LoopBack, StrongLoop, and API Connect - how in the heck do they relate?

LoopBack, StrongLoop, and API Connect - how in the heck do they relate?

This post is more than 2 years old.

So first and foremost - let me start off by being explicitly clear that what follows is 100% not IBM-approved material at all. Yeah, I work for IBM, but I think folks know that when I blog, I have my own voice and my own way of saying things. I'll include links to all the boringofficial resources for folks who want that side of the story, but what follows is 100% my own words only.

So earlier today I was sent the following tweet:

Justin is referring to a product, API Connect, that I haven't yet discussed on the blog. It is a big deal, and I've been trying to get up to speed on it (along with LoopBack and StrongLoop), which is why I haven't blogged on it yet. If you haven't heard about it, well, that's part of my job, and you will be seeing me present on it and blog about it more (both here and on the StrongBlog. But for now, let me give you some context to how these three products relate.

LoopBack

I've blogged (and presented) on LoopBack a bunch of times now. LoopBack is an open source Node.js/Express-based framework for rapidly building APIs. What that means is I can quickly create a REST-based API based on a model, where a model represents the content I'm working with. If I'm a cat web site, I can quickly create a full API around getting cat data. We're talking five minutes from concept to an API. That's super powerful.

Of course, in the real world, you need custom business logic, security, etc. LoopBack supports all of that.

In a nutshell though - LoopBack is what lets you build the API. It's open source and 100% free.

More details at http://loopback.io.

StrongLoop

"StrongLoop" by itself means the company that IBM consumed a few months ago. Many people, including myself, use StrongLoop as a way to referring to the 'product' but technically the product name is "StrongLoop Node.js API Platform". That's a mouthful, hence people simply saying "StrongLoop" generally.

StrongLoop is a commercial product that uses LoopBack. It has:

  • A visual composer for working with LoopBack models and datasources. LoopBack's CLI can do the same, and you can just edit JSON files, but the web-based version may be simpler for folks.
  • A process manager and deployment system that lets you push out your application to a production server as well as handling clusters.
  • Metrics, tracing, and profiling services for debugging and performance tuning your application.

So basically - you built your cool LoopBack application, but now you want support in terms of ensuring it can handle load and for deploying to production. This is where you pay money for the added benefit. You can use StrongLoop for free, but only the visual composer and process manager features.

Not to be confusing, but to work with LoopBack, you actually npm install strongloop. This gives you the slc command line that you use when working with LoopBack apps. If you watch my videos, you'll see me use it. To be clear, you do not need to use this CLI. You can add the right crap to package.json yourself, but the CLI is what you want to use, and it is free too.

Ok, so technically you can find out more at https://strongloop.com/, but here's where things get a bit weird. You can't buy StrongLoop licenses anymore because the future is API Connect. On to the future!

API Connect

API Connect, sorry, IBM API Connect, is a new offering, but the evolution of an older one called IBM API Management. So API Connect (APIC) is version 5, even though it is new (well mostly new).

This will be a gross oversimplification, but APIC can serve as the way you bring a LoopBack-created API from your local machine into the real world. What do I mean?

  • With APIC, I can take an API I made with LoopBack and require you to get a key before using it - like most APIs out there today. With APIC, the entire "register and here is your damn key" aspect is baked in. Done.
  • With that same key, I can also say that you get X hits per day. Or maybe Y. Whatever.
  • How do I know I should give you X? With APIC, I can look at stats and see which APIs are being used over others.
  • Updating your APIs? You can group together your current APIs as v1 and create a new grouping for v2.
  • LoopBack has a nice 'explorer' which provides documentation and testing. APIC comes with the ability to create an entire "Developer Portal" out of the box.
  • Oh yeah, it can do Java and SOAP too, but, ugh, gross.

So as I said - I see LoopBack as being awesome for rapid prototyping. It does more, but, let's just go with that. I look at APIC as the "lets release this to the world" part. And yes, this part costs money (although you can test it and run it locally, forever, for free), but if you want to build all that yourself and just use LoopBack, be my guest.

You can find out more at https://developer.ibm.com/apiconnect/.

