PKI, or Public-Key-Infrastructure uses asymmetric encryption. There is a public key, and a private key, anything encrypted with a key can only be decrypted with the opposing key.
Public-key cryptography, or asymmetric cryptography, is a cryptographic system that uses pairs of keys. Each pair consists of a public key (which may be known to others) and a private key (which may not be known by anyone except the owner). The generation of such key pairs depends on cryptographic algorithms which are based on mathematical problems termed one-way functions. Effective security requires keeping the private key private; the public key can be openly distributed without compromising security.In such a system, any person can encrypt a message using the intended receiver's public key, but that encrypted message can only be decrypted with the receiver's private key. This allows, for instance, a server program to generate a cryptographic key intended for a suitable symmetric-key cryptography, then to use a client's openly-shared public key to encrypt that newly generated symmetric key. The server can then send this encrypted symmetric key over an insecure channel to the client; only the client can decrypt it using the client's private key (which pairs with the public key used by the server to encrypt the message). With the client and server both having the same symmetric key, they can safely use symmetric key encryption (likely much faster) to communicate over otherwise-insecure channels. This scheme has the advantage of not having to manually pre-share symmetric keys (a fundamentally difficult problem) while gaining the higher data throughput advantage of symmetric-key cryptography.
With public-key cryptography, robust authentication is also possible. A sender can combine a message with a private