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I decided I’ve been putting off learning Android development for far too long. I’ve completely avoided the idea like it’s some fad that’s gonna pass when, you know, everyone ditches smartphones. My lack of motivation to try the platform was my absolute lack of ideas as to what to develop. I’m just not one of those people who come up with cool ideas for apps.

Recently though, my personal outrage at a hideous app boiled over and a google search for a public API for the service actually yielded some result. The API doesn’t do exactly what an API should, which kind of explains why the app is so gosh darn awful, but it does work.

The first thing that I discovered when I downloaded and installed Android Developer studio on my mac, was how amazingly similar the interface is to PhpStorm by JetBrains, which I use for developing an app in Symfony2 at work. Obviously they’re based on the same IDE framework, but it really was a shock – they’re almost identical.

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The next delightful surprise – remember I’d stuck my head completely in the sand – was that apps are written in Java. Java! I haven’t touched Java since my university days. I’d have to say that it doesn’t seem like a whole lot has changed with Java, but so much with PHP has changed that the two have come a lot closer together. Honestly, it doesn’t feel that different to programming in PHP except, well, it’s not PHP.

On my workplace’s website I’m listed as a “full stack developer” which means I can’t decide what part of the stack to specialise in so I just try to be reasonable at everything. I’ve taken to programming frontends in angular, which has given me a much more up to date understanding of Javascript for frontend development – but this is Java, and it really bears no resemblance to me. Java feels more like PHP, but I’m writing *frontend* code in in, which just feels all wrong. Nevertheless the IDE, the tutorials and good old Stack Overflow practically guided me through the experience in a couple of days.

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The next surprise – again, I had no idea what was in store – was that I didn’t have to code in that gosh darn Hyper Text Markup Language that I’ve grown to hate. Instead, there’s a cool visual editor that helps you lock everything in place – and it’s not wishy washy about how it works. You can easily view the XML that it outputs, and adjust it yourself if you like that kind of thing. One thing I can’t do, is make anything look any good – so if there’s a drag and drop editor that let’s me assign actions to buttons, then awesome.

As I said, I found the public facing API documentation on the website for the original app. The system honestly scares me. Authentication for the API is either via an API key which you can only acquire by contacting customer support – and only if you’re the owner of the organisation, not an end user. The alternative is to send your username and password in the query string of every single request – which means that the app has to store your password. When you call the Authenticate endpoint – the system does give you a token, but there’s absolutely nothing in the API documentation about how to use that token to authenticate. What shocked me, is what happens when you stick in invalid credentials. The request returns successfully with a 2xx status code, and a user object with null fields. You have to check if one of the fields is null (and it could be null for other reasons) to detect that authentication has actually failed. Crazy.

So that’s what happens if you send the right fields with the wrong values. Guess what happens when you send the wrong fields? The API documentation says that the default format for responses is JSON, and that you can request XML if you so desire (because you’re insane) and for the most part this is true – but if you happen to not send a mandatory field, or some invalid value that causes an internal server error – you get a HTML Page with the error on it. Just let that sit for a minute. If I want to tell the user why the request failed (admittedly because I malformed the request) then I have to somehow interpret their HTML 500 error page and jam it onto the little phone screen. All I’ve done so far is just dump the raw html onto the screen, because I’m just not touching that.

I recently had to design and implement an API for a SAAS and making sure the app returns the correct status codes and errors in the correct format was possibly more important than getting the API to actually do anything. I honestly can’t see how they missed this.

In any case I had a little bit of fun, and that’s what I set out to do. I might have a go at getting the app good enough to put on the app store – and there are quite a few more features that I’d like to add to it, but I’m pleased that in a couple of days I made an app that functions better than the one my company pays a monthly fee to have access to – even though a couple of days ago I didn’t have a clue how to make an app.

You can check it out here.