Saturday 28 January 2012

Crunch, the RESTful Accountants (And Introducing the Crunch API Explorer)

One of the things that scared me a little when I thought about starting my own business was the thought of the bookkeeping. I know, I know – I have a Maths degree, so I ought to be able to cope with adding up a few numbers then working out the 20% I owe to the tax man. And the 20% I owe to the VAT lady. And how to take just the right amount of salary to avoid giving anything to the PAYE person. But my arithmetic has always been terrible, and the mathematicians who lectured me, strange to say, rarely used actual numbers. It was all xs and ys and βs and πs. So that didn’t help.

CrunchA big factor in persuading me to make the leap into running a company was finding an excellent online accounting service to handle all those troublesome numbers for me. Crunch are a smart bunch of accountants based down in Brighton who have teamed up with an equally smart bunch of developers to create bookkeeping software that is actually quite fun to use (I know – I couldn’t quite believe that when I read it on another freelancer’s blog, but it’s true!). You enter all the numbers in the website as you rake in the profits, or fork out to your suppliers, and at the end of the year, Crunch will put together your accounts and send them off to H.M.R.C. They’ll even submit your VAT returns for you. And handle your payroll, if you should happen to have any minions employees. All for £59.50 a month. It’s great. Sign up here and we’ll both get a £25 Amazon voucher!

And as if all that wasn’t awesome enough, earlier this month they launched an API. It its RESTful, speaking XML, with OAuth authentication. That’s right – a REST API from an accountancy company! I should caution that the first release is limited to dealing with expenses and suppliers, but the dev team plan to add areas according to the priorities indicated by us users.

The Crunch API Explorer

Well, you know me. I couldn’t leave a shiny new toy like that lying on the shelf. So I had a play, and knocked together something that I think you’ll like.

Allow me to introduce the Crunch API Explorer:


It’s a little tool to help you poke and prod the Crunch API. You enter a URL, set the appropriate Http Method, hit Go!, and it will show you the XML that Crunch returns.

You can download it here (it installs using ClickOnce, so it will auto-update when I add new features. If you don’t already have .Net 4.0 on your machine, you should be prompted to install it). To connect to Crunch using the Crunch API Explorer, you’ll need your own API key which you can get by contacting the nice folks at Then you can make REST calls to your hearts delight. All the documentation you need about the resource URLs and the structure of the XML for submitting updates can be found here on the Crunch website.

Here are a few of my favourite features:

  • XML Syntax colouring when you’re editing requests (this courtesy of AvalonEdit, the open source WPF text editor component that is part of SharpDevelop)
  • Makes you confirm any update/delete requests made to the live server (but not to the test server)
  • All the source is available on GitHub, so if ever you wanted an example of how to connect to an OAuth API with DotNetOAuth, well – now you have one (see CrunchFacade.cs). It’s all in C#, with some WPF, and of course a topping of MVVM.

There are a couple of things I wanted to add, but didn’t get time for – maybe next week:

  • Remembering frequently used resource URIs, and maybe saving template Xml request documents
  • Ability to choose a file and insert it into the XML request documents in Base64 format for the APIs that support file upload
  • Saving Base64 encoded data in the responses to files

Anything else?

I’d love to hear from anyone who finds this useful. Feature requests are welcome (pull requests even more so). And if you fancy forking this and adapting it to explore other APIs, be my guest.