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eBay Developer Challenge 2006

I’m tracking some nice mentions of our coding contest:

I am hiring: Help drive eBay Web Services

I am hiring a person to figure out how we should be exposing eBay using Web services and then creating the product proposals to implement the strategy. You also get to monitor everything else that’s going on at eBay and make sure it’s API-enabled in an platform savvy way.

If you’re interesting in participating in this thing popularly known as “Web 2.0,” then this is a killer opportunity. We serve up 2 billion (with a b) API calls a month, and we just made all calls free, so we’re talking serious scale and opportunity.

The ideal candidate has some strategy, programming, and product experience in her background. A little financial analysis wouldn’t hurt, either.

Here’s the official job description. That’s Requisition No. 7471BR at ebaycareers.com, in case the link doesn’t work. (Mac and Linux friends, please don’t flame me for the Win/IE bigoted job recruiting web site. I had to boot up my girlfriend’s Windows box to use the site when I applied, too.)

If you’re interested, e-mail me or apply directly and let the recruiter know you found out about the job through my blog. My work e-mail address is the first initial of my first name (a), followed by my entire last name (trachtenberg), at the ebay.com domain.

Opening up eBay one free API call at a time

I am extremely happy that today eBay made all of our API calls completely free of charge. You can get 10,000 API calls a month just by signing up, and when you pass a relatively painless evaluation, we’ll increase that limit to 1.5 million calls a day. Now that’s a call limit you can be proud of.

For a long time, eBay’s offered up our API for both commercial and non-commercial usage, but we’ve always hampered ourselves by charging for access. The fees were low enough for commercial companies to write applications, but in a world where information wants to be free, we’ve been pricing out all the people who want to play with our data to see what interesting things they can build, remix, and give away.

Breaking down those barriers has been one of my primary goals since I joined eBay last summer. We got partly there in June, and we’ve completed the journey today. Now all I need is to do my job and convince you to start writing eBay applications because I can’t use the pricing excuse with my boss anymore.

Fortunately, we are also launching a pretty sweet coding contest — eBay Developer Challenge 2006 — today. First place gets $5,000 plus a free trip to the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. We will pay for plane and hotel, and O’Reilly has kicked in a ticket to the show. Runners up can get money, iPods, xBoxen, trips to eTech, etc.

There’s lots of really interesting applications waiting to be built that hook up to eBay. Since the eBay database is always changing: new items being added, existing items being bid on, old items being sold, the data is quite dynamic.

From my point of view, dynamic data -> dynamic applications -> useful applications -> happy users. And I like happy users.

See also:

Yellow Watermelon

I picked up a three pound yellow watermelon at the Noe Valley Farmer’s Market today. I bought it from “the guy who always charges more for his stuff than the other farms.”

At $2 a pound it was twice as much as the melons Beth normally buys. However, he had cornered the market on yellow watermelon, so I had no choice. Surely, I could not pass up something labeled “Korean Yellow Watermelon?”

I ate half for dessert. It was not the best watermelon I ever ate. It was, however, the best yellow watermelon I ever ate.

Fun fact: China grows over 2/3rds of all watermelons worldwide. That’s a lot of fruit for dessert.

Zend Framework, IP, and Big Company Lawyers

IP Concerns are very real; I’ve had a couple of customers bring them up in the past. It boils down to trust; It doesn’t matter if you and a thriving community have written the best code in the world; without someone to vouch that all proper measures were taken, there is an increased risk associated with your project.

This is the second time I’ve heard IP as one of the motivations behind the Zend Framework.. The first time was from David, and now there’s this line from Wez.

I never used to think about clean IP. I knew that some organizations, such as the Apache Foundation, make committers sign contributor license agreements, but as I am not an ASF contributor, it wasn’t something I had to deal with.

That’s changed now that I’m at eBay.

Last June, we announced that we were going to open source our Windows and Java SDKs. These are wrappers around our Web services for developers that make it easier to write code that links up with eBay. There’s nothing fancy about them, so the benefits of open sourcing them far outweigh the risks.

However, all of a sudden I have a whole new set of issues to worry about:

  1. What open source license will I use?
  2. What about eBay IP that might be part of the SDKs?
  3. What if someone contributes something they don’t own the rights to, or is under a non-compatible license, or has a patent on, etc, etc.?

