An exercise in clarity: API Matt 18 May 2005

82 comments Latest by GOELE

Explain what API (Application Programming Interface) is in 10 words or less.

82 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Warren 18 May 05

One half of a piece of computer velcro ;)

Josh Petersen 18 May 05

Allows separate computers and programs to communicate with each other.

Adam Michela 18 May 05

Saw this one coming…

API: The international language of machines.

Adam Michela 18 May 05

Ohh, I’ve got one ya’ll will like…

API: Signals through the noise…


Michael 18 May 05

A set of methods usable by other programs.

Ryan Thrash 18 May 05

how developers access, interact with, and extend software or data

Jeremy Sisson 18 May 05

Standard methods for interacting with lower level functionality.

Emily 18 May 05

Poor assignment. Ten words is too short for a anything more than a catchy, meaningless sentence. I think that in order to be useful, the definition should allow a first-time hearer to use it again on their own without being completely off-target. Given the complexity of this concept (and, I’m assuming, our imaginary audience’s unfamiliarity with it) I don’t believe that can happen in ten words.

Colin Ramsay 18 May 05

An API lets my code get at your data.

James Byers 18 May 05

A system that lets one computer program interact with another

Josh Wand 18 May 05

A set of sockets for other programs to plug in to.

Darren James Harkness 18 May 05


A reference for how your program can work with mine.

(look at that… exactly 10 including articles/prepositions)

Andy Gadiel 18 May 05

A way two computer systems can talk to eachother (eg. XML)

Arjen 18 May 05


Art Wells 18 May 05

A dictionary of commands and responses one program offers others.

John 18 May 05

A dictionary for programmers to understand a particular dialect of software code and it’s definitions.

kts 18 May 05

A means to access the functionality of an application.

Megl 18 May 05

Hehe - I like Warrens explanation.

Or to celebrate an event around midnight tonight:

“An API is a protocol droid for computer programs”

Andrerib 18 May 05

I think that an API is a point of interconnection between two applications.

Using a language (API language) you’re able to access information and methods without needing to know the internals of the application.

An API allows you to change interacting applications without ever needing to change the way they interact.

JohnO 18 May 05

nothing new.. but my favs so far:

“A means to access the functionality of an application.” - kts

�An API is a protocol droid for computer programs� - Megl

“how developers access, interact with, and extend software or data” - Ryan Thrash

Paul Roub 18 May 05

Want to use my application from yours? Here’s how.

Daniel Lakier 18 May 05

An API (Application Programming Interface) is an externally accessible set of functions that can be called by third party tools or applications to access the functionality of an application.

When Salling Clicker is controlling the track in ITunes via AppleScript, it is using the APIs that ITunes exposes to Apple Script.

When an Amazon affiliate makes use of an Amazon Web Service to list books that match a certain criteria, it is using Amazon’s API.

You can think of it as a toolbox of functions that an application might expose to other applications.

I know, I used too many words, but maybe this helped.

svante 18 May 05

A specification on how software can communicate.

Jim 18 May 05

“Programmers are users too. An API is their user interface.”

Tim Case 18 May 05

Like a ‘Felix the Cat’ bag of tricks for software.

Tomas 18 May 05

This is what I’ve got, Use it if you want. (10 Words, Yay)

Brad 18 May 05

A protocol for program to program communication.

Tim Uruski 18 May 05

How my program talks to your program.

Joel Goldstick 18 May 05

API: Application Program Interface

Chad Alderson 18 May 05

Keys to a data jail-house

Blake Scarbrough 18 May 05

This is the first one I don’t know how to explain that you guys have done.

Andrew 18 May 05

A user interface where the user is another computer/program.

Jim Lindley 18 May 05

Doorways between sites: mix information up, move it around.


Superglue your cat to your dog. Meowoof. Except useful.


Make websites play well with others.

Michal Migurski 18 May 05

Jim - “_programs_ are users too. An API is their interface.”

Anonymous Coward 18 May 05

“An API lets my code get at your data.”

“This is what I�ve got, Use it if you want.”

both excellent. my version:

Makes your app a server, and other apps its clients.

mh 18 May 05

Software Rosetta Stone

David 18 May 05

Save me from too much hacking

Darrel 18 May 05

An open invitation to share one’s stuff.

