Caught exception: Unknown column 'external_user_id' in 'field list' Ask VDB: What is an API? In English Please …
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Ask VDB: What is an API? In English Please …

It’s hard to spend any time at all online without seeing the acronym API. And for something that hasn’t been around that long, we are living in a remarkably API-centric world. So what is API, and why should it matter to you?

The acronym API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a set of call and response functions that allow computer systems to communicate with each other, passing data back and forth. What are those “functions” you ask? Well, they’re pretty logical:

  • GET - Gathers information from a site, such as pulling together a shipping address or order details.
  • PUT - Updates data, such as updating product pricing, inventory quantities, or customer address or profile data.
  • POST - Creates something new, such as creating a new product, product category, or customer.
  • DELETE - Deletes existing data

A super simple way of looking at this would be the connection between your Shopify account and your POS. If you want an order from your online store to be stored in your POS, the API would:

  • GET all the order details from Shopify
  • PUT all those details into your POS system

If you create a new product on your POS system, and you want that item available in Shopify, the API would:

  • GET all the new product details from your POS
  • POST the new product details into Shopify

Sounds pretty simple, right? And in terms of logic, it is. Most computer systems that operate in the cloud - particularly if they were created for the cloud or as apps - have all the technology in place to pass data back and forth with other systems using API. It’s a lot like Legos … all the Lego blocks are constructed with the same holes and pegs - including the measurement of the spaces between the holes and pegs - to allow them to fit together no matter when they were purchased (30 years ago or yesterday).

Older systems that were created as server-based, install-in-your-place-of-business software often are not up-to-date enough to take advantage of the integration that APIs offer. They don’t have the same Lego-like ability to communicate with other systems, because those communication functions and standards didn’t exist when those programs were written.

So, why do APIs matter to you? It’s all about connectivity. Way back in the day (OK, pre-2006) most business software was a lot like Walmart. It wasn’t necessarily the best, but you had everything in one place. Today business owners want to take advantage of a range of specialty solutions. The best POS may not have a great CRM (in fact, it almost never has even a good CRM), but with API you can have the best POS and the best CRM and they can talk to each other. Considering how affordable most software is today, accessing best-in-class systems for your most important business applications is a great way to be more competitive.

VDB’s systems (of course) all take advantage of modern API technology, and we find new ways to deploy our API for your benefit all the time.

There’s a lot more to API than we’ve explained here, and if we were writing for computer developers, we’d go into it! But for most business owners, this is the answer you need to better understand API when you encounter it again.