What a mess. It’s not easy open sourcing anything non-trivial when you’re a big company — especially when it’s part of an active project.

I must admit our legal team was surprisingly clueful when it came to open source. Somethings they knew. Others they didn’t, but they found a firm to assist who knows a lot about open source licensing and issues.

I had a long conference call with four lawyers, and at no point was I forced to explain that all open source licenses were not like the GPL. Actually, that’s unfair because these guys not only said smart things, they asked smart questions, and had smart answers to my questions.

The original license I suggested was the good old MIT License. However, that didn’t pass our internal IP test. The MIT License was written in a world where software patents weren’t a major legal issue, and for better or worse we no longer live in that world.

So, to protect ourselves, we moved away from the MIT License. At first, our legal team wanted to write their own custom license, but I pushed back and asked them to explore the Apache 2.0 and CDDL. Apache 2.0 didn’t work for them, but the CDDL did. (Much to their surprise. Big shout out to the Netscape and Sun lawyers for writing something the eBay team was happy with.)

Things are not 100% final, but I hope that we’ll be able to release our code under the CDDL late this year or early next year.

Of course, that had some additional side effects, as we had to scour our existing code to make sure there were no license incompatibilities with the CDDL. Apache Axis uses Apache 2.0, which looks to be okay.

Unfortunately, we had spent some time writing an example that hooks up to a MySQL database using MySQL Connector/J. Frankly, I’m not sure if it was ever legal for us to bundle the MySQL code or even publish the sample code given MySQL’s interpretation of the GPL. Anyway, that code is out. It’s not worth it for me to get a commercial license from MySQL and I can’t tell what is or isn’t allowed.

Actually, if someone from MySQL can update their FLOSS exemption page to include the CDDL, we may be good. Since CDDL is similar to MPL, I hope they don’t have any problems doing this. But my lawyers don’t enjoy me playing with GPLed code, so we may not be good after all. We’ll see.

In the reverse direction, we patched Apache Axis with some improvements. However, I believe we just supply the patches with our SDKs as standalone files, and we’ve never contributed those back to the main trunk. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was for technical or legal reasons, or just because we were lazy. But I would love to figure out what I can do to help share these changes with the extended Apache Axis community.

It just goes to show how licenses and IP really do matter, and big companies really do take this seriously. This is a good thing, and only goes to strengthen open source licenses. However, I think it’s come as a surprise to some open source developers.

I always see open source developers worry immensely about mashing up GPL code with BSD code, yet, at the same time, they don’t bother to check to see where their commits are coming from and if they’re clean. Therefore, they’re even more surprised when a big company cares.

Again, I think this is another big step in the right direction for open source. We all know free refers to more than just cost. It’s also the freedom to modify and redistribute code. At the same time, the cost of something is more than the purchase price. It’s also the risk associated with it. By reducing risk in all forms, we make the code even more free.

They’re Food.

One of the things I hate about San Francisco is that it’s hard to get one one point in town to another. The highway doesn’t connect one side to another; there are limited “fast” roads; and the hills can cause routing nightmares.

That said, after four months, Beth and I realized that we can sneak around the back of the city with ease. A few weeks back, while pulling our favorite maneuver, we noticed a pumpkin patch.

They don’t actually grow the pumpkins there, but they drive them down into the city and place them on the ground and bales of hay, so it seems all authentic-like.

Today, on our way back from eating pizza and walking around the Presidio, we stopped by and picked up two pumpkins.

After I paid my $15, I asked how long they would keep after I cut them up and turned them into Jack O’ Lanterns.

“No more than two to three days…. They’re food.”

Good point.

eBay SOAP Update: Syntax Matters

I saw a request for some actual SOAP code, so I will try and oblige. I don’t want to publish the entire code because there’s lots of messy stuff that’s specific to eBay’s SOAP API. I’ll talk about that some other time, but for now, those details just get in the way.

Therefore, I’ll pull out a few lines, combine that with some hand waving, and just hope for the best. Here’s the before:

$wsdl = 'http://developer.ebay.com/webservices/latest/eBaySvc.wsdl';
$client = new SoapClient($wsdl);

$params = array('Query' => 'ipod');
$results = $client->GetSearchResults($params);

foreach ($results->SearchResultItemArray->SearchResultItem as $item) {
  print $item->Item->Title . "\n";

Without the classmap option, I create a SoapClient, make my request, and then iterate through the results to print out the titles of the matching items. This isn’t complex; however, the iteration is a little klunky due to limitations of SOAP and the design of eBay’s Web service.

