What is the difference between API and backend?

May 7, 2024 ยท 2 min read

Many people use terms like "API" and "backend" interchangeably. While related, they refer to distinct concepts. Understanding the differences can clarify your mental model of how modern applications work.

What is an API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a set of definitions and protocols for building and integrating application software.

For example, a weather API like OpenWeather provides a standardized way for applications to access weather data. Instead of each app building its own weather service, they can simply integrate the OpenWeather API.

So in essence, APIs allow different applications to communicate with each other by providing a common interface.

What is a Backend?

The backend refers to the server-side of an application. It's the part that handles most of the logic and data storage.

For example, a weather app's backend would likely include a database to store weather data and servers with application code to handle requests from the front-end.

So while the API provides the interface, the backend does most of the heavy lifting - data storage, business logic, authentication, etc.

Relationship Between APIs and Backends

Now that we understand them separately, how are APIs and backends related?

The backend provides and consumes APIs. For example:

  • The weather app backend would likely consume the OpenWeather API to get weather data.
  • The backend would also expose its own API that the front-end uses to access backend functionality.
  • So in essence:

  • Backends consume APIs to integrate with external services and data sources
  • Backends provide APIs that enable front-ends to communicate with them
  • The backend creates the services and data while exposing APIs for front-ends to access those capabilities securely and easily.

    Key Takeaways

  • APIs enable applications to communicate by exposing data and functionality through a common interface
  • Backends provide the core logic and data storage for applications
  • Backends both consume external APIs and provide internal APIs for front-ends
  • So next time you hear API and backend, remember they refer to distinct but complementary concepts!

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