Go From API Zero to Superhero with this Free Course from Zapier

Brian Cooksey
Brian Cooksey / April 23, 2014

Whether you know it or not, you live in a world of APIs. When you swipe your card at a restaurant, when your smartphone syncs with your desktop, or when you click one of the little icons to “like”, “pin”, or “+1” something, APIs are in the background, powering the magic. As the prevalence of APIs grows, so does the need for people to understand a little bit about how they work.

Given that APIs are core to what we do at Zapier, we thought we could help further the community's knowledge by putting together a short introductory course. I love the way my co-worker, Micah Bennett, describes the project:

It's a natural extension. Zapier is about making APIs more accessible in all facets. The product makes using them easier, the Developer Platform makes building with them simpler, and the API course makes understanding them possible without a CS degree.

With this goal in mind, over the past two months I've boiled down our wealth of API expertise into a format that can be understood and enjoyed by individuals familiar and unfamiliar with APIs. Each chapter is around 1,000 words and includes explanatory graphics (courtesy Zapier designer Bryan Landers) plus a homework assignment at the end.

Kind Words About the Course

Since releasing the first chapter in early February, a number of folks have tweeted kind words about the course. Here's a selection of those tweets:

Peter Gasston, author of The Modern Web and The Book of CSS3

Jonathon Colman, content strategist at Facebook

John Pavley, senior vice president of engineering at Viacom

Cori Drew, software consultant at Improving Enterprises

Robin Wauters, founding editor of Tech.eu, former European editor at The Next Web and senior reporter at TechCrunch

The Course

Thomas Edison

Go directly to the chapter of your choice (we recommend starting with the Introduction) or scroll down to browse the course's content.

  1. Introduction
  2. Protocols
  3. Data Formats
  4. Authentication, Part 1
  5. Authentication, Part 2
  6. API Design
  7. Real-Time Communication
  8. Implementation

Chapter 1: Introduction

The phonograph

The course's introduction lays the groundwork for the next seven chapters, providing a brief overview of what an API is and how it is used. It also defines "server" and "client," the two parties that use an API to communicate.

Read Chapter 1

Chapter 2: Protocols

The early telephone

Learn how computers talk to each other by exploring the basics of HTTP. You'll find out about the Request-Response Cycle and the various components that make up each.

Read Chapter 2

Chapter 3: Data Formats

Chapter 3 looks at the ways data is formatted to make it easy for computers to read. We extend this concept to APIs by showing how an API can speak multiple formats to make it easy to get data that is useful to you.

Read Chapter 3

Chapter 4: Authentication, Part 1

vintage drawing of metalworks

We cover security, talking about ways your data is kept safe so only you can access it. The two specific examples we look at are Basic Authentication and API Keys.

Read Chapter 4

Chapter 5: Authentication, Part 2

vintage drawing of a child going to school

Chapter 5 continues the security discussion from the previous chapter, focusing on the popular OAuth 2 scheme. We walk through the steps of the OAuth flow, giving a high level understanding of how it works.

Read Chapter 5

Chapter 6: API Design

vintage drawing of glassblowing

Find out what it is like to be an API designer. We work through the design process for an imaginary pizza parlor, showing different ways a company can organize its data.

Read Chapter 6

Chapter 7: Real-Time Communication

vintage drawing of children at school

Chapter 7 examines ways that APIs enable real-time communication between systems. We look at four techniques and describe the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Read Chapter 7

Chapter 8: Implementation

vintage drawing of courtroom

The course wraps up with a discussion about how APIs go from design to working software. You'll learn different ways to make use of APIs with and without coding skills.

Read Chapter 8 or Go to the Table of Contents

Credits: Clipart images from FCIT. Hat tip to Chris DiLorenzo for the zero to hero headline.

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Lawrence Watkins, co-founder of Great Black Speakers

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