For example, the SearchResultItemArray only contains SearchResultItem, so it’s kludgy to reference SearchResultItemArray->SearchResultItem. Likewise, when I’m just getting a quick dump of Item information, it’s not so nice to specifically access the Title element.

By defining a couple of classes and telling the SoapClient object map them to the return data, I can clean this up:

class eBaySearchResultItemArrayType implements IteratorAggregate {
  public function getIterator( ) {
    return new ArrayObject($this->SearchResultItem);

class eBaySearchResultItemType {
  public function __toString() {
    return $this->Item->Title . "\n";

$wsdl = 'http://developer.ebay.com/webservices/latest/eBaySvc.wsdl';
$options = array('classmap' => array(
  'SearchResultItemArrayType' => 'eBaySearchResultItemArrayType',
  'SearchResultItemType' => 'eBaySearchResultItemType',

$client = new SoapClient($wsdl, $options);

$params = array('Query' => 'ipod');
$results = $client->GetSearchResults($params);

foreach ($results->SearchResultItemArray as $item) {
  print $item;

To solve my first problem, the iteration, I make eBaySearchResultItemArrayType implement the IteratorAggregate interface. When a PHP 5 class implements this interface, PHP will invoke the getIterator() method during a foreach loop.

In this case, I return $this->SearchResultItem, wrapping it inside an ArrayObject to make the array iterable.

For the pretty-printing issue, I define a __toString() method inside of eBaySearchResultItemType. Now, when I print an instance of this class, PHP calls that method instead.

With my classes defined, I use the classmap option to map the PHP classes to the SOAP complexTypes, and pass this mapping along as part of the second parameter to the SoapClient constructor.

Once this is set up, everything else in the request is identical. However, when I print out the results, the syntax is clean:

foreach ($results->SearchResultItemArray as $item) {
  print $item;

At one level, this is just syntax and icing. However, I don’t think you should dismiss syntax with a wave of your hand. To quote Sam Ruby on C# and LINQ:

[S]yntax matters. Very much so.

So, I am convinced that this is a good thing to spend time on. There are a couple other tricks I’ve pulled out, such as:

class eBayFeesType implements ArrayAccess {

  public function offsetGet($offset) {
    foreach ($this->Fee as $value) {
      if ($value->Name == $offset) {
        return $value;

  /* and the other interface methods... */

class eBayFeeType {
  public function __toString() {
    return (string) $this->Fee->_;

This lets me do:

echo "Listing fee is: ", $results->Fees['ListingFee'], "\n";

Which I must say is far nicer than either iterating in place or even calling out to a utility method.

I was interested to discover that I needed to manually cast $this->Fee->_ to a string because I thought it was a string. Actually, it is a float, and PHP won’t autocast floats to strings in this instance.

Personally, I think if PHP should autocast here, but I can see the logic. If you’re promising to return a string, you should actually return one.

At first, I was writing each class by hand. But that got boring and wasn’t scalable. Therefore, my new goal is to automate this process. I am writing a script to read the WSDL file, parse out the complexTypes, and then convert them to PHP classes.

My original script was using the SoapClient::__getTypes() method as a pre-processor, but I needed to parse that output again to get it into a usable format. After a little digging, I discovered that PEAR::SOAP implements its own parsing routines and gives me a far more flexible PHP data structure to manipulate. So, I am going in that direction instead.

Since this is a one-time action, speed isn’t vital, so it’s okay that PEAR::SOAP is written in PHP.

If you’re interested in more details on these new PHP 5 features, they’re documented in the PHP Manual. Alternatively, in a shameless plug, you can check out my book Upgrading to PHP 5.

My 30 seconds of ZendCon Fame

As part of ZendCon, Zend interviewed a number of their friends and partners for a short video montage. They played it during the first day opening keynote, which I had to miss, unfortunately.

Happily, they’ve placed it online. Now you can watch my 30 seconds of fame. Don’t worry, I am first out of the gate, but stick around — fellow PayPal Evangelist Dave Nielsen is second, and Yahoo! buddy Michael “new dad” Radwin is third.

Special thanks to Brian “VS2K5” Goldfarb for his kind e-mail comments about the clip.