What is this « API » thing?

If you’re writing a program, say, a word processor, and you want to display a menu, or write a file, you have to ask the operating system to do it for you, using a very specific set of function calls which are different on every operating system. These function calls are called the API: it’s the interface that an operating system, like Windows, provides to application developers, like the programmers building word processors and spreadsheets and whatnot. It’s a set of thousands and thousands of detailed and fussy functions and subroutines that programmers can use, which cause the operating system to do interesting things like display a menu, read and write files, and more esoteric things like find out how to spell out a given date in Serbian, or extremely complex things like display a web page in a window. If your program uses the API calls for Windows, it’s not going to work on Linux, which has different API calls. Sometimes they do approximately the same thing. That’s one important reason Windows software doesn’t run on Linux. If you wanted to get a Windows program to run under Linux, you’d have to reimplement the entire Windows API, which consists of thousands of complicated functions: this is almost as much work as implementing Windows itself, something which took Microsoft thousands of person-years. And if you make one tiny mistake or leave out one function that an application needs, that application will crash.

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