Possible Duplicates:
What do you want to build with the SO API?
What would you want to see in a StackOverflow API?

The promise of API access to Stack Overflow is being met with glee and anticipation by much the Stack Overflow community (which is not unexpected, for a community of developers!). However, I'm curious as to what the indended purpose of the API is - what problem does it solve?

The possible applications I have come up with are:

  • Allowing webmasters to display details of their Stack Exchange user profile on other sites
  • Downloading raw data (e.g. reputation) in order to draw pretty graphs
  • iPhone / mobile access to the site

Apart from the above cases (the most notable being some sort of iPhone application, which probably shouldn't be done by a 3rd party anyway) most users are best served through accessing the current (excellent) interface available on the web.

  • Why don't you think an iPhone app should be done by a third party? I'm sure the SO team would readily admit that they have zero expertise at creating iPhone apps. One of the points of having an API is so that you can out-source that sort of thing. Commented Jan 15, 2010 at 15:37
  • How will posting questions work? As the API will bypass any spam checks
    – Chris S
    Commented Jan 15, 2010 at 18:07

6 Answers 6


There is discussion about what might be done with the SO API in these questions:


The API will give developers access to the site's information.

Personally, I would like an API to be able to write a tracker in .Net.

I would like to have something that would show a pop up (using the Growl for Windows notification framework) when my reputation changes or when a comment is made on an answer of mine. I visit SO/SU off and on throughout the day, but I'm not on it constantly, and I don't like when the asker posts a comment and has to wait for the next time I log on to get a quick response.

It could also track comments on certain questions I specify, or even show me comments on questions I commented on (ie, assist in an on-going conversation).

I can imagine it also tracking a specified tag or tags, showing me when a question matching those tags is asked.


There are currently 5+ websites I'm aware of that use information from Stack Overflow. They have two options:

For real time information, they scrape the site.

For questions and answers they use the data dumps which can be a month or more out of date.

There is a constant struggle between these developers and the site, which limits such usage, because it's expensive in terms of processor power and bandwidth.

The API would define a lower bandwidth interface (since you don't need all the display elements, CSS, XML, etc.) for realtime usage, and perhaps even allow the question and answer data to become real time.

This would allow features such as advanced searching services (Stack Overflow has a very weak search engine, and Google is not specific to the site, so it's not as good as a custom service). It would fill a need many people have to keep up with all the sites in the trilogy (rather than going to each site individually, etc., etc., etc.

There are many things that are not well served by the existing interface.

  • You can limit Google to searching only a single website by putting a site attribute in your search. As an example asp.net mvc site:stackoverflow.com results from that search: google.com/search?q=asp.net+mvc+site:stackoverflow.com
    – ahsteele
    Commented Jan 16, 2010 at 0:07
  • Yes, but it's not ideal. Google doesn't support searching by tags, and the SO search doesn't do as well as google even though it does have rudimentary tag searching.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 16, 2010 at 1:46
  • @Pollyanna: It is possible to search in tags with Google (but an API is still needed for more powerful capabilities). E.g. this will search for "ZX-81" in Stack Overflow posts that are tagged with "scripting" and "python": site:stackoverflow.com inurl:questions/tagged/scripting+python ZX-81 Commented Jan 16, 2010 at 12:28
  • @Pollyanna: search in tags with Google, see also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5180/… Commented Jan 16, 2010 at 12:32
  • note that it's not REALLY necessary to use the at-polyanna here because he (she, lol) owns the post and will get notified anyway. Commented Jan 16, 2010 at 13:43
  • @Jeff Atwood: I was trying to refer to Pollyanna's comment to his/her own post (not the post itself). Is there a better notation? Commented Jan 16, 2010 at 14:15

It solves the problem of building applications that programatically access the Stack Overflow platform that aren't the associated websites.

  • You asked what problem it solved and I told you. How can I possibly know what applications that use the API other developers are going to build? Commented Jan 15, 2010 at 15:36

It gives developers more manageable data structures to work with, instead of just scraping the site html...


You could use the API to build a desktop app. Think like tweetdeck: view multiple SX sites at once without having to switch from one to the other in a browser and instead see interesting questions (to you) side by side in columns or whatever other presentable form.

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