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PayPal offers developers a peek at its code

The company is hoping to persuade third-party programmers to create tools that will work with PayPal's e-payment service and is offering as bait both code and access to an online sandbox.

PayPal on Monday made available a set of Web services APIs that will allow programmers and merchants to develop e-commerce applications linked to the company's online payment service.

The company, a unit of eBay, hopes that software developed by third-party programmers will drive more traffic to its online payment system and hence expand its user base, which currently hovers around 45 million. PayPal said it handled transactions worth more than $4.3 billion in the first quarter.

PayPal's new Web services APIs, or application programming interfaces, would allow developers to retrieve basic and detailed transaction information, refund money and automatically transfer funds.

Of course, eBay is not new to Web services, and the online auctioneer has made aspects of its services available to developers in the past.

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Web services technology essentially allows developers to more easily link computers, software and networks through standard interfaces. The APIs PayPal released are based on existing standards, such as Simple Object Access Protocol and Web Services Description Language.

Besides the funds transfer service, all of the services are now available as part of a test release. The funds transfer service will be ready by midyear, Dave McClure, director of PayPal's developer network, said in a statement.

PayPal has also launched a new developer site that includes a Web services testing facility called PayPal Developer Central.