What is an API and how can it help my business?

APIThe proliferation of applications and software services for business provide IT professionals with an unprecedented number of choices for increasing productivity in their businesses. There’s a huge volume of options, and many of them provide functionality that is more effective and easier to use than what we have seen previously in enterprise software.

However, the question of making individual services work with each other or with a company’s existing systems is a challenging one. If you have explored the options for integrating and automating systems, you have probably heard of an API. API stands for Application Programming Interface. In general terms, it’s source code based and used to enable automated interaction with an external system.

If you are not familiar with the concept, don’t be intimidated. An API specifies a set of functions or routines that accomplish a specific task or are allowed to interact with a specific software component. Typically, it does nothing more than what you can do manually with the user interface of a system.

REST API

The ProntoForms API is a REST (Representational State Transfer) API. Much has been written on the gory details of why REST is a preferred API style. The most important point is that it is the very simple to work with, even for novice programmers. It uses ubiquitous networking technologies (HTTPS) and data formats (XML, JSON), and has excellent support across the major programming and scripting languages.

Finding a programmer who has experience with a REST API typically is not difficult.

Many of the REST API functions can be executed by simply loading a URL over HTTPS. Where XML or JSON messages are required for an API function, sample messages have been provided.

Additionally, samples of the XML or JSON response body messages from the server can be found in each section. In most cases, REST API samples using the CURL command line utility are provided.

From a May 2012 post by ProntoForms VP of R&D Glenn Chenier:

The ProntoForms REST API opens a world of integration options to our customers. REST Web services have become ubiquitous — the underlying technologies are widely supported across programming languages, and the number of skilled programmers experienced with REST grows daily.

For front-end integration (getting your company’s data into the ProntoForms mobile App), our initial API offering has a few options. One option, dispatching a pre-filled form to a specific mobile user, is a simple matter using the API. This opens the possibility of programmatically extracting data from your business systems, forming dispatch messages in XML or JSON format, and using the API as a means to get the data into the hands of your mobile users.

Another option for front-end integration is the use of the API to update your ProntoForms Data Sources (also known as “Lookups”). Data sources are typically used to populate pick lists (and filtering pick lists) on ProntoForms. Until this release, updating data sources could be done only via a manual action in the ProntoForms Web Portal. With the API, automation of data source updates with data extracted from your business systems is a real possibility.

Another first made possible by the API is the automated extraction of data records (completed ProntoForms) in CSV format. Extracting ProntoForms data in CSV format has always been an option, but required a visit to the Web portal. Scripting CSV export generation and retrieval is now possible through the API.

API methods are also available for managing users and retrieving data.

For more on how the ProntoForms API can help your business, visit the this support article.

Glenn Chenier, VP of R&D for ProntoForms, was a contributor to this article.

Got an opinion or a suggestion? Email blog@prontoforms.com.

Mats LindebergMats Lindeberg
As ProntoForms’ Communications Manager, Mats leads a team of talented writers who provide written content for web, marketing collateral, social media, and PR. When he’s not moving commas around, he’s coaching Little League baseball and playing keys in a cover band. Mats has a degree in Journalism from Stockholm University.
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