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The CiviCRM API

CiviCRM has a stable, comprehensive API (Application Programming Interface) that can be used to access and manage data in CiviCRM. The API is the recommended way for any CiviCRM extension, CMS module or external program to interact with CiviCRM.

Utilizing the API is superior to accessing core functions directly (e.g.calling raw SQL, or calling functions within the BAO files) because the API offers a consistent interface to CiviCRM's features. It is designed to function predictably with every new release so as to preserve backwards compatibility of the API for several versions of CiviCRM. If you decide to use other ways to collect data (like your own SQL statements), you risk running into future problems when changes to the schema and BAO arguments inevitably occur.

The best place to begin working with the API is your own test install of CiviCRM, using the API explorer and the API parameter list.

Extensions can provide additional API functionality. For help creating your own additions to the API, see API Architecture.

API Versions

CiviCRM's API has major versions (APIv2, APIv3, APIv4) which are independent of the CiviCRM version. The API version is incremented more slowly in order to maintain stability within the extension ecosystem. Typically, two versions of the API are maintained concurrently (currently v3 and v4) to allow gradual transitions. New releases of CiviCRM may add features to the API but will not break backward-compatibility within an API version.

API Explorer

The API explorer is a powerful GUI tool for building and executing API calls. To access it:

  1. Log in to a CiviCRM site as an administrator.
  2. Within the CivCRM menu, go to Support > Developer and either API Explorer v3 or API Explorer v4 (URL /civicrm/api3 or /civicrm/api4).

Warning

The API explorer executes real API calls. It can modify data! So if you execute a Contact delete call, it will really delete the contact. As such, any experimenting is best done within a test site.

You can select the entity you want to use, for example Contact and the action you want to perform, for example Get. The API explorer will show you the specific code necessary to execute the API call you have been testing using the various API interfaces available.

API parameter documentation

From the API explorer, you can get documentation on how to construct your API query. This is done either in the screen as you fill out the GUI to create your API call or in the v3 Explorer there are docs under the Code Docs tab which will point at the relevant aspects of the v3 code base that run the API calls.

API Examples (APIv3 Only)

Within the API Explorer you will be able to attain an example of the code that you should write to call the API. In APIv3, you can also access specific examples of some API calls from the Examples tab within the explorer. You can also explore these examples on GitHub.

API examples in your extensions

Beginning in CiviCRM v5.8, the APIv3 explorer will now be able to show examples that are stored in your extension. The only requirement is that they are found in the same sort of directory structure as core e.g. in <yourextension>/api/v3/examples/<entity>/<file>

Changelog

All important changes made to the API are recorded in APIv3 changes and APIv4 changes.