Cut Costs and Speed Development with Open-Source APIs: Why Businesses are Embracing Free Code

Photo by Shahadat Rahman

Cut Costs and Speed Development with Open-Source APIs: Why Businesses are Embracing Free Code

API stands for application programming interface. APIs allow software programs to communicate with each other by calling features and data from other programs.

An open-source API is one that is publicly available for any developer to use, free of charge. The source code of open-source APIs is made freely accessible so developers can use and modify it as needed for their own applications. This differs from proprietary, closed-source APIs that place restrictions on usage and modification.

In recent years, open-source APIs have rapidly grown in popularity. Many major companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter offer open APIs that allow external developers to access their core services and data. There are also now numerous open-source API options for common functionality like payments, identity management, machine learning, etc. This growth has been fueled by several key factors:

  • Cost savings - developing with open-source APIs is free compared to licensing proprietary ones or building from scratch.

  • Ease of integration - open APIs often have documentation and SDKs that make integration straightforward.

  • Innovation - open-source enables developers to collaboratively build on and improve APIs.

  • Transparency - the open codebase allows developers to fully understand and trust what the API is doing.

As open APIs continue to provide these benefits, they are becoming integral parts of modern software architectures across many industries.

Benefits of Open Source APIs

Open source APIs offer several benefits that make them an attractive option for many businesses and developers. Some of the main benefits of open source APIs include:

  • Free to use and modify - Open source APIs are typically released under permissive licenses that allow anyone to use and modify the code for free. This eliminates licensing fees and makes open source a great low-cost option.

  • Easy to integrate - The code for open source APIs is publicly available, which makes it easier for developers to integrate into existing infrastructure. There’s also often good documentation and community support.

  • Encourages collaboration - The open source model thrives on collaboration. Developers can contribute new features, fix bugs, improve documentation, and more. This collaborative process often leads to faster development and better APIs.

  • Frequent updates from community - Since anyone can contribute, open source APIs tend to receive frequent updates and additions from the developer community. This means the APIs can quickly add new features and functionality as needed.

By providing the core benefits of being free, easy to integrate, collaborative, and frequently updated, open source APIs offer an appealing way for businesses to add functionality without writing an API from scratch. The open source community helps drive rapid innovation and improvement of open source APIs.

Cost Savings

Adopting open-source APIs can significantly reduce software development costs for organizations. Rather than building an API from scratch, companies can leverage existing open-source options. This eliminates the need for extensive planning, design, development, and testing of new APIs.

Additionally, open-source APIs avoid vendor lock-in, which often leads to expensive licensing fees. With proprietary APIs, companies become dependent on the vendor’s pricing, support, and product roadmap. Open-source projects are not tied to a single vendor, so there’s more flexibility to switch between options or fork the project.

Open-source communities also provide free support through documentation, forums, and issue tracking. There’s no need to pay for vendor support when an active community is maintaining the project and addressing questions. The collective knowledge and experience of open-source contributors is immense and available at no cost.

Overall, open-source APIs deliver significant cost savings by leveraging existing code bases and community support. Organizations avoid expensive development, licensing, and support costs associated with building and maintaining proprietary APIs.

Open source APIs are free for anyone to use and modify. This has led to the creation of many popular open source APIs that are widely used today. Here are some notable examples:


TensorFlow is an open source library for machine learning originally developed by Google. It has become one of the most popular frameworks for building and training neural networks. TensorFlow enables developers to quickly prototype and experiment with different machine learning models. It also supports deploying models in production.

TensorFlow is used by companies like Airbnb, Uber, and Twitter for tasks like image recognition, natural language processing, and recommendation engines. The flexibility of TensorFlow allows researchers and engineers to experiment and innovate rapidly in the field of machine learning.


Node.js is a popular open source JavaScript runtime environment. It allows developers to use JavaScript on the server-side to build fast and scalable web applications. Top companies like Netflix, LinkedIn, and eBay rely on Node.js.

Node.js offers event-driven architecture and non-blocking I/O that makes it lightweight and efficient compared to traditional web servers. This has led to its adoption for building real-time web applications. The npm repository has over 1 million open source Node.js packages, providing a rich ecosystem.


React is an open source JavaScript library developed by Facebook for building user interfaces. It has gained immense popularity among web developers thanks to its component-based architecture.

React allows developers to build reusable UI components that can be shared across projects. Its use of a virtual DOM makes React extremely fast and efficient. Companies like Netflix, Airbnb, and Dropbox use React to build robust front-end applications.

React has a supportive ecosystem with open source tools like React Router, Redux, and React Native for mobile development. The React community is very active, with developers constantly contributing new ideas and codes.

Adoption by Large Companies

The rise of open-source APIs is being embraced even by large tech companies and enterprises. Many of the biggest names in tech are not only using open-source APIs but also actively contributing to open-source projects.

Tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft frequently release internal software projects as open-source, as well as contribute code to existing open-source APIs. They have realized open-source aligns with their philosophy of openness and community collaboration.

Some examples of popular open-source projects started or sponsored by large tech companies:

  • React - A JavaScript library for building user interfaces, open-sourced by Facebook.

  • Go - A programming language developed by Google to improve software engineering productivity.

  • .NET Core - Microsoft’s open-source and cross-platform version of their leading .NET framework.

  • TensorFlow - An open-source machine learning framework started by Google’s AI team.

These companies are strategically embracing open-source to attract top talent, accelerate innovation through collaboration, and democratize access to new technologies. They recognize open-source as a strategic advantage rather than a threat.

By contributing to open-source communities instead of keeping innovations locked in silos, they are shaping the future of software and increasing adoption of their technologies. Their commitment has played a major role in accelerating the rise of open-source APIs across industries.

