Linux Foundation throws its weight behind open APIs

With the Open API Initiative, the Linux Foundation and its partners -- including IBM -- plan to make the next generation of APIs easier to find, use, document, and transform

Linux Foundation throws its weight behind open APIs

After bringing together disparate container work under the twin umbrellas of the Open Container Initiative and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the Linux Foundation has set its sights on a new frontier: The API economy.

The goal of the Open API Initiative (OAI) is to build on top of the Swagger specification, a description system that makes APIs autodiscoverable and self-documenting, to create "a vendor neutral, portable, and open specification for providing metadata for RESTful APIs," according to the Linux Foundation. In plainer language, it's an attempt to make APIs easier to find, know about, and leverage. 

APIs are now a pivotal ingredient in the creation and consumption of software and a central part of the way it's consumed. Their transformative effect has motivated folks like Kin Lane to perform tireless evangelism for what APIs can do to benefit society at large.

But the hard part is making it all work. Using someone else's API can be a headache, even if you have the proper documentation. If the best software or cloud service doesn't also sport an easy-to-use, logically constructed API, few developers will get on board.

Founding OAI member IBM is helping two industries -- banking and health care -- benefit from common API sets, the former via the Banking Industry Architecture Network and the latter through building new API standards for exchanging health care information electronically. Neither business has a reputation for being nimble or versatile; both could gain from the best of what APIs have to offer.

IBM has already thrown its weight behind APIs in its plan to transform into a services-and-cloud company. Earlier this year, it unveiled the IBM API Management service for Bluemix to connect existing APIs to each other, as well as remix and transform them.

Now it adds the API Harmony service, which helps developers determine the best APIs for a given task and the relationships between APIs commonly in use. A project like the OAI could easily benefit API Harmony; with a common method to discover and tabulate APIs, API Harmony would be more useful in the long run.

Swagger has a number of existing features, such as automatic generation of documentation and the ability to test API interactions without having to register for an API key, that seem like starting points for testing and collating APIs at scale. It's unclear so far if Swagger and the OAI will move in directions that ease such workaday frustrations, but they seem to offers smart ways to get developers on board.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.