Two French students have just created the Goopil system, which is designed to reduce the number of tests required when APIs are modified and so help to streamline companies’ IT operations.
“APIs are the entry point, the central route through a digital project. However, it’s not always easy to test them,” explains Romain Sylvian, a student at Paris-based IT and new technologies institute Epitech. So the basic idea of making Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) easier to use was what led Romain Sylvian and Mohamed Errbel, who is studying at Paris business school HEC, to found Goopil. And their startup company carried off this year’s prize at the University of Stanford’s Startup Engineering Challenge. Goopil is a testing package for the Application Programming Interface, the system that enables a digital service to be used. So if you want to make modifications to an API, you have to work on the system while it is in operation, which may prove costly in terms of both time and resources. Now Goopil enables modifications to APIs to be tested virtually, without actually touching the system. “We started out from a fairly simple observation,” explains Mohamed Errbel. “You have to do the tests but no-one likes doing them, and in actual fact no-one really does them properly. What people tend to do is take action a posteriori –i.e. you spot problems that arise and then repair them.” Where Goopil really scores is that it simplifies the process, providing an interface which streamlines the task by using a more intuitive method to reduce the number of ancillary tasks that are needed to carry out the tests.
Simplifying current practice
“Practically speaking, during our experience in the field we’ve encountered instances when APIs have created problems. In major companies whole departments are set up to do the testing but it’s tedious and takes a long time because of the large number of tests required,” underlines Mohamed Errbel. “The tests that are currently available were not actually designed to be used this way, so people have to tinker with the tools they have in order to try and perform the testing,” adds Romain Sylvian. Even at smaller firms, the techniques required to modify APIs are still too rigid. Starting out from this reality, Goopil’s co-founders implemented a programme, a specialised service, which cuts down on testing time. Goopil enables actions on an API to be simulated as if users were actually interacting with the service, and then provides a way of flagging up potential programming errors. The tool is modular and is based on the fact that all APIs have a common core, which means that users can download the Alpha version of the Goopil programme from the Goopil site and adapt it to their own APIs.
Responding to changing needs
The Goopil team does not however intend to rest on its laurels. Even though the version submitted to the Startup Engineering Challenge won the prize, there is still room for improvement. “We’re very much in favour of the ‘lean startup’ approach. We build products in tandem with developers that meet their real needs,” explains Mohamed Errbel. In order to thank the community of developers whose support helped the team to win the Stanford prize, the Goopil partners have decided to offer the system in Open Source format in order to allow broader take-up. Romain Sylvian says that “The objective is to enhance the tool. With Open Source we give developers who are interested in our project the option of taking a few minutes to improve it in order to make it the best tool possible.” This Open Source version, which is scheduled to go online in November should, envisages Mohamed Errbel, “help the technology community to make progress through sharing.” Even though the tool might appear to be highly technical, it looks certain to help improve productivity. Exact figures on productivity gains were not available when we spoke to Goopil, but the partners estimate that their system enables people to work between two and five times faster than they do now, so it could well become an essential API processing tool for companies.