What Is an API: First and Third Party APIs


04 May 2017

Third Party Apis


In computer programming, an application programming interface (API) is like a door with a security guard. To pass through, you must play by the rules.

They are incredibly valuable to any software project. In our daily lives we're exposed to so many different applications. API's help us to connect those applications by helping product X talk to product Y.

What Are Third Party APIs?

A third party API allows you to access a third parties functionality or data to use on your site or application. An easy way to think about it is that an API allows one application to talk to another.

Using a third party API, you can save a significant amount of time leveraging functionality that you don't need to rebuild.

But how do third party APIs actually fit into things? A third party is something that someone else has developed, that you are implementing. For example, there are a number of weather APIs freely available to use. With a small amount of Javascript you can pull data from the API into your application. This has the distinct advantage of not needing to constantly update the weather manually.

This is a fairly trivial example. Most large organisations with a complex software environment use third party APIs to avoid data duplication. Let's say an off the shelf work rostering system is used alongside a custom finance system. Using the work rostering systems third party API, that data can be sent to the finance system.

A first party API on the other hand is an API that has been developed internally. So, you have created the API, possibly to use between multiple custom applications. A common use case for first party APIs is for those companies adopting a microservices architecture. Rather than creating a huge application (think monolithic ERPs of the past, we won't name names), you instead create multiple smaller microservices that communicate through APIs. This would be a perfect example and use case of first party APIs.

Sometimes a business will release an API toolkit, and allow 3rd party developers to build APIs independently. Sometimes, business's will keep access to their product/service locked behind their own (1st party) APIs or have no API at all.

Twitter is one such company, as a result, there is a competitive ecosystem of tools to supercharge your business' social media.

What Do APIs Actually Do?

APIs allow internet heavyweights like Facebook, Google and Twitter to let others piggyback on services such as Google Maps. In essence, APIs expose some of a product or service's internal functions in a controlled environment. For example, businesses can use Facebook or Google's API to streamline sign-up on a site or app or Twitter's API to make sharing content quicker and easier.

APIs in Practice

APIs are an essential part of technology today and 3rd party API integration plays a pivotal role in shaping the APIs we use and the experiences we have.

Let's explore the Apple iPhone and its Location Services API, which is a 1st party API accessed by 3rd party apps.



Location Services is an API and Google Maps is a third party app developed by Google. Google is a first party developer on Android phones, but they are a third party developer on iPhone.

For Google Maps to gain access to Apple's location data, which is a sliver of the wider capabilities of iOS, it must go through the Location Services API. This API requires Google be granted explicit permission from the user, in this case me. I have granted Google Maps partial access to my data, and I trust Apple's API to ensure this is indeed the case.

Location Services is a First Party API. Once again, Twitter serves of a prime example of Third Party APIs in practice.

Twitter provides a general API and third parties can operate within that space to create specific APIs and services. The range of third party services ranges from business to consumer and engagement to analytics in focus.



Key Points

  • An application programming interface (API) is a set of requirements and regulations governing partial access to system or program (like a door with a security guard).
  • First Party APIs are APIs made by 1st parties and Third Party APIs are made by third parties.
  • Business such as Google can expose some of a product or service's internal functions in a controlled environment. For example, Google Maps. If you've seen an interactive map rendered on a website, it's more than likely that they have use the Google Maps API.

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