Oct 24, 2013 · 2 minutes

Accessing a public API is like plugging an appliance into an electrical outlet. The outlet allows a variety of devices to access the same power source and use it for any number of purposes -- public APIs do something similar with software and data. It's a simple relationship that involves one company providing another company with easy access to its data in much the same way that a power company allows you to use its electricity to power the many electronic devices in your home.

Much like the near ubiquity of electrical outlets, public APIs have become quite popular over the last few years. Seemingly every company is either using a public API to request data or operating one to provide it. They're becoming more and more important to the way software is developed, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon. 

That's what Apigee is counting on, anyway. The company allows enterprise customers and indie developers alike to easily create, manage, and access the many APIs that enable their products. It previously did that by providing customers with a simple drag-and-drop interface through which they could easily edit XML files, among other things. Today the company is announcing that it has developed a yet-to-be-named tool meant to appeal to developers who would rather write a few hundred lines of code that works with the Node.js platform than use their custom interface.

The tool, which the company intends to open-source, allows a number of Node.js instances to operate on a virtual machine. Node.js is a system built on the JavaScript runtime to "provide an easy way to create scalable network programs." Basically, it makes it easier for developers to manage APIs through code instead of through tools that companies like Apigee have been providing for years. In many ways, the announcement represents the dual nature of APIs and the ways they are developed.

Apigee's chief architect, Gregory Brail, says that APIs aren't nearly as simple as they're often portrayed. They aren't simply tools that allow companies to integrate someone else's data into their apps -- they're an entire set of technologies that can be used to expedite product development inside a company as well as outside of it. "It's almost like public APIs have infected people's consciousness," he says. "But, more and more, people are starting to realize that APIs aren't just platforms for third parties to access data."

As more companies start to use APIs to suit a variety of purposes companies like Apigee will have to support a variety of different development styles. That's what the new tool is all about, allowing Apigee's existing customers to continue using the interface they've been using for years while also helping the service appeal to new customers who would prefer to work with something like Node.js.

Put another way, some people use electrical outlets to access electricity provided by a power company; others use them to use the electricity created by their own generator. Apigee needs to supply electrical outlets capable of supporting both systems and being installed by laymen and professionals alike.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for PandoDaily]