Summary:

Netflix is currently looking at redesigning its API to improve performance for the hundreds of streaming devices now using the service — thanks to a sharp uptick in requests and inefficient software interactions. What this means for users? A potentially speedier and smoother streaming experience.

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The Netflix API, launched in 2008 for the public developer community, has been an instrumental part of the service’s success. Without it, Netflix’s spread across pretty much every possible connected device would not have been possible, and it would have remained a website that occasionally mails you DVDs. Now, after three years, Netflix is considering redesigning that tool for a new era in its history.

In a post for Netflix’s tech blog, Director of API Engineering Daniel Jacobson credits the Netflix API for the service’s growth across hundreds of devices. Enabled devices made 20 billion requests to the Netflix API in January 2011, a number which has jumped dramatically since last fall.

The cause for that uptick, though, isn’t just due to Netflix’s overwhelming success — instead, Jacobson states that part of that rise is due to “chattier devices” that aren’t interacting efficiently, creating higher demands on the service. One unnamed device, in fact, accounts for 50 percent of all API calls, which is completely out of proportion with its actual streaming traffic.

Jacobson posits that with a redesign, “Could the 20+ billion requests that we handled in January 2011 have been 15 billion? Or 10 billion?” Hence the redesign, which will look at using partial response to handle some data requests while reconceptualizing the API as a database.

This is a change from last November, when Jacobson said that Netflix was likely “stuck with a 1.0 API version for the next 7 to 10 years.” What led to the change? There’s no official statement, but look at that graph again and how API requests jumped from October 2010 to January 2011 — that may have been a motivating factor. (We’ve reached out to Netflix for comment.)

Unstated but obvious is the fact that if demands on the Netflix servers were halved, that could translate to a better-performing service. Given that increased demand over the last few months has definitely led to significant downtimes and buggy performance, any sort of improvements will mean a lot to Netflix’s 20 million subscribers.

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