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PayPal enters 21st Century with developer tools refresh

REST-based APIs, mobile SDK among first wave of updates

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Online payments giant PayPal has spruced up its developer tools with new APIs, a new mobile SDK, and a new, one-stop developer website – all changes that company execs admit are long overdue.

"Back in 2009, PayPal was the first financial company to open up its payments APIs for developers around the world," PayPal CTO James Barrese wrote in a blog post on Friday. "However, our tools haven't kept up with the bleeding edge of innovation that the industry expects of us."

To hear many developers tell it, that's putting it mildly. In one popular tutorial, web developer Eran Galperin describes PayPal's original APIs as "among the worst I've ever had to deal with," citing inconsistent behaviors, lousy documentation, and unpredictable failures.

Barrese said the new APIs that launched in beta on Friday are fully modernized and built using standards-based technologies, including REST, JSON, and OAuth.

This new batch of APIs also introduces Vault, a new feature that allows developers to securely store credit cards on PayPal's servers instead of their own, reducing their Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance burden.

This first phase of PayPal's API refresh is limited to payments processing and immediate settlement, which Barrese said are the company's most popular APIs. More APIs will be getting the modernization treatment "throughout 2013," but the company isn't saying which ones.

PayPal hasn't fully disclosed its plans for its earlier APIs, either – which it has now taken to calling its "Classic APIs."

According to a FAQ, the plan is for the new, REST-based APIs to replace the Classic ones eventually, but no timeline has been set. In the meantime, the eBay subsidiary says it plans to "fully support and improve" the old APIs while it works on the new ones.

In fact, unless you're based in the US, you're stuck with the Classic APIs for the time being. At launch, PayPal's REST-based APIs are open only to developers with US Business accounts, though the company says it will be making them available in other regions throughout the year.

In addition to the REST APIs, PayPal has also launched a new SDK aimed at making it easy to integrate PayPal support into mobile apps. The library supports both PayPal and credit card payments – including support for PayPal's card.io card-scanning technology – and it incorporates a built-in proof of payment system, again to reduce PCI compliance hassles.

For now, the SDK is only available for iOS, but Barrese said PayPal plans to release versions for other, unnamed platforms soon.

Tying both of these releases together is PayPal's new, online developer portal, which Barrese said will be a one-stop shop for all of the company's developer documentation, tools, and resources. Developers can use the site to download the new iOS SDK and get credentials to access the REST APIs beginning on Friday.

Barrese added that PayPal will showcase its new developer tools at the SXSW Interactive conference taking place in Austin, Texas through March 12, and that the company plans to release further APIs and capabilities throughout 2013. ®

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