How Netflix can be seen in more than 1,000 devices thanks to APIs

3 min reading
How Netflix can be seen in more than 1,000 devices thanks to APIs
How Netflix can be seen in more than 1,000 devices thanks to APIs


Netflix has more than 80 million users thanks to its international presence in more than one hundred countries. But the constant increase of its figures, in terms of both audience and profits, is not only due to this incredible expansion. One technological aspect that the engineers of the US giant have paid much attention to has also been of great importance: its application programming interface (API).

If the number of users at a global level challenges the imagination, the amount of devices they use to connect to Netflix does not lag behind. The films and TV series distributed by the platform can be seen in more than one thousand different devices –smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, consoles, etc.− with different operative systems and technical specifications to which its services must adapt. 

The Netflix algorithms gather information on the identity and location of the viewers, their favourite titles, the valuations they make of them and other associated data, which is stored in the company’s servers.

The API, which responds to different programming languages, acts as an open door that communicates its devices with the different apparatuses that reproduce its catalogue, and which receive the data in a format that is adapted to its characteristics. Those specifications that make a difference include the memory and processing capacity, the model of documents it can read and execute, the type of screen and the way in which the users interact with the device (control, touch screen, etc.). This is because the Android and iOS systems do not handle the information in the same way, as neither does a Smartphone, a smart TV or a tablet, independently of its operating system.

Its API is therefore designed and structured to make work easier for both engineers and their customers, fulfilling certain main functions: contributing the data requested by each device from one or more local or remote servers, presenting them and structuring them in the appropriate format and effectively delivering them.  

The tailors of programming interfaces

Although it would be easier for Netflix engineers to choose a generic framework with centralised functions that aid API maintenance, the company’s strategy is based on specificity.

One of its main objectives, due to the volume of traffic among customers (devices) and their servers, is to make communication more fluid and effective. Originally, API architecture was of the REST type, which meant that each customer application request was answered with only part of the functionality needed. Accessing the full service required making numerous requests.

The Netflix experts modified the system for grouping these answers by implementing a Java API, thanks to which one can group the information into optimised packages for each customer. Thus, one single request is needed for the app installed in a device to obtain all that is needed for its execution, moreover reducing the time it takes to receive the information. 

Although the number of requests made to its API by external applications rose from 600 million to 41,7000 million between 2010 and 2012, its use by third parties only took up 0,3% of the whole traffic. For this reason, in 2014 the streaming giant closed its public interface to most tools – except for a few it was associated with, such as NextGuide and Yidio− to dedicate all of its efforts to the improvement of its own service, thus ensuring direct traffic to Netflix itself. 

The company works constantly to adapt its interface, on the basis of those aspects most used by developers and engineers and of customer needs. As the number of devices in which it works continues to increase, Netflix must also improve the capacity of its API to interact with them.

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