Are APIs the Best Way to Share Files?

APIs are the manner in which most computers talk to each other—they are how computers have been programmed to "speak" amongst themselves, and have proven to be a very efficient way to get things done. APIs also provide an easy method for companies to rely on in order to share files—large and small—back and forth between people. But is that the only option out there for businesses to utilize? It may not be, so when considering what software will work best for your company's needs, you might want to widen your net beyond APIs and consider some other ideas. In this article, we'll discuss:

  • APIs and what they're good for
  • Are there other options for file sharing?
  • How do you determine what's the best option for you?

APIs and What They're Good For

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are used to bring data out from behind web interfaces—meaning they accept requests for data and then retrieve it. When companies started to shift their data management to third parties—and especially when they needed to retrieve it—it became stuck behind one of these hard to use software management tools. This became even more opaque for users when data was switched to cloud-based storage sites. APIs in theory are supposed to help people get the data they need easily, but sometimes come with their own problems.

APIs are a great way to access data and file share, but they might not meet all of your company's needs.

APIs are a great way to access data and file share, but they might not meet all of your company's needs.

Generally speaking, APIs were the rules that software programmers had to follow in order to interact with a programming language or software. This term has expanded in the past couple of years to also broadly define web-based software that retrieves data. There is a request/response cycle where a user requests certain information, and then receives the response in a raw format. Most APIs work in the JSON and XML data formats when they bring back the raw data.

APIs have helped companies expand the reach of their businesses—some even offer their raw data for people to view without requiring an account login in hopes of attracting new business or increased customer interaction. But most companies continue to use APIs as a part of a business data management package. Companies can set up and manage their own APIs to store data in the cloud or utilize a service, such as Dropbox, that enables cloud storage and makes content collaboration and sharing easy.

Are There Other Options for File Sharing?

APIs are some of the best ways to get access to data and to share that data and other files amongst users. But depending on what your company does—and what it needs its data for—there are other options instead of APIs.

APIs are very useful, but are they only option available?

APIs are very useful, but are they only option available?

Dropbox

File sharing is essential to getting business done, and one alternative that companies use to do this is with Dropbox. It is a useful tool to upload and share files—large and small alike—with any computer, phone, or tablet. The user interface is very user friendly, which is why a lot of organizations choose to use it for file sharing between employees—as well as outside business contacts. It not only allows people to share files, but it also stores files in the cloud—allowing continued access to it.

Dropbox does not require that users have an account to utilize their file sharing services—you can send a file to anyone and they have immediate access to it. Seamless file sharing such as this makes Dropbox a useful alternative to APIs.

Web Scraping

This API alternative claims to be more inclusive and customizable then traditional APIs. Unlike APIs that are governed by a set of rules, including data limits and contracts, web scraping does not have a specific set of rules it follows. Web scraping can be used organically to gather data and information from new websites as well—it is not limited to just the data allowed by the API.

This might be a good idea if you have a group of very technical people who understand the ins and outs of software engineering. It can be changed daily to run different "scrapes," but this means a change to the code. This might not be an ideal solution if your company has its data accessed by all kinds of people, including non-technical departments such as human resources or marketing and business development.

Flat File

This is file storage which stores data in a plain text file. There are lines of data that hold one record per line, and are demarcated by commas or tabs. This is a sometimes cumbersome way to store files—as well as retrieve them—but in certain situations it might prove easier than using an API.

If your company is dealing with data that is not updated frequently—and there is a large amount of that data —it might make more sense to share and manage your files using the flat file system. If the data is updated yearly, or even quarterly, this might make sense as well. There are not a lot of requests being made for access to the data, so a single flat file transfer might be a good option.

An API might not be the best option if your data requires that you string together related entities that would all require separate API requests. A flat file transfer is able to produce the whole data set at once, without specific requests for each relatable entity.

How Do You Determine the Best Option?

Now that you've had a look at APIs and some of their alternatives, you need to decide which option would be best for you based on your company's needs. Remember, APIs allow computers to seamlessly share specific data, but they are governed by a set of rules for data retrieval. This ensures that only the request for the specific data is met, sometimes requiring multiple requests—which can delay results.

You'll need to analyze your options to determine the best way to meet your data management and file sharing needs.

You'll need to analyze your options to determine the best way to meet your data management and file sharing needs.

If your business requires an all-in-one-place system to send videos, presentations, documents, and spreadsheets—you might want to consider using Dropbox for file sharing. This is especially helpful if your files are sent to contacts outside of your company—or multiple people need access to them.

You can still use flat files for file sharing as well—especially if there is a lot of requests to be made. There is no sense in sending off 20 requests for something in particular that could have been shared more easily with a flat file.

Web scraping might be a better option if your company is full of tech savvy people who want all the freedom that comes with customizing every part of their data scrape. If they need access to information that changes frequently, this is another good option because the code can be easily updated and adapted to whatever the new set of parameters is for the data scrape.

Based on this review of the different options available for companies to manage their requests for data and file shares, you should have a better understanding of which one might work for your company. Lots of organizations try to do a hybrid approach—one that combines multiple options before they find their best fit. It might take a couple of tries, but you'll eventually be able to get your data request and file sharing needs met as well. What is the preferred method to share files and access data? Let us know in the comments.

This is a sponsored post for Dropbox. All opinions are my own. Dropbox is not affiliated with nor endorses any other products or services mentioned.

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