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An application programming interface (API) is a source code based specification intended to be used as an interface by software components to communicate with each other. An API may include specifications for routines, data structures, object classes, and variables.

An API specification can take many forms, including an International Standard such as POSIX or vendor documentation such as the Microsoft Windows API, or the libraries of a programming language, e.g. Standard Template Library in C++ or Java API.

An API differs from an ABI (Application Binary Interface) in that the former is source code based while the latter is a binary interface. For instance POSIX is an API, while the Linux Standard Base is an ABI.

Source: Wikipedia (Application Programming Interface)

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