APIs with R

We’ve already used a lot of packages using an API such as googleAnalyticsR and RSiteCatalyst. There are hundreds of other packages that offer connections to various APIs, a curated overview available in the CRAN WebTechnologies Task View

If you want data that you know is available via an API, its worth checking there or Googling around to find if a package has already been written for it.

However, in some cases you may need to write the API library yourself!

In those cases, here are some tips:

  • Use httr - it has a lot of helper functions that will help you. In particular check out the API Packages Vignette
  • Authentication is the hardest bit, and often the first thing you need to figure out. Don’t be put off.
  • If using Google APIs, googleAuthR is designed to make working with those easier, including premade package templates

A general workflow for creating API libraries is:

  1. Pick a subset of the most useful API functions first
  2. Create an authentication function, test on a simple API request
  3. Make sure to make it hard to share your authentication tokens. The recommend method is to use .Renviron files to keep secrets outside of your project folder.
  4. Create a generic getAPI() call that handles all the presets and authentication calls for every call. This will usually wrap httr::GET or httr::RETRY etc.
  5. A successful API call will return a Response class object. Use httr::content(req) to parse out the data.
  6. Build up functions that wrap getAPI() with helpful defaults for useful calls.
  7. The content will often come out in a non-useful format (such as highly nested JSON). Use jsonlite() to parse them into R objects such as data.frames, then parse that into a useful format for your users.
  8. Build functions that can deal with inevitable failures of the API, using tryCatch and httr::RETRY() to catch status not 200
  9. Good APIs have error messages available in incorrect API requests, make sure to surface those using stop() etc.

The better the API, the better the documentation and status requests to help you with the above.


Create an R function that calls the Web of Trust API

You will need an auth token that I will provide to you, or register and get your own.

Some code has been provided to get you started.

  • Consult the API documentation to help with the below
  • Modify the function call_api so that you can pass a website URL, and get back data
  • Can you make the function be able to return multiple URL details at the same time?
  • Extra marks for translating the response into a human readable format. Only use component identifier 0 and 4 (see API documentation)

my_auth_token <- "XXXXXX"

call_api <- function(hosts){
  base_uri <- "fillthisin"
  call_url <- paste0(base_uri, "?hosts=", hosts,"&key=",my_auth_token)
  message("Calling ", call_url)
  req <- GET(call_url)
  if(req$status_code != 200){
    stop("Problem with calling the API - response: ", content(req))
  # this content is tricky to parse into text, so this bit is done for you
  response_content <- rawToChar(content(req, "raw"))
  json_response <- fromJSON(response_content)
  ## add something here to parse json_response into something readable

## call myWOT API

## without parsing this should return:
[1] "google.com"

[1] 94 70

[1] 94 70

[1] 94 70

[1] 93 66

[1] 99

[1] 48

[1] 5