What is an API Key?

When connecting to an API (or application programming interface), you need to speak the same language. APIs allow different applications to talk to each other and share technology, but to gain access to an application's resources, you'll probably need an API key. Below, we've outlined how API keys help to keep information available and secure, so that it doesn't get into the wrong people's hands.  

What is an API key? 

Essentially, an API key is a special password that allows one app to access another app's data. For example, you may want to embed videos into your language learning app, so you can use a YouTube API to retrieve certain videos for your own project. Instead of calling YouTube on the phone and asking for permission, their API will give you pre-defined access to their video archive, and set parameters for what you can do with those videos.   

That's where an API key comes in. To access a YouTube API, you'll need a code that identifies your own application, so that YouTube knows exactly who is using their API, and can track those developers down if they break the rules. Generally, each API key is unique to its user, and it may allow for a different level of access than other API keys.      

What if I don't use an API key?

Some APIs don't employ a key system, and those will tend to use a dedicated username and password instead. This approach is less secure than API keys, because companies may re-use a password for other sites and services, which makes them more vulnerable to hackers. Typically, API keys are randomly generated, with an extremely long set of characters, so they're much harder to crack. 

Finally, if you're using a username and password instead of a unique API key, you'll also run into trouble whenever you need to reset the password. Any connected software that relies on your username/password combo will not be able to access the API, until you update it with your new user information. For businesses that rely on app stability and e-commerce, even a minute of downtime can be a costly side-effect. Luckily, API keys eliminate that prospect.      

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