The CKAN platform is not only available in a web browser, but also via its Application Programming Interface (API). The API provides programmatic access to the CKAN system. The API is very powerful and allows you do everything (and more) you can do via the web interface.

Using the API you can do things like:

  • Access any bit of information in CKAN (if you are authorized!)
  • Edit any piece of information in CKAN
  • Create a whole new web front-end for CKAN (if you want!)

The CKAN API follows the RESTful (Representational State Transfer) style and uses JSON by default.

Tools for Accessing the API

In using the API you will be performing HTTP requests to urls like: /api/rest/dataset with this returning data in JSON format.

There are several ways you can access this URL directly:

  • Put this URL into your web browser and view or save the resulting response – there are plugins for browsers like Firefox and Chrome that allow you to see JSON nicely formatted in your browser (e.g. JSONView for Chrome)
  • Use a command-line program such as curl
  • Write a program in your favourite language that uses an http library to access the URL


Alternatively, you can access the API using one the dedicated tools or libraries written specifically for CKAN. The following clients are available:

Authentication and API Keys

CKAN can be configured to only allow authorized users to carry out certain actions (see Set and Manage Permissions for more details). The authorization configuration is the same for actions done over the API as for those carried out in the CKAN web interfac, so a user has the same permissions, whichever way he/she accesses CKAN data.

Thus, all actions not permitted to anonymous users, will require a user to identify themselves via some authentication method.


Depending on the authorization settings of the CKAN instance, a user may need to authenticate themselves for all operations including read. However, by default, CKAN allows anonymous read access and this setup is assumed for the API usage examples.

The standard authentication method utilized by CKAN is API keys and a user authenticates his/her user identity by supplying a header in the request containing the API key. The header field is either Authorization, X-CKAN-API-Key or configured with the apikey_header_name option. (Details of how to obtain an API key are below).

For example:

curl -d '{"name": "test"}' -H 'Authorization: fde34a3c-b716-4c39-8dc4-881ba115c6d4'

If requests that are required to be authorized are not sent with a valid Authorization header, for example the user associated with the key is not authorized for the operation, or the header is somehow malformed, then the requested operation will not be carried out and the CKAN API will respond with status code 403.

Obtaining an API key

  1. Log-in to the particular CKAN website: /user/login
  2. Your user page will show the API Key in your details section at the top of the screen

JSONP Support

To cater for scripts from other sites that wish to access the API, the data can be returned in JSONP format, where the JSON data is ‘padded’ with a function call. The function is named in the ‘callback’ parameter.

Example normal request:

GET /api/rest/dataset/pollution_stats
returns: {"name": "pollution_stats", ... }

but now with the callback parameter:

GET /api/rest/dataset/pollution_stats?callback=name-of-callback-function
returns: jsoncallback({"name": "pollution_stats", ... });

This parameter can apply to all POST requests to the Action API and GET requests to the Search API and v1/v2/v3 APIs.

API: Reference

Model, Search and Actions APIs

These sections describe the resource locations, data formats, and status codes which comprise the CKAN API.

The CKAN API is versioned, so that backwards incompatible changes can be introduced without removing existing support. A particular version of the API can be used by including its version number after the API location and before the resource location.

If the API version is not specified in the request, then the API will default to version 1.

Util API

The Util API provides various utility APIs – e.g. auto-completion APIs used by front-end javascript.