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Google erects master API for linking web apps

Intent on Web Intents

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Google is developing an über-API meant to facilitate interaction between web applications, and it plans to integrate the project – known as Web Intents – with its Chrome browser and Chrome OS browser-based operating system.

As Google seeks to move all of your applications to the web, the project is an obvious – and necessary – next step.

"In today’s browser ecosystem, web apps are completely disconnected or require the use of complicated APIs in order to make use of a third-party service," reads a blog post from Google software engineer James Hawkins. "What if we could give sites the ability to leverage these services without any knowledge of the chosen service, except that it provides some set of predefined functionality?"

Google's API is similar to Mozilla's existing Web Activities effort, and according to Google, the two outfits are working to merge the projects. Previously, Mozilla had indicated that Web Activities was based on the original Web Intents project started by Google developer advocate Paul Kinlan – and that it was working in tandem with the Chrome team.

Web Intents are based on Android's Intents system, which allows for communication within and between Android applications. With Android Intents, an application requests a particular action from an outside service and identifies the data it wishes to pass to that service. It might, say, offer up a photo for editing. The user is then given a list of service that have registered to handle this particular action.

"This web platform API will provide the same benefits of Android Intents, but better suited for web applications," Hawkins says. "As with Android, Web Intents documents an initial set of intent actions (edit, view, share, etc.) that likely cover the majority of use cases on the web today; however, as the web grows and sites provide more functionality, new intent actions will be added by services that document these intents, some more popular than others."

According to Google, developers will be able to connect their web app to an external service with as little as two lines of code, as Chrome does the "heavy lifting". To foster the development and use of Web Intents, the company intends [Ed: no pun, um, intended] to build a web site where coders can post and share them.

Today, you can test drive the system at Google's examples page, and you can explore the API using Google's JavaScript shim, which lets you roll the interface into any browser.

With his blog post, Hawkins paints the project as a way for developers to save some time and money. "Consider an online photo storage site run by a cash-strapped startup: the developers don’t have the resources to add image editing abilities to their app, but they feel the site won’t be a hit without it," he says. "The Web Intent system will make it easy for them to offer this with little effort."

But the system is also a necessity for Google's vision of a world where applications run on the web. One of the chief problems with the company's Chrome OS – where the browser is essentially the only local application – is that there's no easy way for applications to interact with each other, to move data back and forth between services. Unless something like Web Intents is widely adopted, Chrome OS is little more than a novelty. Of course, it needs help in other areas as well. ®

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