Chris Woods 18 May 05

A program’s interface for software rather than people.

For when a program’s users are other programs.

Rob H 18 May 05

It where the magic happens!

Anonymous 18 May 05

API: A way to get others to do your work.

(Referring to this bleg, of course. ;-)

Anonymous Coward 18 May 05

computer intercourse

Anonymous Coward 18 May 05

data pimp

Amber H 18 May 05

Developer’s guide for using one web site’s functionality on another.

Sean Johnson 18 May 05

Use other’s programs to make me look smart.

Patrick Hall 18 May 05

Instructions one program uses to tell another what to do.

the haze 18 May 05

A list of commands for the man behind the curtain.

Lanny Heidbreder 18 May 05

Your API lets me make “expansion packs” for your software.

jes5199 18 May 05

another useless buzzword

Sam 18 May 05

Hehe jes5199, not sure if you’re referring to API as the useless buzzword…but um…it’s not going anywhere. APIs have been around since pretty much the beginning.

According to the almighty wikipedia, the OED notes IBM using the term as early as the 60s.

Darrel 18 May 05

I think a few folks are confusing ‘API’ and ‘Well Documented API’ ;o)

kmilden 18 May 05

Get your thingy to talk to my thingy.

Ju 18 May 05

API: Interface for programming applications?

(seriously, what’s wrong with “application programming interface” ?)

Erik 18 May 05

“Here’s how to tell my program what to do.”

mm 18 May 05

Published methods for programmatic (not user) access to an application.

Anil 18 May 05

What’s the license on the copy that I submit as a comment on your blog? Should I back-bill you if you use my submission? :)

CodeNinja 18 May 05

API = Absolutely Pointless Interface

Think about it. By standing as the middleware, it allows one program to interact with another without a physical point of contact… Assuming its written properly.

I think it works well.

Tobin Harris 18 May 05

Excersise in clarity: Explain who the intended audience is when inviting us to submit explanations ;-) Hopefully we can then try an put it into 10 words that might make sense to that audience.


Explanation for layman customer
“Allows our system to talk to another system such as Sage”

Explanation for CS student
“Functions to interact with given system from your own code”

Hehe, it *is* hard though! I liked this one by Darrel:

“An open invitation to share one�s stuff.”

That’s close to the mark from a business sense I think.

:)ensen 18 May 05

To quote a Wachowski: Programs hacking programs. - Neo (in Matrix).

Nicholas 18 May 05

Insert “Tab A” into “Slot B”

Joshua R. Poulson 18 May 05

Released specification allowing separate programs to use certain software capabilities.

Peter 18 May 05

It’s how computers make love.

copongcopong 18 May 05

a program from my program for your program

Fernando 18 May 05

Software layer intended to be invoked from another layer.
9 ;-)

Josh 19 May 05

If software’s like a building, APIs are doors for developers.

Anonymous Coward 19 May 05

A:nother P:rogrammer’s I:dea to remind you that you’re not a programmer.

Olly 19 May 05

An outer-hebridean monkey called Jeff, from somewhere near Mars.

Alex Aguilar 19 May 05

a black box of functionality

Max 19 May 05

It’s the door between the kitchen and the dinning room.

Dean 19 May 05

Programmer A says to programmer B: “This is how to use my stuff”.

Todd Nussbaum 19 May 05

API: “The levers and dials on the black box”

Rob Meyer 19 May 05

API: An instruction manual for using code you didn’t write.

Daniel O'Connor 20 May 05

API: Instructions to make Juice from Apples & Oranges.

Patrick Morrison 20 May 05

The rules by which programs talk to another program.

Jack Shedd 22 May 05

A list of questions and commands you can ask or tell my application.

Eric Sohn 22 May 05

API: “Functions” in geek’s clothing

Ramil Sagum 23 May 05

extra layer of indirection to allow for changing customer requirements.

Adam Burmister 25 May 05

A Program’s Puppet-Strings

Art Vandelay 26 May 05

The thing to blame when your application crashes

Jay Dean 27 May 05

How my code touches your code.

spuddybuddy 04 Jun 05

A protocol that manages interaction between programs. (Seven words - natch.)