What Is An API? And Other Acronyms: REST, SOAP, XML, JSON, WSDL

What Is An API?

When you utilize a browser, your browser makes requests from the client’s server and the server sends back files that your browser assembles and displays a web page with. But what if you just wanted your server or web page to speak to another server? This would require you to program code to an API.

What Does API stand for?

API is an acronym for Application Programming Interface (API). An API is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building web-enabled and mobile-based applications. The API specifies how you can authenticate (optional), request and receive data from the API server.

What is an API?

When used in the context of web development, an API is typically a defined set of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) request messages, along with a definition of the structure of response messages. Web APIs allow the combination of multiple services into new applications known as mashups.


Let’s provide a simple example. If you were going to use a link shortener so that you could better distribute a long URL easier, you might use a service like Bit.ly. You type the long URL in, submit the URL, and Bit.ly responds with the short URL.

What if you wanted to use Bit.ly within the scope of a platform that you’re using? Perhaps you’ve built a QR code maker online but want long URLs shortened first. In this case, you could program your site to send the request to the Bit.ly API and then capture the response to build your QR code.

The process is automated with an API where no human intervention is required. This is the opportunity that APIs provide every organization. APIs assist systems in synchronizing data, processing requests, and automating processes that are typically done manually.

If a platform has a robust API, it means that you can both integrate and automate – saving manual time, improving the real-time capabilities of your platforms, and ensuring improved accuracy – avoiding issues with manual data entry.

A Video Of How APIs Work

If you’re a platform developer, APIs also offer the opportunity to separate your user interface from you computation and database queries. Why is that important? As you develop your user interface, you can utilize the same APIs that you publish for other third parties. As well, you can rewrite your user interface without worrying about breaking the back-end integration.

How To Find Available APIs

Are you looking for an API for a specific product or service? APIs List is a growing source for all the public APIs that’s empowered by the community to ensure you will get the most recent list and details of all available public APIs.

Find An API

How To Test APIs

If you’d like to test APIs without writing a line of code, Talend has a great Chrome Application for interacting with APIs and seeing their responses.

Add Talend’s API Tester to Chrome

What does the Acronym SDK stand for?

SDK is an acronym for Software Developer Kit.

When a company publishes its API, there’s typically accompanied documentation that shows how the API authenticates, how it can be queried, and what the appropriate responses are. To help developers get a head start, companies often publish a Software Developer Kit (SDK) to include a class or the necessary functions easily into projects that the developer is writing.

What does the Acronym XML stand for?

XML is an acronym for eXtensible Markup Language. XML is a markup language used to encode data in a format that is both human-readable and machine-readable.

Here’s an example of how XML appears:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<product id="1">
<title>Product A</title>
<description>The first product</description>

What does the Acronym JSON stand for?

JSON is an acronym for JavaScript Object NotationJSON is a format for structuring data that is sent back and forth via an API. JSON is an alternative to XML. REST APIs more commonly respond with JSON – an open standard format that uses human-readable text to transmit data objects consisting of attribute–value pairs.

Here’s an example of the data above using JSON:

"id": 1,
"title": "Product A",
"description": "The first product",
"price": {
"amount": "5.00",
"per": "each"

What does the Acronym REST stand for?

REST is an acronym for the Representational State Transfer architectural style for distributed hypermedia systems.

Whew… deep breath! You can read the entire dissertation here, called the Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software Architectures submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in Information and Computer Science by Roy Thomas Fielding.

Thanks, Dr. Fielding!

What does the Acronym SOAP stand for?

SOAP is an acronym for Simple Object Access protocol

I’m not a programmer, but in my opinion, developers who love SOAP do so because they can easily develop code in a standard programming interface that reads the Web Service Definition Language (WSDL) file. They don’t need to parse the response, it’s already accomplished using the WSDL. SOAP requires a programmatic envelope, which defines the message structure and how to process it, a set of encoding rules for expressing instances of application-defined datatypes, and a convention for representing procedure calls and responses.


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    Finally (finally!) a concise summary of what all of these previously scary-sounding acronyms mean. Thank you for using clear and direct language, result = a future that looks just a little brighter for this student developer.

    • 5

      Hi Vic, yes… I agree. The words are scary. I remember the first time I programmed a request to an API and it all clicked and I couldn’t believe how easy it actually was. Thanks!

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