As shown in the figure, the host application provides services which the plug-in can use, including a way for plug-ins to register themselves with the host application and a protocol for the exchange of data with plug-ins. Plug-ins depend on the services provided by the host application and do not usually work by themselves. Conversely, the host application operates independently of the plug-ins, making it possible for end-users to add and update plug-ins dynamically without needing to make changes to the host application.
Open application programming interfaces (APIs) provide a standard interface, allowing third parties to create plug-ins that interact with the host application. A stable API allows third-party plug-ins to continue to function as the original version changes and to extend the life-cycle of obsolete applications. The Adobe Photoshop and After Effects plug-in APIs have become a standard and competing applications such as Corel Paint Shop Pro have adopted them.