Dropbox Unveils Sync API For Mobile Developers, Allows Apps To Work With Cloud-Based Files As If They Were Local

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Dropbox is unveiling a brand new API for developers today that should give mobile app makers an excellent new tool to work with. The Dropbox Sync API allows apps for iOS and Android to treat files stored on a user’s Dropbox account as if they were local, managing syncing, caching, offline access and tracking changes easily so that developers only have to worry about building an app, and not the storage and management of the files users create with said software.

I spoke to Dropbox Product Manager Sean Lynch about the new API and what it can offer developers. Essentially, Lynch said this is yet another attempt by Dropbox to simplify the lives of developers when it comes to creating apps that can work seamlessly across platforms with remotely stored files, just like the Dropbox Chooser the company unveiled back in November 2012.

“Dropbox’s mission is really to let users access their data wherever they are, and that’s not necessarily geographically speaking,” he said. “Whatever device, whatever platform, whether their computer at home, their smartphone or their tablet, iOS or Android, it doesn’t matter; what we want users to be able to expect is whatever device they plug into, they can access their files on Dropbox when they get there.”

That means that helping developers integrated Dropbox access into their apps is of crucial importance to the company’s overall mission, Lynch explained.

“How do we simplify the story of integrating with Dropbox so that we can get developers everywhere integrating with the service?” has been the main question driving new product development on the API side, Lynch said. “The chooser was definitely the first step in that… We released it on a Thursday, and over the Friday and over the weekend we saw developers go home and paste a couple of lines of JavaScript, integrate the Chooser, and launch the following Monday with Dropbox integration.”

The Sync API essentially simplifies the process of integrating Dropbox storage into apps. Using the previous API, as a developer you’d have to download the file, re-try it if it fails, store it somewhere and set up that location, and then also handle re-uploads. Plus, if a user came offline, you’d also have to figure out a way to track the changes and re-upload them when a mobile network connection is available once again.

Now, the Sync API takes care of all of that for developers, handling inconsistent network connections, offline caching, automatic uploading and offline storage all in one. In a release about the news, Squarespace Note developer Chris Cox said the new Sync API cuts the amount of code it takes to integrate Dropbox into his app in half.

Lynch says that Dropbox is excited about what developers will do with the Sync API, beyond the more obvious use cases of making sure that documents edited on mobile devices remain up-to-date and accessible from other platforms. We could very well see some uses similar to how devs have employed the iCloud syncing API from Apple, but with content saved on a user’s own Dropbox account and therefore accessible not just to iOS and Mac devices, but to virtually any computing platform.