GUIs and APIs Are Both Human Interfaces

GUIs and APIs are both human interfaces. They both frame perspectives on data/operation service offerings so that human beings can navigate and consume them. The human being in the case of APIs is the application programmer, a subset of users. GUIs are applications, so it is natural to expect an API’s capabilities to be a superset of a corresponding GUI’s — application programmers program the GUI using the API.

Your resource service interface is not necessarily understandable – discoverable, crawl-able – by machines. APIs are generally not machine-actionable interfaces.

Nor is it necessarily wise that a given API be made machine-actionable. This would result in a two-audience problem. With two different target audiences, humans and machines, how could an API serve both well?

I used to think that GUIs were for humans and APIs were for machines. I now have a SICP-esque perspective on APIs: they “must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute."1


  1. H. Abelson, G. J. Sussman, and J. Sussman, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, 2nd ed. MIT Press, 2002. ↩︎