Understanding Email APIs

What is an email API?

An email API (application programming interface) gives applications access to the functionality available in an email platform, such as generating and sending transactional emails, manipulating templates, and enabling access to email metrics.

While many applications use basic SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol) support for sending email, developers can also leverage an email platform’s APIs to gain programmatic access to basic email sending, and also unlock additional capabilities not offered by legacy protocols.

How do you use an email API?

SMTP, the standard protocol used to send email, is a traditional case of “easy to learn, hard to master.” While it’s straightforward to send simple messages one at a time, it is more complicated to assemble and manage rich content, and sending at volume requires knowing how to properly scale your messaging infrastructure and follow all the best practices imposed by the various ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to ensure your message doesn’t end up in the spam folder. It’s easier to let someone else handle the sending and rely on an API to perform necessary email functions.

When used with cloud email delivery, an email API makes it easy to send email, particularly transactional messages, from your app or website—without needing to manage servers and their operational requirements. Instead, your app relies on the email API to manage things such as message assembly, message sending, and reporting.

An email API also enables you to easily access many kinds of metrics, such as how many messages delivered, how many messages were rejected by the ISP (and why), and how many recipients opened a message and clicked on its links. Typically, a cloud email platform will offer a dashboard you can use to easily view this data.

What features should an email API include?

If you want to use an email platform’s API, you should be able to create an account, configure a domain, and start integrating email with your app or website within minutes. That ease of use should also extend to the following areas:

  • Robustness: It should be sturdy, with API versioning to prevent you from having to constantly update your client code.
  • Graceful error handling: When errors occur, it should be clear what happened and the accompanying documentation (or support staff) should explain the solution without you needing to look elsewhere for help.
  • Good architectural and code design: A good API should make sense, laying out endpoints that align with how you expect to interact with the email platform. You should not have to change how you work to match how the API expects you to work.
  • Support for many programming languages: A good email API should work with your preferred programming language, whether it’s Node.js, PHP, Python, Java, Go, or one of many others.
  • Solid community and developer support: You shouldn’t feel alone if you have questions. The email delivery service you choose should have not only its own support staff for its API, but also a strong developer community that’s willing to share their combined knowledge.

Should you use an email API?

If you’re already sending email via SMTP and feel comfortable continuing to do so, ensure that the email delivery platform you choose makes it easy to configure for SMTP relay. The service should ideally allow for extended capabilities by exposing those through headers, and make an API and GUI available for reporting.

If you’re not already using SMTP,  or are looking to get more from your platform, an email API allows you to access a wide variety of functionality.

A platform with a well-designed API should allow you to quickly get up and running, helping you focus on what’s important to your business while your email delivery provider takes care of the rest.

Learn more about email APIs

We’ve put together some resources from SparkPost’s email experts and others on the web:

Get help with SparkPost’s email API

The SparkPost Support Center is a good place to start learning about SparkPost in general and its email API in particular.

  • SparkPost API: Learn the technical details about SparkPost’s email API. There’s also a section that explains SparkPost’s SMTP API.
  • Introducing SparkPost Labs: Discover why we created SparkPost Labs, a new program that helps our engineers more easily share new and experimental API and App functionality, as well as other tools that will be useful to our developer community.

More Essential Email Resources

Develop your email industry expertise and master best practices with SparkPost’s email resources.

Email Best Practices 101

This email boot camp will help you to increase the ROI of your email operations with 15 proven tactics for boosting email deliverability.

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The Big Rewards of Email Deliverability

Learn how third-party data shows the deliverability difference between SparkPost and also-ran cloud service providers yields hard, bottom-line benefits.

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Inside the Email Deliverability Lab

This practical course is a great way to get started understanding email deliverability and how to measure email performance.

read more