Considerations and Risks of Using Open-Source APIs

Choosing to use open-source APIs comes with a unique set of considerations and potential risks that should be evaluated:

Quality and Documentation

Since open-source APIs are often maintained by volunteers, the quality and completeness of the documentation can vary greatly between projects. Poor documentation makes the API harder to use and increases the learning curve. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate the maturity of the documentation before deciding to adopt an open-source API.

Reliance on the Community

Paid APIs offer official support channels, service-level agreements, and accountability. With open-source projects, users rely on the community for support. If the community is small, help may not be available when needed. Before adopting an open-source API, assess the responsiveness and size of its community support.

Risk of Fragmentation

Since anyone can fork an open-source API, fragmentation can occur when the project splits into different branches. Using a forked or fragmented project means you may not get the full benefits of community contributions. Fragmentation also complicates upgrading and maintenance. Evaluate the open-source governance model to ensure long-term maintainability.

Best Practices

When adopting open-source APIs, it’s important to follow best practices to ensure a successful implementation. Here are some key recommendations:

Thorough evaluation process

Carefully evaluate any open-source API under consideration. Review the documentation, check if it has an active community behind it, assess whether it receives frequent updates, and test its functionality in your own development environment. Don’t assume the API will work perfectly out of the box. Rigorously vet options to determine the best fit.

Contributing to the community

Once you adopt an open-source API, contribute back to the community around it. File bug reports, submit improvements, update documentation, or even donate money. This builds goodwill and encourages the project’s continued development. Your contributions can help fix issues you encounter.

Planning for long-term maintenance

Have a plan to keep any open-source API dependencies up-to-date over time. Projects can be abandoned or break due to updates. Monitor the community to stay on top of announcements, especially for potential breaking changes. Be prepared to replace or fork projects if needed. Factor in maintenance costs when choosing open-source solutions.

Following these best practices will lead to smoother adoption of open-source APIs and help avoid pitfalls. The extra diligence upfront pays dividends over the long haul. With the right process, open-source APIs can be a cost-effective option for many development needs.

The open-source API industry is expected to continue growing rapidly in the coming years. As more companies realize the cost savings and flexibility provided by open-source APIs, adoption will likely accelerate.

Several key trends are emerging:

  • Continued growth expected: Analysts predict strong growth for the open-source API market over the next 5 years. As open APIs become the norm rather than the exception, their usage and development will expand significantly.

  • Evolution of business models: Companies are evolving innovative business models around open APIs, such as offering premium add-ons, support, and hosting while keeping the core API open-source. New monetization strategies will emerge.

  • Emergence of new dominant players: While established software giants offer popular open APIs, smaller startups are creating innovative APIs that gain large user bases. New leaders in the open API space will arise and challenge incumbents.

The future looks bright for open-source APIs, with no slowdown in sight. As developers and businesses continue embracing the openness, flexibility, and cost savings of these APIs, they will become ubiquitous across industries. This represents a major shift in how software is developed and monetized. Exciting innovations in open APIs are likely in coming years as adoption grows.

Examples of Successful Adoption

  • Airbnb’s use of React and React Native: In 2016 Airbnb moved to using React and React Native for their web and mobile apps. This allowed their web, Android, and iOS apps to share a significant amount of code. Airbnb reported that it resulted in faster mobile development times, fewer bugs, and more consistent user experiences.[1] The React codebase for Airbnb’s web and mobile apps is over 120k lines of code, demonstrating significant code reuse.[2]

  • PayPal adopting Node.js: In 2012 PayPal began transitioning some of their services to Node.js. This enabled faster feature development for PayPal compared to their previous monolithic architecture. By 2016, PayPal reported Node.js helped reduce average response times by 35% and increased requests per second by 134%.[3] PayPal has been able to scale Node.js across their massive infrastructure. In 2016, PayPal was running over 115,000 Node.js application instances.[4]

  • Netflix adopting a Microservices architecture: In 2008 Netflix began breaking their monolithic app into Microservices. By 2011 they had successfully decomposed their architecture into Microservices. Netflix reported this has allowed them to scale to over 167 million streaming members as of 2020.[5] They can push code updates over 1000 times per day while avoiding major outages. Adopting Microservices has enabled Netflix to scale and rapidly innovate.[6]








As we have seen, open-source APIs offer considerable benefits and strategic advantages for organizations of all sizes looking to innovate and move quickly. By leveraging open-source APIs, companies can significantly reduce development costs and time-to-market for new products and services. Additionally, open-source APIs foster collaboration and allow organizations to tap into a global community of developers.

Some of the key points covered in this piece include:

  • Open-source APIs are free to use and modify, providing major cost savings compared to proprietary APIs or in-house development.

  • Leading tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, as well as startups, are releasing open-source APIs and contributing to open-source projects.

  • Adopting open-source APIs enables easier integration with existing systems and allows companies to focus their resources on core competencies rather than basic plumbing.

  • While open-source offers advantages, organizations should weigh the risks and follow best practices around security, governance, and community participation.

  • The open-source API market is forecast to grow rapidly as more businesses recognize open-source as a strategic capability rather than just a cost-saving tactic.

In summary, open-source APIs present a powerful way for companies to accelerate innovation and harness collective intelligence. By providing the building blocks for development, open-source APIs enable organizations to assemble solutions, quickly experiment, and bring new ideas to market faster.

Stay tuned with APIRobots for more insights and updates on this exciting field. Don’t miss out on the opportunities that APIs can bring to your business. Contact us today at API Robots an APIs Development Agency and let’s unlock the full potential of APIs together.