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Web Design Fundamentals is a survey of Web design and development techniques and technologies, fundamental concepts, terms, and best practices involved in professional web design. Instructor James Williamson examines popular web development tools, server-side software solutions, content management solutions, and cloud-based software, providing a high-level overview of the world of Web publishing.
An API or Application Programming Interface is an exposed set of functions that one application makes available to other applications, so that part of its functionality can be accessed by other services, without having to give direct access to it's source code. Now what does that really mean? And more importantly, what does it mean to web designers? Well, the best way to explain it is through using an example. Let's say that you're building a site for a client that focuses on rare books. Wouldn't it be great if you could leverage the power of huge sites, like Amazon and eBay, to find rare first editions and offer those for sale on your site.
Well, using Amazon and eBay's API, you can. The concept of open APIs, which are APIs exposed for other people to use, has dramatically changed the way that the web works. Websites can now leverage the power of larger online applications to offer services and functionality that would be far beyond their normal capabilities. Developers can also combine services from multiple APIs that can create what are called Mashups. Those leverage the power of multiple sites into a single application. This allows the web to grow in multiple and very organic ways.
Larger sites like Amazon and Google are happy to let others use their services, since it expands their brand and their audience. Smaller sites like taking advantage of APIs to create more powerful services and user experiences for their audience. As a designer, chances are, you won't be doing much with APIs yourself. Each API is slightly different and usually an experienced developer is required to integrate those services into your site. However, by understanding the power of those application interfaces and thinking creatively about how to use them, you can design sites that offer compelling content and powerful features.
There are a few things to consider when planning on using other site's services on your own site. Many APIs limit the type of data that they expose or the services that they allow. Knowing that you can tie into Facebook via their API is one thing, but don't assume that you'll have access to all of Facebooks features and information. Take time to research exactly what a site's API will allow you to integrate into your own site. Also keep in mind that APIs change over time. Engaging a developer to build an API sourced application on your site can be an expensive undertaking. If the API has changed, your code could no longer work, leading to disabled services and another round of coding.
And one final thing, all those sites like Amazon and eBay are extremely reliable. Sites do go down occasionally or even shut down altogether. Before using an API from a smaller or lesser-known site, make sure they are stable and have a good track record for up time. You don't want to create a compelling app that never works. If you're just starting out, I wouldn't recommend tackling integrating other site services into your site right away. However, it is important to realize that there are powerful resources available to you, through the use of another site's API.
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