Getting Started with APIs and Handling JSON Data


APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) play a crucial role in retrieving dynamic data for various applications. In this tutorial, we'll delve into the fundamentals of working with APIs in Python, with a focus on the Open Notify API for the International Space Station (ISS).

What is an API?

An API serves as a bridge between different software applications, enabling them to communicate and share data. For this tutorial, we'll concentrate on 'GET' requests, which retrieve data from an API. Let's start by installing the necessary tools:

pip install requests

Making API Requests in Python

The requests library is essential for interacting with APIs in Python. Let's make our first 'GET' request:

import requests

response = requests.get("")
print(response.status_code)  # Output: 404

This example demonstrates a '404' status code, indicating that the requested endpoint doesn't exist.

API Status Codes

Understanding status codes is crucial. They provide information about the success or failure of a request. Here are some common status codes:

  • 200: Success, data returned.
  • 404: Resource not found.
  • 401: Unauthorized access.
  • 503: Server not ready to handle the request.

API Documentation

Consulting API documentation is vital for successful interactions. We'll be working with the Open Notify API, specifically querying data about astronauts currently in space. The endpoint returns data about the number of people in space.

Working with JSON Data in Python

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) has become the standard format for data interchange in web development and APIs. When working with APIs in Python, particularly with the requests library, handling JSON data is a fundamental skill. In this tutorial, we'll explore how to effectively work with JSON data using Python.


JSON is a lightweight data-interchange format that is easy for humans to read and write. Its simplicity and flexibility make it an ideal choice for representing structured data. In the context of APIs, JSON serves as a common language for communication between a server and a client.

Retrieving JSON Data from an API

Before we dive into working with JSON, let's quickly review how to make a simple API request in Python using the requests library. We'll use the Open Notify API, which provides information about the International Space Station (ISS). Here's an example.

import requests

response = requests.get("")
astronaut_data = response.json()

# Display the JSON response in a readable format
print(json.dumps(astronaut_data, indent=4))

In this example, we retrieve information about astronauts currently in space. The response.json() method converts the API response (in JSON format) into a Python dictionary, making it easy to work with.

JSON Structure

JSON data is hierarchical and consists of key-value pairs. Understanding the structure of the JSON response is crucial for extracting relevant information. Let's break down the structure of the astronaut data we retrieved.

    "message": "success",
    "number": 6,
    "people": [
        {"craft": "ISS", "name": "Alexey Ovchinin"},
        {"craft": "ISS", "name": "Nick Hague"},
        {"craft": "ISS", "name": "Christina Koch"},
        {"craft": "ISS", "name": "Alexander Skvortsov"},
        {"craft": "ISS", "name": "Luca Parmitano"},
        {"craft": "ISS", "name": "Andrew Morgan"}
  • message: Indicates the status of the API request.
  • number: Represents the total number of people in space.
  • people: A list containing information about each person, including their craft (in this case, the ISS) and name.

Using the json Library in Python

Python's built-in json library provides methods for encoding Python objects into JSON format (serialization) and decoding JSON data into Python objects (deserialization).

Serialization with json.dumps()

The json.dumps() function takes a Python object and returns a JSON-formatted string. This is particularly useful for displaying JSON data in a readable format.

import json

def jprint(obj):
    # Create a formatted string of the Python JSON object
    text = json.dumps(obj, sort_keys=True, indent=4)

# Display the formatted JSON response

The sort_keys=True argument sorts the keys in the output for better readability.

Deserialization with json.loads()

Conversely, the json.loads() function takes a JSON-formatted string and returns a Python object.

json_string = '{"message": "success", "number": 6, "people": [...]}'
python_object = json.loads(json_string)

Now that we've covered the basics, let's explore a practical example of working with JSON data retrieved from an API.

Practical Example: ISS Pass Times

We'll use the Open Notify API to get the next times the ISS will pass over a specific location. The API endpoint requires latitude (lat) and longitude (lon) parameters. Here's how we can achieve this.

import requests
from datetime import datetime

# Parameters for New York City
parameters = {"lat": 40.71, "lon": -74}

# Make a request to the API with parameters
response = requests.get("", params=parameters)
pass_times = response.json()["response"]

# Extract and print the pass times
for pass_time in pass_times:
    timestamp = pass_time["risetime"]
    formatted_time = datetime.fromtimestamp(timestamp)
    print(f"ISS will pass over at: {formatted_time}")

In this example, we extract the pass times and convert the timestamps into human-readable datetime objects.


Working with JSON data is an essential skill when interacting with APIs in Python. The requests library combined with the built-in json library provides a powerful toolset for making API requests, handling JSON responses, and extracting meaningful information.

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