The Rise of APIs in Shipping & Logistics: History, Types, and Use Cases

The Rise of APIs in Shipping & Logistics: History, Types, and Use Cases

APIs are a big topic of discussion in shipping and logistics technology — how to use APIs to inform decisions and drive workflows, the recommendations for logistics API integration, and the best shipping APIs to use, for example. For shipping, several public APIs — such as UPS, FedEx, and USPS — provide the convenience of integration with shippers’ internal systems while shipping with these carriers. But this is only the tip of the iceberg for freight APIs, as they can be used for much more, from automation to tracking to real-time data collection and sharing.

When researching APIs, it can be helpful for shippers to have context about their history and future in freight. In this article, we’re discussing API supply chain and logistics applications and going into detail on the various types of solutions prominent in the industry today, along with use cases for each of these API solutions. 

What are APIs?

 An API (application programming interface) is coding that allows the exchange of data and interaction between two separate applications. In other words, it is the programming intermediary between a user, from the position of the system or platform they are using internally, and outside data from another organization. Logistics API integration contributes to more efficient workflows because it brings more data and/or functionality to the user’s system, helping to save time and reduce clicks by making valuable data exchanges more accessible.

 One common example is a payment API integrated with a small business's website. This API removes friction from the buying process for the business’s customers so they can easily purchase with their credit card without concern for the security of the specific website. Another example is a customer booking a hotel using a travel site. The API facilitates the exchange of information between the hotel and the customer, so the customer can book a room without going to the hotel’s own website. 

The History of the Use of APIs in Logistics, Shipping, & Supply Chain

Before APIs, companies used EDI to communicate with their supply chain partners. EDI (electronic data interchange) has been around since the 1970s as the standard technology for tracking shipments. Around the early 2000s, APIs were first used with the approach used today. Companies like Amazon and Salesforce built their websites with APIs to function as a single place for clients to get easy access to commerce-related services. Eventually, APIs made their way to logistics and freight, until API and EDI integrations made feasible workflow options like load tendering, tracking, and providing updates. 

Regarding EDI vs. API in the supply chain, APIs are increasingly preferred. They allow faster data transfers and are cheaper to integrate and more adaptable. APIs today are helping companies achieve greater visibility and transparency and enable optimization and automation.

How Do APIs Add Value in Logistics, Shipping, & Supply Chain?

For shippers, beneficial cargo owners (BCOs), and freight forwarders, using APIs in supply chain management can bring many benefits, including the following.

  • Save time – Automation results in less wasted time and fewer errors.
  • Mitigate risk – Easier access to quality data increases agility for better business decisions.
  • Optimize capital allocation – Companies are more informed on opportunities to increase profits.
  • Support scaling – Operational efficiency makes it possible to grow and scale.
  • Increase customer satisfaction – Companies can improve the customer experience by offering better service. 

The Various Types & Use Cases of Shipping, Logistics, & Supply Chain APIs

With many different applications within logistics and supply chains, here are some of the most common shipping APIs, handling anything from multi-channel logistics to visibility.

Container Tracking APIs

Container tracking is how shippers receive valuable data on where their ocean freight is, the reason for any delays, and when it will arrive. This type of API, available through a provider like VIZION, gives complete, detailed, and standardized tracking events so users can have end-to-end visibility for the supply chain that starts with ocean freight.

Visibility APIs

In transportation management, companies can get SKU-level visibility on the location of their products transported for import and export internationally. Tracking shipments transported by road, air, or ocean lends this type of visibility. For example, container tracking data can be brought in for ocean freight, like through 3rdwave’s partnership with VIZION API. 

APIs for TMS & Other Execution Systems

Providers of supply chain execution systems like transportation management systems integrate with APIs to offer a place to manage everything within a single pane of glass. For example, they may increase the truckload capacity available to their customers by integrating with digital freight network APIs or increase visibility with a container tracking API.

Process Automation APIs

APIs support process automation by making outside data available for driving informed actions. For example, a container tracking API can integrate with a digital freight forwarding platform like to automate transactions and workflows through the entire shipment lifecycle.

General Supply Chain Digitization and Automation

An API, like the one provided by, enables companies to increase efficiency, made possible by digitization and supported by automation. Companies offer better customer service accommodating their customers’ needs and maintaining supply chain best practices.

Order Management APIs

By bringing integration to order management, orders, invoices, payments, shipping, and returns become more efficient and reduce errors by exchanging information and receiving updates throughout the process. 

Control Tower APIs

Control towers offer visibility across the entire supply chain — end-to-end and for internal and external networks — and the control tower API makes this data more accessible for better insight, analytics, predictions, simulations, and execution. 

Master Data APIs

Centralizing critical information throughout an organization creates a single source of truth, improves data quality, and leads to more informed decision-making. A master data API allows users to retrieve this information by connecting the data sets of different sources.

APIs for Warehouse & Fulfillment

APIs can help warehouses manage the processes of fulfillment and the data related to inventory. APIs receive order information and release fulfillment and inventory updates like product availability.

APIs for E-Commerce & Multi-Channel Logistics Processes

Managing orders, products, and fulfillment and inventory updates, multi-channel logistics APIs give complete control to seamlessly unify the data and processes from a retailer’s various e-commerce platforms or marketplaces.

APIs for Real-Time Analytics & Data for Business Intelligence

APIs can receive data from a company’s internal system, which may be used for analysis, and push data into the system, like real-time updates. These capabilities build business intelligence, as the API provides reporting and performance monitoring.

APIs for Cloud Migration

When a company moves from one cloud to another, APIs transfer the core information and help the migration run smoothly in a multi-phase, repeatable process. This type of API is also used when a company moves from on-premise to cloud-based technology, the recommended technology for companies to access different resources and capabilities.

Compliance APIs

These APIs give companies additional support to avoid compliance-related issues when shipping. Shippers get automation for document collection plus the storage of a digital document library. A provider like Zeus Logic offers APIs for global trade compliance and customs compliance.

Freight & Trade Finance APIs

When managing international shipments, companies can use a provider that offers a trade finance API, like This means that while using the service for finding and booking shipments, they can also connect to Fishtail’s underwriting engine and get access to capital without needing to go directly to that platform.

Carbon Emissions Data APIs

With the increasing attention on carbon footprints, a carbon emissions reporting API like Searoutes helps companies understand their data so they can take steps to reduce emissions. They get calculations from ocean vessel consumption data and traveled distances, as well as reporting for other modes — air, rail, and road.

Customer Experience APIs

This type of API may be provided to the customer by integration with their TMS. It offers real-time updates for better visibility of the logistics services they receive. Customers can manage by exception with complete data available where they need it, which contributes to a better customer experience with their provider.

Get the Most Out of APIs & Partnerships with VIZION’s Container Tracking API

APIs in the supply chain contribute to better collaboration between partners. Suppliers and vendors get access to the data they need for informed decision-making. This visibility enables forward-thinking, for example, being able to make predictions and be prepared for an array of situations. The result is reduced lead times that help to minimize price impacts. VIZION supports the data-first approach with our container tracking API. With increased container visibility, shippers and freight forwarders can stay better informed throughout their entire supply chain. Learn more about VIZION API and logistics API integration by booking a demo with us today.

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