So... here's where things get a bit weird (again). StrongLoop is going to 'merge' into APIC. For example, you can visually build APIs with APIC right now. The profiling/debugging stuff is not available. We (we being IBM, I said I don't speak for IBM but let that go for a moment) haven't announced yet what the formal plan for those parts are yet.

Roundup (tl;dr)

LoopBack is an open source framework for building APIs. StrongLoop ARC adds performance/deployment tools on top. APIC adds the ability to manage and secure APIs.

I'm leaving a lot out, but that's the elevator pitch. Got questions?

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About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

Lafayette, LA https://www.raymondcamden.com

Archived Comments

Comment 1 by Ryan Graham posted on 4/28/2016 at 8:29 PM

The process manager, strong-pm, is also free, open source, and not restricted to hosting loopback apps. It works for any node app: https://strong-pm.io/

Comment 2 (In reply to #1) by Raymond Camden posted on 4/28/2016 at 8:39 PM

Thanks Ryan!

Comment 3 by Carlos Santana posted on 5/6/2016 at 3:52 AM

Thanks Raymond for this post, so far the simplest explanation I have seeing so far, and now I have a link where to send folks when they ask me :-)

Comment 4 (In reply to #3) by Raymond Camden posted on 5/6/2016 at 12:58 PM

I should be in marketing. ;)

Comment 5 by Carlos Andres Lopez posted on 6/10/2016 at 6:23 AM

That process manager(strong-pm.io) Rayan mention sounds like that thing I was looking for, however, my concern is its continuity: https://strongloop.com/stro...
In summary
"While LoopBack will continue on as an active open-source framework (that’s not going to change!), the team is no longer actively working on the StrongLoop tools, but rather focusing on the API Connect tools..."

So, does strong-pm has future ?

Comment 6 (In reply to #5) by Raymond Camden posted on 6/10/2016 at 12:56 PM

If it is open source, then anyone can work on it. It does sound like the team is directing efforts elsewhere.

Comment 7 (In reply to #1) by Carlos Andres Lopez posted on 6/10/2016 at 3:30 PM

Ryan let me ask you something, according to this article(https://strongloop.com/stro... StrongLoop team is no longer actively working on the StrongLoop tools, but rather focusing on the API Connect tools.
strong-pm has practically three contributors all of you working for IBM, so I guess strong-pm won't be a live project in a few months. Am I right?

Comment 8 by Anatidae posted on 7/27/2016 at 9:11 PM

I'm feeling a little uncomfortable about the lack of pricing transparency on API Connect. It also seems that you have to use IBM cloud solutions? Or can this be deployed on Amazon or Google's services?

I suspect the reason prices are not properly displayed anywhere on the website is that the overall cost is significantly higher than competing solutions?

Comment 9 (In reply to #8) by Raymond Camden posted on 7/27/2016 at 10:01 PM

Did you find the pricing information here?

http://www-03.ibm.com/softw...

We support Bluemix or on-prem, so in theory you could use it at Amazon/Google if you prefer.

Comment 10 by archenroot posted on 10/12/2016 at 2:43 PM

Sorry guys, but it is still not clear to me even after this story and discussion. So we have here following main github repositories:
Arc - https://github.com/stronglo...
ProcessManager - https://github.com/stronglo...
LoopBack - https://github.com/stronglo...

Additionally (some marked as deprecated):
https://github.com/stronglo...
https://github.com/stronglo...
https://github.com/stronglo...
https://github.com/stronglo...
https://github.com/stronglo...
https://github.com/stronglo...
https://github.com/stronglo...
https://github.com/stronglo...
and others...

So If I take them from github, I can still use them all free of charge or not?

Here is also just for reference another list of very useful extensions:
https://github.com/pasindud...

Thanks for 1 sentence answer :-)

Comment 11 (In reply to #10) by Raymond Camden posted on 10/12/2016 at 10:15 PM

Um, I'm not exactly sure what you are asking here. If you are asking if you can use the stuff on GitHub, well, it's there, right? So just use it.

Is that what you meant?

