REST – the basics

REST

Representational State Transfer (REST) is a software architectural style that defines a set of constraints to be used for creating Web services. REST has 6 guiding constraints which must be satisfied if an interface needs to be referred to  RESTful.

Guiding Principles of REST

        1. Client-server – By separating the user interface concerns from the data storage concerns, we improve the portability of the user interface across multiple platforms and improve scalability by simplifying the server components.

        2. Stateless – Each request from the client to server must contain all of the information necessary to understand the request, and cannot take advantage of any stored context on the server. Session state is therefore kept entirely on the client.

        3. Cacheable – Cache constraints require that the data within a response to a request be implicitly or explicitly labeled as cacheable or non-cacheable. If a response is cacheable, then a client cache is given the right to reuse that response data for later,  equivalent requests.

        4. Uniform interface – By applying the software engineering principle of generality to the component interface, the overall system architecture is simplified and the visibility of interactions is improved. In order to obtain a uniform interface, multiple architectural constraints are needed to guide the behavior of components. REST is defined by four interface constraints: identification of resources; manipulation of resources through representations; self-descriptive messages; and, hypermedia as the engine of application state.

        5. Layered system – The layered system style allows an architecture to be composed of hierarchical layers by constraining component behavior such that each component cannot “see” beyond the immediate layer with which they are interacting.

        6. Code on demand (optional) – REST allows client functionality to be extended by downloading and executing code in the form of applets or scripts. This simplifies clients by reducing the number of features required to be pre-implemented.

The key abstraction of information in REST is a resource. Any information that can be named can be a resource: a document or image, a temporal service, a collection of other resources, a non-virtual object (e.g. a person), and so on. REST uses a resource identifier to identify the particular resource involved in an interaction between components.

Another important thing associated with REST is resource methods to be used to perform the desired transition. A large number of people wrongly relate resource methods to HTTP GET/PUT/POST/DELETE methods. Roy Fielding has never mentioned any recommendation around which method to be used in which condition. All he emphasizes is that it should be a uniform interface. If you decide HTTP POST will be used for updating a resource – rather than most people recommend HTTP PUT – it’s alright and application interface will be RESTful.