What is API? I get asked this question a lot.  I’m here to help you by defining what API is and how you can find an application’s API Key to automate your workflow.

What is API?

When you meet someone for the first time, there are certain social rules to follow when you are exchanging pleasantries.  If a person is standing with his arms across his chest like a bouncer, it’s probably safe to say he’s not interested in small talk and you should avoid any unnecessary chatter.  On the other hand, if someone comes up to you with a big grin and gives you a huge hug, you know that person is ready and willing to talk to you and most likely lives in the south.  An API is similar to this.

API stands for Application Program Interface.   It’s a really fancy term for the way one application gives permission for other applications to talk to it.  Some APIs have a hug and a huge grin for every application that connects to it.  Others give the vibe to only get what you need and then get out of there as quickly as possible.  The bottom line is every application has its own set of rules and every connecting application has to abide by these rules.  Some applications don’t have an API at all because the developers have chosen not to open it up to connections either because of the programming overhead, budget constraints or for security reasons.

What is an API Key?

Now that you know what an API is, let’s talk about API Keys.  Following our bouncer theme (you’d think I had a penchant for night clubs), if you show up at a night club that is by invite only and try to get in without the very secret passcode (at least, I’ve been told this is how it works), the bouncer will say (in a Mr. T voice) “there’s no way you’re getting in here, now back away from the door”.   But if you have that very secret passcode, the bouncer will step aside and open the door for you to go in.   The same goes for an API Key.  If an application shows up to greet another application without an API key, that application will say “hold on, verify you’re supposed to be here” and if that application can’t, then it gets kicked to the curb.  Each application that has an API will give you some way of finding your API Key so you can give it to other applications.  It’s finding the API Keys that can be troublesome.

Is an API Key Secure?

API Keys are an extremely long, seemingly random series of letters and numbers.  If anyone were to get their hands on your API Key, they could gain access to some valuable information.  Therefore, it’s important that if you do screenshots or videos or the like, that you CUT OUT the API Key from the screenshot or video instead of just blur it.  There’s a chance that blurred out API Keys can be cleaned up to reveal the key to others, but if you cut it out, there’s nothing left to clean up and is much safer.  There’s a lot of different opinions on whether API Keys are actually a secure means of authenticating applications to start the flow of information, but for now, most applications give an API Key and they are very handy for connecting applications together to automate your workflow, so my recommendation is to use them whenever possible.

How do I find an API Key?

Each application will have a different way to find your API Key.  Remember, if you are trying to connect one application to another, the one that wants to make the connection will request the API Key for the application you want to connect to.  Wow, that was confusing.  Let’s say that Zapier wants to connect to Insightly so that you can create a task automatically from email.

Interested in doing just that?
Watch this video tutorial on How to Automate Email to Insightly Tasks Easily Using Zapier

Zapier will then ask for the API Key for Insightly which means you need to go to Insightly to get the API Key, copy it and then paste it into Zapier.  It’s usually that simple.  I’ve compiled a list of some top applications that provide API Keys and where to go to find the API Key.

Did I miss an API Key?  Write a comment below and I’ll update this list.

I hope you have a better understanding of what API is and how API Keys are used.  Now go out and automate your workflow so you can be more productive!

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