REST and RESTful API Development: Quick Guide

soothing api diagram example

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Guide: REST and RESTful API Development: Quick Guide

Web developers often talk about it REST principles and RESTful data architecturebecause it’s a crucial aspect of modern development, but at times it can be incredibly confusing. REST is not a technology in itself, but rather a method to create APIs with certain organizational principlesThese principles are around guide developers and create a more universal environment for processing API requests.

In this post, I want to explain RESTful development practices from a bird’s eye view. I want to tackle the what instead of the howWhile I’ll cover both areas, this post is made for anyone who likes web development but just can’t understand the concept of REST APIs.

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REST for web developers

The abbreviation REST stands for Representative State TransferThis may sound a bit confusing, and the wiki entry makes it even more confusing. But it is possible to simplify the terminology.

REST is just a sequence of guidelines and architectural styles used for data transferIt is often applied to web applications, but can also pass data to software.

The abbreviation API stands for Application Programming Interface, these are methods of connect to other libraries or applicationsWindows has multiple APIs and Twitter also has a web API, although they perform different tasks with different purposes.

Combining it all together, RESTful APIs are APIs that follow the REST architecture.

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What exactly is the REST architecture?

This is where it is difficult to capture details. However, there are some architectural constants, such as:

  • Consistency across the API
  • Stateless existenceie no server-side sessions
  • Use of HTTP status codes where appropriate
  • Use of URL endpoints with a logical hierarchy
  • Version control in the URL instead of HTTP headers

There are no overly specific guidelines like the W3C HTML5 specification that could create confusion and a miasm of uncertainty surrounding REST terminology.

Also the above list should not be regarded as fixed ruleseven though they apply to most modern RESTful APIs.

IMAGE: restful-api-design.readthedocs.io

REST is one lightweight methodology which makes it perfect for HTTP data. This is why REST became so popular on the web and why it is widely regarded as the best choice for API development.

As Vinay Sahni puts it, “an API is a developer’s user interface.” Everything should be easy to use and provide a great user experience. RESTful APIs are meant to do just that.

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Top takeaways for RESTful APIs

This one tips are in the context of APIs strictly for web applicationsThis means that HTTP is a requirement, and that often means that the API data is hosted on an external serverLet’s take a look at how RESTful APIs work on the API user side.

The API user is the web developer who can build a script that connects to an external API server and then passes the necessary data via HTTP. The developer can then display data on his website without personal access to the remote server (such as retrieving Twitter data).

Generally there are four assignments used to access to RESTful APIs

  1. GET for retrieving an object
  2. POST to create a new object
  3. PUT for changing or replacing an object
  4. DELETE to delete an object

Any of these methods should be succeeded with the API call to tell the server what to do.

The vast majority of web APIs only allow GET requests to get data from a remote server. Authentication is optional, but definitely a good idea when you allow potentially harmful commands such as PUT or DELETE.

But not many RESTful APIs even go that far. Consider Pokéapi, a free Pokémon API database. It is open to the public with a fair amount of speed limitation (limiting users to a certain number of API requests over a period of time), but only allows the GET method to access resources. This can be colloquially referred to as one Consumption only API

screenshot of pokemon api

Return types are also important, and should maintain homogeneity for all sources. JSON is a popular return type with online specifications explaining the correct data structures.

Using RESTful APIs nouns for API objects, and verbs for performing actions on those objects. Authentication can be part of this, speed limitation can also be part of this. But a very simple API can work without much attention to user restrictions.

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Access API resources

Public APIs are usually accessible from direct website addressesThis means the URL structure is important, and should only be used for API requests.

Some URLs may contain a prefix directory such as / v2 / for an updated version 2 of an earlier API. This is common for developers who don’t want to depreciate their 1.x API, but still want to offer the latest structure.

I really enjoyed this coverage basic URL structures and examples of other services.

Note that the end point return details will change dramatically based on the HTTP methodFor example, GET fetches content, while POST creates new content. The request can point to the same endpoint, but the result can be very different.

reddit api documentation websiteIMAGE: Reddit API Documentation

Looking at examples online can help you understand concepts. We’ve already seen the Pokeapi, but here are a few more real-world API examples read through:

  • Reddit API
  • GitHub API
  • Flickr API
  • Pinterest API
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Build your own API

The process of building your own API shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it’s also not as complicated as you might think. It takes one insight into API design patterns and best practices to build something of real value.

Every API must connect to your server to return data of some sort. Not only do you need to write code for this, but you also need to format the return data. Other possible requirements include authentication and speed limit, so building an API is definitely not for the faint of heart heart

But let’s see some basic principles of API architecture.

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Build endpoints

One aspect of API development is build endpointsWhen create resources you want to use nouns, not verbs. This means API data must return a person, place, or thing, usually it is one thing with specific attributes (e.g. a tweet and all its metadata).

Learning to name nouns can be difficult, but this is a critical aspect of API development. Simplification is best whenever possible.

It is a big debate singular versus plural nouns. If you were creating a Twitter API, you may have the object group first (i.e. tweet) and then the object item second (i.e. tweet ID).

$ / tweet / 15032934882934 $ / tweets / 15032934882934

In this case, I would say the singular form looks better. This is especially the case when only one resource is returned. But there is no documented 100% correct answer, so do what best suits your project.

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Set the return type

Another consideration is return type dataMost internet users expect JSON content, so that’s probably the best option. XML is another choice if you want to offer both. However, JSON is the basic API return type among web developers.

There is a lot more to API development, so I recommend playing with APIs first. This way you can see how other developers are building their APIs, and hopefully you will become familiar with the typical requirements.

If you’re just starting out, consider getting this dev tutorials

  • REST API Tutorial Site
  • Write a simple REST API
  • Building a RESTful Web Service
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Further sources

The best way to learn web app development is to practice. Granted theory is always worth studying as it allows you to talk to developers and understand how things work.

But a good place to start with API development is connect to other APIs first. Learn the basics of client-side connections, and from there you can transition to server-side API development by building your own API from scratch.

If that’s your goal, consider the following resources to help you on your journey.

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Books

  • REST API Design Rulebook
  • RESTful web APIs
  • RESTful Web Services Cookbook
  • Undisturbed REST: A. Guide to design the perfect API
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Article

  • A beginner Guide to HTTP and REST
  • Create a RESTful API
  • RESTful Resource Naming Guide
  • Create a REST API using the MEAN Stack
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REST and RESTful API Development: Quick Guide: benefits

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