The Pros and Cons of Using REST API Design

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Ever heard programmers describe Application Programming Interface (API) design as RESTful ? What are the characteristics of a RESTful API, and is it considered the innately superior architectural style when it comes to designing APIs? What are the applications of this curiously termed type of API design—and most importantly, how would they matter to a future business project of yours that involved its own APIs? 

REST is short for Representational State Transfer Technology, a term popularized by American computer scientist Roy Thomas Fielding. It is simplest to understand a REST API in terms of HTTP methodologies, as a REST API uses the HTTP requests of GET (obtain resource or collection of resources), PUT (update an existing resource or collection of resources), POST (create a new resource or collection of resources), and DELETE (delete an existing resource or collection of resources) with data.

What a RESTful API does is break down these transactions into separate modules. Among other things, this modularity enables developers to address many different types of calls and return data in formats outside of XML. REST’s claim to fame as an API design is the remarkable level of flexibility it affords to developers, but new adopters of a RESTful API design shouldn’t expect perfection by default. 

For those deciding between REST and other API design schemes, below is a primer on its pros and cons. Keep these in mind when searching for and using an API Design tool to your advantage!

The Pros of API Design: Flexibility, Mobile-Friendliness, and Appropriate for Internet Applications

One way to see how REST measures up against others in the pack is to compare it to its closest rival, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). Compared to SOAP, REST is noted to leverage less bandwidth, and this is one of the primary reasons users adapt it for internet use. Unlike SOAP, which only facilitates the return of data in the XML format, REST can return data in disparate formats such as JSON, YAML, or others. 

Another big pro that weighs in REST API design’s favor is its adaptability with cloud technology. Popular business ventures that make use of RESTful APIs—pairing them with cloud technology to expose web services—are Google, LinkedIn, Amazon, and Twitter. RESTful APIs lend themselves particularly well to restricted profile devices, rendering it a boon for development involving mobile apps. 

The Cons of API Design: Bound by Constraints

But like any other schema, RESTful API design also has its limits—in fact, Fielding’s own theory of RESTful APIs involves defining them by six architectural constraints, namely the use of a uniform interface, their nature as client-server based, their capability for stateless operations (calls that can be made independently of each other, as well as containing all the data necessary to complete themselves successfully), their dependence on caching, their layered system architecture, and their transmission of code on demand. These so-called constraints can be looked over as guidelines on the character of the web service, and whether it’s wise to adopt it based on how it is innately designed.

In addition, using a REST API design may require new developers to go through a steep learning curve. Developers who don’t understand the limits of a RESTful API may grow frustrated in certain situations, such as when they lose the ability to maintain state within sessions.  

Conclusion:  Choosing According to What You Need

Ultimately, choosing REST API design over another schema comes down to the circumstances you yourself dictate: what your business goals are for your API, your level of mastery over the functions, and your ability to work within a RESTful API’s particular constraints. 

In the hands of a deft API designer, the RESTful methodologies will serve everyone well. Be it RESTful or not, here is to choosing the design scheme that truly serves your API’s day-to-day purposes!


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