What is an API / Application Programming Interface?

In the simplest terms that I can understand:
Companies like Google and Amazon have valuable data. You would like to use their data on your web site. Those companies provide a set of tools that allows you to connect to their databases. You retrieve the data using specific programming methods, process that data into useful information, and repackage the data into something your visitors want to see.

The method of connection provided by a company to their database and services is the Application Programming Interface (API).
Typically, you (the data requester), are required to sign up at the company's website and agree to certain rules of usage. In return, they provide you wit a "key" -- a unique identifier that let's them know that you are who you say you are and you are using their data at a website that they can monitor.

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