REST API: What is it, and what are its advantages in project development?
The launch of the new REST system as a protocol for data exchange and management in Internet services completely revolutionized software development after 2000. Now almost every company or application has a REST API for business creation.
REST completely changed software engineering after 2000. This new approach to developing web projects and services was defined by Roy Fielding, father of the HTTP specification and one of the leading international authorities on everything to do with Network Architecture, in his dissertation entitled "Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software Architectures". In the field of APIs, REST (Representational State Transfer) is today the "be all and end all" in service app development.
Today there are no projects or applications that don't have a REST API for the creation of professional services based on this software. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook identification systems… hundreds of companies generate business thanks to REST and REST APIs. Without them any horizontal growth would be practically impossible. This is because REST is the most logical, efficient and widespread standard in the creation of APIs for Internet services.
To give a simple definition, REST is any interface between systems using HTTP to obtain data and generate operations on those data in all possible formats, such as XML and JSON. This is an increasingly popular alternative to other standard data exchange protocols such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), which have a high capacity but are also very complex. Sometimes it's preferable to use a simpler data-processing solution such as REST.
· Stateless client/server protocol: each HTTP contains all the necessary information to run it, which means that neither the client nor the server need to remember any previous state to satisfy it. Be that as it may, some HTTP applications incorporate a cache memory. This configures what is known as the stateless client-cache-server protocol: it is possible to define some of the responses to specific HTTP requests as cachable, so the client can run the same response for identical requests in the future. However, the fact that the option exists doesn't mean it is the most recommended.
· There are four very important data transactions in any REST system and HTTP specification: POST (create), GET (read and consult), PUT (edit) and DELETE.
· Objects in REST are always manipulated from the URI. It is the URI and no other element that is the sole identifier of each resource in this REST system. The URI allows us to access the information in order to change or delete it, or for example to share its exact location with third parties.
· Uniform interface: to transfer data, the REST system applies specific actions (POST, GET, PUT and DELETE) on the resources, provided they are identified with a URI. This makes it easier to obtain a uniform interface that systematizes the process with the information.
· Layer system: hierarchical architecture between the components. Each layer has a functionality within the REST system.
· Use of hypermedia: hypermedia is a term coined by Ted Nelson in 1965 and is an extension of the concept of hypertext. This concept, taken to web page development, is what allows the user to browse the set of objects through HTML links. In the case of a REST API, the concept of hypermedia explains the capacity of an app development interface to provide the client and the user with the adequate links to run specific actions on the data.
All REST APIs must have the HATEOAS (Hypermedia As The Engine Of Application State) principle to be genuine. This principle is what ensures that each time a request is made to the server and it returns a response, part of the information it contains will be the browsing hyperlinks associated to other client resources.
Return of a request to a REST API according to the HATEOAS principle (links to an explanatory tutorial on the hypermedia concepts in REST API with a practical example of a request to an automobile database):
The advantages of REST for development
1. Separation between the client and the server: the REST protocol totally separates the user interface from the server and the data storage. This has some advantages when making developments. For example, it improves the portability of the interface to other types of platforms, it increases the scalability of the projects, and allows the different components of the developments to be evolved independently.
2. Visibility, reliability and scalability. The separation between client and server has one evident advantage, and that is that each development team can scale the product without too much problem. They can migrate to other servers or make all kinds of changes in the database, provided the data from each request is sent correctly. The separation makes it easier to have the front and the back on different servers, and this makes the apps more flexible to work with.
3. The REST API is always independent of the type of platform or languages: the REST API always adapts to the type of syntax or platforms being used, which gives considerable freedom when changing or testing new environments within the development. With a REST API you can have PHP, Java, Python or Node.js servers. The only thing is that it is indispensable that the responses to the requests should always take place in the language used for the information exchange, normally XML or JSON.
If you are interested in the world of APIs, find out more about BBVA's APIs here.
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