Google Releases Realtime API For Drive Apps

Developers creating apps that interact with Google Drive now have a simple way to integrate real-time collaboration.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

March 19, 2013

3 Min Read

Google has released a new application programming interface (API) that allows developers to implement real-time collaboration in Google Drive apps.

Users of Google Docs, as well as Spreadsheets and Slides, now have the ability to edit a document at the same time others are doing so, and each can see the changes input by collaborators in real time. This is made possible by a technology called operational transformation, also featured in the now-discontinued Google Wave, which ensures the rapid transference of changes over a network.

Now developers who create apps that rely on Google Drive for storage can provide their users with the ability to interact and work together in real time.

"With the new Google Drive Realtime API, you can now easily add some of the same real-time collaboration that powers Google Drive to your own apps," explained Brian Cairns, a software engineer at Google, in a blog post. "This new API handles network communication, storage, presence, conflict resolution and other collaborative details so you can focus on building great apps."

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The makers of three apps have already integrated the Google Drive Realtime API into their code.

One is Neutron Drive, an online code editor. Using Google's Realtime API, Neutron Drive allows multiple programmers to make changes to the same file at the same time. Version control systems like Git allow a similar sort of collaboration, but not in real time -- changes to code stored in a Git repository must be merged, which may create conflicting versions of a file if the same lines of the program were revised by different collaborators. These conflicts can be reconciled, but real-time collaboration provides a way to avoid conflicts on the fly.

Paul Bailey, the developer who created Neutron Drive, said in an email that he found the API to be extremely useful because it makes adding real-time features so easy. "I think you'll see a new wave of apps that will use this technology," he said. "Before this API, I struggled with how to implement real-time features into Neutron Drive and now Google has made this easy and scalable -- two of the best things a developer likes to hear."

Bailey acknowledged that not everyone needs real-time collaboration capabilities. "A lot of developers are lone rangers who code by themselves," he said. "So for them, it probably won't make much of a difference. However, others like to pair program or may need help from a friend."

He also said he expects real-time collaboration will be useful in apps for students and teachers.

The two other apps that have been updated to utilize the Drive Realtime API are Gantter, a free online project-scheduling tool and diagram editor, and, a diagramming application.

In addition, Google has created a collaborative colored cube puzzle -- a Rubik's Cube for those not concerned about trademark lawsuits -- to demonstrate how frustrating it can be to have multiple people all trying to solve the same puzzle.

Those committed to investigating the technology further can stop by the Drive Realtime API Playground and the Google Drive Realtime API technical documentation.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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