One of the most commonly used types of API is REST. It is also sometimes called RESTful API. What a RESTful API does is to make use of existing protocols. On the other hand, REST or representational state transfer is compatible with any protocol. When REST is used with a web API, it will take advantage of HTTP. What this means is that the developer no longer needs to install extra software or libraries when developing a REST API.
Flexibility is one of the primary advantages of using a REST API. Since data is not tied to a specific method or resource, REST is capable of handling multiple call types, sending feedback in varying formats, and even capable of modifying the structure with the help of hypermedia implementation. The flexibility of REST benefits the developer because it not only meets their needs but also matches the requirements of various consumers.
How do you know that a REST API is right for you?
API development services like Stoplight advise developers to consider the following critical factors in determining whether REST is the right type of API to implement.
- Uniform interface. To decouple the client from the server, there needs to be a uniform interface that will enable the application to evolve independently without the services, actions, and models tightly dependent on the API layer.
- Client-server. This operates on the principle that the server and the client are separate and should evolve independently of each other.
- Stateless. In a REST API, you can make calls independent of each other. Each call contains all the necessary data for the call to complete.
- Cache. The stateless characteristic of a REST API allows for increasing request overheads to handle larger volumes of incoming and outgoing calls. As such, a REST API needs to be designed to enable cached data storage.
- Layered system. The architecture of a REST API has multiple layers that work together in building a hierarchy which in turn helps in creating a modular and scalable application.
- Code on demand. With code on demand, codes and applets can be transmitted through the API and used within the app.
These constraints are crucial considerations and therefore distinguish REST from other types of API.
REST is not a standard protocol
REST is considered an architectural style, and not a standard protocol in itself. REST refers to the form which is followed to design the API. Since it is an architectural style, the developer is not limited to XML format. A REST API is compatible with almost any kind of messaging format the developer wants to use, and that includes JSON, XML, RSS, CSV, Atom, HTML, and many more.
One drawback to keep in mind is that REST may be a bit more challenging for new developers. As such, these constraints need to be taken into account before designing and building the API.