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What are APIs? Why are APIs important?

A no-code explanation of APIs, why they matter and what to do should you need to use one.

API stands for Application Programming Interface.

Essentially an API is a layer of software that allows other pieces of software to communicate and interact with each other, using a common set of standards and protocols.

Using an API, applications can send and request information, update and authenticate, without the need for them to be written in the same coding language.

Think of it like talking to a waiter at a restaurant. He hands you the menu, you select the item(s) you want, specify any dietary requirements or preferences, and he makes a note of your request and sends it to the kitchen for the chef to prepare. You do not need to talk directly to the chef, nor do you need to list the ingredients or tell the chef how to prepare them. Likewise he will calculate the cost of each item and prepare the bill for you, then handle the payment.

If the kitchen is able to meet your request, the waiter will then bring you a meal. If the kitchen cannot, then the waiter will return with an apology.
If the API can fulfil a request, it will return the information asked for. If the API cannot, it will return an error code – ideally one that describes the issue.

In the truest sense, an API is any interface that lets software interact with other software, however most modern APIs conform to certain standards, leading to wide interoperability.

Note that this article mainly considers web APIs – that is, APIs that are open (exposed) to the internet, are accessible via a web browser, and use HTTP as their common language.

Key terms

Term Definition
API Application Programming Interface
API Key A string of characters used to authenticate a request made to an API
HTTP HyperText Transfer Protocol
Request A message to an API that conveys an instruction
Web API An API that is exposed to the internet

Function with respect to Intelastel

You may wish to import and export data to and from third party applications, or make use of their features. The easiest way to achieve this is to use an API.

Use of APIs sits towards the low-code end of the no-code/low-code spectrum. You will not need to write any code to use an API with your Intelastel application, but having an understanding of their purpose and functionality will be useful for any web-based application development, especially given how common APIs are.

A good example is our integration partner, Integromat – whilst you will mainly use their preconfigured modules to integrate with other applications, you have the option to add and use HTTP modules, which will allow you to use almost any web API (with the correct permissions).

You will need to configure these HTTP API request modules using the documentation provided with the API you wish to use.

Worked example

      1. Find and sign up to the API you wish to use – for this example we’ll use the Open Weather Map API at – you’ll need to register and then copy the unique API key that will be emailed to you.
      2. In your Intelastel application, click on the user menu icon in the bottom left corner.
      3. Click on APIs and Integrations to go to our integration partner, Integromat.
      4. Create a new Scenario in Integromat.
      5. Add a new module and search for HTTP.
      6. Select the Make A API Key Auth Request module.
      7. Add a new connection using your API key and tell Integromat where to put the key – this will be as specified by the API provider. Do not change any of the other parameters unless the API documentation instructs you to do so.
      8. Add the URL of the API service you wish to use – again, these will be provided by the API documentation, you will need to edit the URL according to the parameters described in the API documentation.
      9. Select the HTTP Request method. Again, this will likely be specified by the API documentation, but below is a brief overview of some common request types:
    Request Function
    GET Retrieves information according to the parameters specified in the request
    POST Tells the API to process the information sent in the request
    PUT Tells the API to copy or update information in line with the request parameters
    DELETE Tells the API to delete data according to the parameters specified in the request
    Note that the above four request methods correspond to the Eventflow modules in your Intelastel application; namely SELECT, CREATE, UPDATE and DELETE.

    There are several other request methods in common use but these are beyond the scope of this article.

      1. Run the module once to test it. You should see bundles of data as illustrated below, or a descriptive error message if there is an issue with the configuration.

    1. Add an Intelastel module such as a Create Entity Value and connect it to the scenario. You will need to add the connection to your Intelastel application.
    2. Run the scenario once.
    3. You will now be able to add the headers from the HTTP Request module to your Intelastel Create Entity Value module configuration. Note that you must run the scenario at least once for Integromat to be able to correctly identify and handle the data from the API module.
    4. Add a trigger or schedule the scenario to run.
    5. You can now use the data in your Intelastel application!
    6. See our Advanced API Guide for a more in-depth look at their use:
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