Is an API a server?

May 7, 2024 ยท 2 min read

Application programming interfaces (APIs) have become integral to modern software applications. But what exactly are APIs, and how do they relate to servers? Let's break it down.

What is an API?

An API (application programming interface) is a set of definitions, protocols, and tools for building software applications. In simple terms, an API allows different applications to talk to each other by providing a standardized set of rules.

Some key characteristics of APIs:

  • APIs allow you to access specific features or data from another application without needing to know how the application is implemented.
  • APIs can be thought of as an interface between different software programs.
  • APIs use standardized requests and responses so applications can communicate. Typically this uses HTTP requests.
  • What is a Server?

    A server is a computer program or device that provides functionality for other programs or devices, called "clients". Servers often provide essential services across a network, like handling requests and delivering data.

    Some examples of servers:

  • Web servers receive HTTP requests from web browsers and serve back web pages and assets.
  • API servers receive API requests and send back API responses.
  • File servers store and enable access to files.
  • Database servers provide interfaces to store and query data.
  • Are APIs Servers?

    APIs themselves are not servers. Rather, APIs sit on top of servers.

    An API server handles the API requests and responses. The server stores and executes the API logic, while the API specifies how other applications can interact with the server.

    So in summary:

  • API: Interface with specifications for building applications
  • Server: Actual software program handling requests and responses
  • API server: Server that handles API requests based on API specifications
  • While APIs define interfaces, separate API server implementations actually execute the logic and provide the underlying functionality. The API documentation explains how to interact with the API server.

    Key Takeaways

  • APIs provide standardized interfaces for applications to communicate.
  • Servers are programs handling requests and providing responses and functionality.
  • APIs must sit on top of servers to actually work - the servers execute the API logic.
  • So APIs themselves are not servers, but they expose interfaces provided by API servers for applications to leverage.

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