com API then returns that status of that flight.

 Common APIs

api

API use has increased tremendously over the last ten years.  Many of today’s web applications would not even be possible without the capabilities of API.  For example, every time something is shared on social media, an API is involved.  Any time an application allows you to sign in with your Facebook or Google credentials, an API links that information.  Any application that allows you to import contacts or friends from social media is using API to do so.  Some of the most popular APIs currently being used are:

• Google Maps – embeds Google Maps into applications
• Google Analytics – measures web traffic and provides insight into who is searching a particular web-site
• Youtube API – embeds YouTube players or enables YouTube search capabilities
• Social Media – allows apps to interact with the social media platform’s function
• Weather Channel – allows weather from The Weather Channel within an application
• Dropbox – allows for an app to sync Dropbox files
• WordPress – enables WordPress to communicate with other web properties regardless of programming language

API use in Transportation

API use has also increased within the transportation industry, bridging the information gap between shippers, carriers, brokers, and software systems.  APIs have several uses within the industry.  Some of the most prevalent uses include:

• Rating – sends quote request to multiple carriers and returns pricing results to requesting application
• Transit Times – retrieves standard transit times from multiple carriers
• Dispatch – sends carrier pick-up request and responds with pick-up confirmations
• Tracking – allows for track and trace information on shipments
• Document Retrieval – allows for developers to request shipping documents utilizing a carrier’s tracking number
• Expedited Transit Time – allows for developers to get expedited transit times

Advantages of API

Application Program Interface

API offers several advantages with the main one being speed.  Requests and responses are exchanged within seconds as opposed to minutes, or in some instances even hours.  Other advantages of API include:

• Internet-based connectivity.
• Communication is two-way with confirmations included within the transaction sets.
• Since communication is two-way API’s offer reliable transactions sets.
• The end product of API connections offers user-friendly experiences improving internal and external user satisfaction.
• Provides evolving functionality as developers find new uses for API exchanges.

Disadvantages of API

The disadvantages of API include:

• Implementing and providing API capabilities can be costly in terms of development times, ongoing maintenance requirements, and providing support.
• APIs require extensive programming knowledge and the learning curve can fairly steep when understanding how to program APIs.
• Security can be a concern as APIs add another potential attack layer to programs/websites.

If you missed it, check out last week’s article on EDI, because in part three of this series, we’ll discuss the difference between API and EDI, along with our opinion on which one is a better tool for integration.

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