Comment 12 (In reply to #11) by archenroot posted on 10/15/2016 at 4:08 AM

If I take ARC from github, do I need to pay some license or not as this is in some documentation (deprecated) reffered as licensed product. Now it is IBM ApiConnect and I am not sure about free usage conditions. Same apply for PM. Thing is that license cannot be obtained anyway, so what to do here. I am interested in production usage.

Comment 13 (In reply to #12) by Raymond Camden posted on 10/15/2016 at 2:09 PM

"If I take ARC from github, do I need to pay some license or not as this is in some documentation (deprecated) reffered as licensed product."
It doesn't matter if it is deprecated. If the license says you can use it, use it. I'd avoid using a deprecated product though.

"Now it is IBM ApiConnect and I am not sure about free usage conditions. "

We document the free tier here: https://www.ibm.com/marketp...

Comment 14 (In reply to #13) by archenroot posted on 10/16/2016 at 3:08 PM

Thank you Raymond for answer.

I am aware of fact IBM acquired strongloop, i just wondered that guys from IBM are still actively contributing to original ARC repository:
https://github.com/stronglo...

Comment 15 (In reply to #14) by Raymond Camden posted on 10/16/2016 at 3:45 PM

Work is focused on LoopBack and API Connect. Going forward, developers should (imo) focus on that.

Comment 16 (In reply to #9) by Cristina Rojas posted on 11/18/2016 at 8:12 PM

Is there any documentation on how to achieve this? I'm looking into using IBM API Connect to build our API but my client wants to use AWS. I've searched for it as best I can but haven't found anything on it so far, any help is greatly appreciated.

Comment 17 (In reply to #16) by Raymond Camden posted on 11/25/2016 at 3:58 PM

I'm checking for you.

Comment 18 (In reply to #16) by Raymond Camden posted on 11/25/2016 at 4:12 PM

Looks like it may not be officially supported unfortunately. The main install docs are here,

http://www.ibm.com/support/...

and detail what the requirements are.

Comment 19 (In reply to #18) by Cristina Rojas posted on 11/28/2016 at 4:07 PM

Checking it out now, thank you

Comment 20 (In reply to #16) by noazdad posted on 3/30/2017 at 4:09 PM

API Connect is now supported in Docker containers, so there's your solution for running in other cloud providers...

https://developer.ibm.com/a...

Comment 21 (In reply to #20) by Raymond Camden posted on 3/31/2017 at 2:17 AM

Thanks for the update.

Comment 22 (In reply to #7) by odigity posted on 4/8/2017 at 5:23 PM

That's what I'm trying to figure out. I just learned about strong-pm from the Express.js docs about deploying to production, and was all excited to learn it until I started seeing the deprecation warnings all over the docs. Now I'm not sure what to do.

Comment 23 by Hugo Mosh Cardoza posted on 6/14/2017 at 2:50 PM

One year later, how things are coming along? Do you have new information or new tips?

Comment 24 (In reply to #23) by Raymond Camden posted on 6/14/2017 at 9:01 PM

Well StrongLoop, as a product family, is EOL. Still supported as far as I know, but you want to switch to other tools in general for managing your Node app. LoopBack is still very much in development (3 came out a few months ago). APIC is still very much in development too. Pretty much all is good except the StrongLoop stuff, but you can replace that.

Comment 25 by Chris B posted on 11/4/2017 at 11:48 AM

Would be interested to read an update on your blog about the state of APIC and where SL/LB sit now.

Comment 26 (In reply to #25) by Raymond Camden posted on 11/4/2017 at 8:30 PM

In terms of where things sit - I don't think is much to say - it is still the same. I believe most of the SL stuff is either open source or being migrated elsewhere, but certainly in terms of LB+APIC, it's the same.

Comment 27 (In reply to #26) by Chris B posted on 11/5/2017 at 11:23 AM

Great! Thanks.

Comment 28 by Little Tiger posted on 7/6/2018 at 2:58 AM

Haha, like the writing style Raymond. And great to-the-point explanations (thumbsup) :)

Comment 29 (In reply to #28) by Raymond Camden posted on 7/6/2018 at 2:27 PM

You are most welcome.

Comment 30 by Asad Khan posted on 4/15/2019 at 2:04 PM

Yeah

At last someone explained it.

Thanks man