At last, an API Commons

Why not be able to submit to and reuse code from a commons for APIs?
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

Two software companies announced they are launching and hosting a site in which APIs can be freely shared and reused, much in the manner of the Creative Commons for photos and graphics.

Keyboard Photo by Joe McKendrick
Photo credit: Joe McKendrick

The API Commons, announced by 3scale and API Evangelist,  provides a transparent mechanism for the copyright free sharing and collaborative design of API specifications, interfaces and data models.

There have been legal judgements that APIs are copyrightable forms of software. At the website, the commons' proponents take the copyright issue head-on. Noting that the recent Oracle vs Google judgements and others recently ruled against copyright being enforceable for API Interface definitions, the commons proponents believe "such judgements may be reversed in the future and hence endanger many interfaces built on the premise of re-usability." Plus, "even if re-use is permitted, it is common courtesy to seek permission to use someone else's work."

The key is to avoid the need for developers to constantly re-invent the wheel every time they want to develop an API. As Mark Boyd describes it in ProgrammableWeb, "the API Commons project hopes to provide a central library to help developers speed up their work and reduce the redundancy built-in to the current API economic model."

An API released to the API Commons would carry a standard Creative Commons license. The API Commons' creators "strongly encourage allowance for commercial reuse either as (Commercial) Attribution Share and Share Alike or (Commercial) Attribution."

A real-life example is efforts by city governments to build APIs that replicate New York’s food safety inspection ratings data, Boyd writes. "They are collaborating with San Francisco to share API approaches to how food safety data is stored and defined. It doesn’t make sense for every city to be developing their own code for how to access food safety data. With API Commons, a city can share the data model and API descriptions so that other developers in other cities can use it.”

If this all sounds familiar, it is -- these are the same arguments made for services built and deployed under the service oriented architecture model. It never made sense for developers to be duplicating the efforts of their neighbors.  As API Commons co-founder Steve Willmott told ProgrammableWeb: "Having copyright-free resources that could help show the patterns behind good API design would make a difference.”

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