The Complete API for Mobile Apps Guide Any Developer Needs

  • App Development
  • 13 min read
  • July 10, 2019

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If you’ve found yourself immersed in the mobile app development world, then you’ve probably heard of an application program interface, or API. In a world where things like e-commerce and social networking are the norm in helping people stay connected and engaged, it’s essential for mobile apps to stay both convenient and relevant through the use of APIs.

So what is an API for mobile apps?

You can check any app on your mobile right now and it’s extremely likely that it uses Facebook’s API, for example, which is the most famous and widely used API by mobile app developers. Or if you’re shopping online using a mobile app, it’s likely that app provides a PayPal API to allow for easy payments.

In a nutshell, API for mobile apps allow users to easily interact with other applications and softwares which can make for a superior mobile app experience, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when developing your app. Integration is key!

api for mobile apps

iOS Rest API

A Rest API means having an API that uses HTTP requests when handling data, specifically to GET, PUT, POST, and delete. In short, this is an architectural style for creating web services and is popular because of how it builds on top of already existing systems.

Rest is the logical choice when building app APIs that will enable users to interact and connect with cloud services, and are utilized by sites such as Google, Twitter, Amazon, and plenty more goliath companies.

If you aren’t careful, making network requests can lead to major issues in an iOS app and there are many moving parts involved. Here are a few to pay attention to:

 

  • Have a good understanding of how web services work. With the wide variety of APIs out there today, know that these modern web services are often based on the REST architecture which will return data in a JSON format.

 

  • Have a good understanding of how the HTTP protocol works. Since REST APIs rely on the HTTP protocol when handling data, get familiar with how HTTP will use URLs, how it transfers data, and how it expresses remote actions.

 

  • Mapping URLs to make the needed requests. Keep in mind that every RESTful API will offer different URLs you need to call to get or modify data.

Networking API of iOS. When working with iOS, know that it has a robust networking API that will address most networking needs, but it’s important to learn how to use this.

api for mobile apps

APIs, Build or Buy?

If you want to get started integrating APIs into your mobile application, there are two routes you can take when developing: you can build it yourself or you can buy it by integrating with an already existing API.

Assimilating an API is typically the quickest and easiest route. It saves money and time since it requires less development rather than building an API from scratch. Building your own API also requires much more developer experience, since it has a whole lot of complexity behind it, whereas using an already existing app is much simpler.

With that said, building your own API comes with much more freedom and allows you to custom-build an API according to your needs while also ensuring it’s completely secure.
Websites like RapidAPI can help you discover and buy existing APIs, which helps in understanding what the options are available. Before investing time and resources in developing your own custom-built API, it makes sense to research what’s available first so you aren’t wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel. There are simply tons of APIs—both free and paid—that can seamlessly integrate into your mobile application.

Look at Uber, for example, which integrates with multiple APIs that all work together to strengthen the app’s fundamental features, such as the use of GPS data, messaging, database drivers, and plenty more capabilities. Additionally, while Uber makes use of third-party APIs for their mobile app, they also offer their own API that developers for other apps can use.

api for mobile apps

Using Common Architecture

If you decide to build your own API, the best route is to use “common architecture”, which is a general baseline for your API that most experienced developers will be familiar with and will help speed up the development process. Additionally, using common architecture will allow for easier updates and modifications.

The four different types of common architecture include: pragmatic REST, web service, event-driven, and hypermedia. The most popular choices for mobile app development would be pragmatic REST and event-driven. Web service isn’t as optimized for mobile apps and hypermedia is more used with web applications.

Document the API Process

It’s always a good idea to document the process of creating an API and keeping track of the work involved. Additionally, having clear documentation will help show the history as well as the current state of your API, and make future updates far easier so you can avoid future frustrations.

Another reason to document the API process (when building your own) is that it allows you to share your API with the world. If you want other mobile apps making use of your API, their developers are going to need to have a way to understand exactly how it works and how they can implement it.

Staying Secure

Whether you’re building your own API or utilizing a third-party API, know that security is hard work and also crucial when developing for mobile. Usability is always an important component for developers, but security is just as, if not more, important in the development process. Developers invoking a web-based API will encounter access control mechanisms, privacy controls, and secret keys—all of which are designed to keep the backend system safe.

Security is a necessity in today’s rapidly evolving tech world, especially when it comes to sensitive data or monetary exchanges. Previously, APIs had their own custom security controls which were much more difficult to navigate, but today we have standards like OAuth2, TLS, and Open ID Connect that helps simplify an already complicated process.

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Here is a quick run through on how each of these security measures work:

 

  • OAuth2: This authorization framework works by allowing apps to obtain limited access to user accounts on an HTTP service, such as Google or Facebook. User authentication here is delegated to the service hosting the user account and allowing third-party apps to access that account.

 

  • TLS: Transport Layer Security, or TLS, is an essential cryptographic security protocol that enables end-to-end communications security over networks and is used for online transactions and internet communications.

Open ID Connect: This is a simple identity layer on top of the OAuth2 protocol. It permits clients to easily verify an end user’s identity and basic profile information based on the authentication conducted by an authorization server. Clients of all types, such as mobile and web based, can request and receive information about end-users and authenticated sessions using Open ID Connect.

Conclusion

The world of APIs is a huge one that provides an opportunity for mobile app companies and developers to enhance their user experiences. Gone are the days of isolated and unconnected applications. Utilizing backend APIs or creating your own from scratch can complement and boost your mobile app’s key features and functionality, so embrace it!

Start exploring the wide variety of available APIs that can strengthen your mobile app’s functionality and key features or get started developing your own.

Comments (10)

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