Dropbox plays nicer with Web apps

The Cloud storage company added webhooks technology for better communication with servers

Web developers can now configure apps to be notified immediately of changes that users make to their Dropbox files, taking some strain off Web servers and potentially giving end users a better experience.

The functionality comes via a new "webhooks" API (application programming interface) for Dropbox, which lets developers set up real-time notifications for their Web apps whenever users modify a Dropbox file.

"Webhooks are great for any app that needs to respond quickly to changes in Dropbox," Dropbox's Steve Marx wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

Until now, Web apps that needed to know about users' Dropbox changes had to continually poll the Dropbox servers.

"Client-side applications have already been able to get low-latency notifications via longpoll_delta or the built-in notifications in the Sync API. Webhooks give this same ability to server-side apps," Marx wrote.

The developer of Picturelife, a photo management and sharing Web app, tested the webhooks API and said it has removed a burden from its back-end sync services, which will no longer have to make "thousands of requests" and instead only make requests in response to specific Dropbox pings.

"Meanwhile, this new API turns out to be a real win for our customers too. With webhooks, our users now have the best, most up-to-date experience, right when they login to Picturelife," wrote Picturelife CEO Nate Westheimer in the blog post.

Dropbox built a sample application to demonstrate how the API works that creates a special folder in users' Dropbox accounts, gets notified whenever a Markdown plain-text formatted file is placed in it, and converts the document into HTML format.

To tap into the API, developers need to register their Web app's URI (uniform resource identifier) to be alerted via HTTP requests of which users have added, deleted or changed their Dropbox files.

Dropbox has about 275 million users of its cloud storage service for consumers, who save about 1 billion files to the service every day, according to the company.

New APIs and overall improvements to the Dropbox developer platform have a big impact -- about 100,000 third-party applications have been built for the Dropbox service so far.

Dropbox is in a brutal competition for the hearts of consumers and of developers with mighty rivals like Microsoft with OneDrive, Google with Drive and Apple with iCloud, as well as with specialty providers like SugarSync.

The Dropbox consumer service offers a free tier with 2 gigabytes of storage and a Pro tier that starts at US$9.99 per month for 100 gigabytes of storage.

Dropbox recently broadened its scope to the workplace market with its Dropbox for Business version of the service, which also faces rabid competition, including Microsoft, Google, Box, IBM, YouSendIt, Citrix, Accellion, Egnyte and WatchDox. Dropbox for Business costs $15 per user, per month for an unlimited amount of storage for a minimum of five users.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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