What's an API Call and How Are They Counted?

Andrew Carpenter
October 9, 2016

This blog will tell you what an API and API call are, how API call limits work in Intrinio's data plans, and how API calls are counted.

What is an API call?

API stands for application programming interface, and this is just a fancy term for a tool that gets data from a database so a developer can display that data in their application. Intrinio has a massive database of financial information like stock prices, balance sheets, economic data, and FDIC call reports. Our data feeds give developers an easy, systematic way to pull that data into whatever program they want to use via a single API.

Pulling data in this manner is called an API call, and it's very much like a phone call. The developer calls the database, asks for a specific piece of data, and the database sends back that data. The developer can then use that data in their application. When you use an application like the Excel add-in, the data you're seeing is being "called" from Intrinio's database.

How do you sell API calls?

All plans have API call limits. Some may have per-second, per-minute, or daily request limits. When you build your custom data solution with the Intrinio team, your solution will include API call limits tailored to your business.

How do you count API calls?

Since Intrinio's plans come in units of API calls, its important to understand exactly how much data you can get with an API call. For most data types, one API call gets you one data point. For example, =intriniodatapoint("AAPL","ceo") returns Apple's CEO in Excel and charges your data subscription one API call.

In reality, the Excel application is making this API call when that formula is entered:


A developer building an application would also be charged one API call to get this data. There are two exceptions to the 1 data point = 1 API call rule. For historical stock prices, it is possible to get up to 100 stock prices in a single API call. For example:


will get a developer Apple's price history. That call is limited to 100 results per page with each day containing the open, low, high, close, volume, and adjusted stock prices. This article explains paging with the API - each page of data counts as one API call. For developers, this one page = 1 API call is a good rule of thumb.

Likewise, when an Excel user pulls historical stock prices:

=IntrinioHistoricalPrices("AAPL", "adj_close", 0, "2012-01-01", "2012-12-31")

they will be charged one call. They can then subsequently access the next 100 historical prices for that stock, in this case Apple, without being charged additional calls. This is because the API call that Excel made to get the stock price actually pulled the first 100 prices into memory with a single API call. If you want to get the 101st price (using a sequence of 100), another API call will be made. Thus, Intrinio Excel functions with a "sequence" parameter call the API in 100-record increments.

A developer can get the entire income or balance sheet for a company in a single API call:


This API call gets quite a few data points but counts as only a single API call. If a user in Excel queries a balance sheet or income statement, Excel will use the API to pull the entire statement into memory, allowing the user to access that data in subsequent formulas without additional API calls.

How can I track my usage?

Developers will notice that the JSON return of their API call includes the item "api_call_credits." This number will usually be one, but with API calls that include multiple items, or multiple tickers, it can go up to 150.

API and Excel users can track their usage in their accounts for any of the data feeds they are subscribed to.

If you're new to Intrinio, request a consultation to get started!

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