The Maze of Non-Standard RESTful APIs


In the rapidly evolving world of software development, RESTful APIs have become a cornerstone for building scalable and efficient applications. However, in my years as a programmer, I've frequently encountered APIs that claim to be RESTful but stray from the core principles. These deviations, while sometimes subtle, can significantly impact the usability and maintainability of the API.

REST (Representational State Transfer) standards are not just technical guidelines; they are the linchpin for creating intuitive and consistent APIs. When these standards are followed, APIs become easier to understand, integrate, and scale. This consistency is invaluable, especially in a microservices architecture where multiple APIs interact seamlessly.

One common pitfall I've observed is the inconsistency in naming routes. For example, an API might use /getUsers or even worse users/get for retrieving users, which is not only redundant (given the HTTP GET method) but also goes against the principle of resource-based URLs. Similarly, the misuse of HTTP verbs, like using POST for retrieving data, can lead to confusion.

Effective route naming in RESTful APIs is crucial. Routes should be named after resources, not actions. For instance, /users for accessing user information is preferable over action-based routes like /fetchUsers. This approach not only makes the API more intuitive but also aligns with the concept of RESTful design, where the focus is on resources and their representations.

As we know, HTTP verbs play a pivotal role in RESTful API design, defining the nature of the action to be performed. GET should be used for retrieving data, POST for creating new resources, PUT or PATCH for updating resources, and DELETE for removing them. Misusing these verbs, like using GET to change data, not only breaks the convention but can also lead to serious security and integrity issues.

In my opinon, to ensure adherence to REST standards, developers should:

  1. Use resource-based URLs: Name routes after resources, not actions.
  2. Correctly employ HTTP verbs: Align HTTP verbs with the intended operations.
  3. Maintain statelessness: Ensure that each API call can be made independently.
  4. Provide clear documentation: Clearly document the API's endpoints, expected inputs, and outputs.
  5. Handle errors gracefully: Use standard HTTP status codes to indicate errors.

When encountering non-standard APIs, it's crucial to:

Imagine you need to retrieve users, is much better to just use /users and let the HTTP verb do the semantics of the operation. If you need to retrieve users with a specific filter, you can use query parameters, like /users?filter=active. This way, you can use the same route for retrieving all users or just a subset of them. During this year I'll write more about this topic from a security perspective.

RESTful APIs are a powerful tool for building scalable and efficient applications. However, to ensure that these APIs are intuitive and consistent, developers must adhere to REST standards. This consistency is invaluable, especially in a microservices architecture where multiple APIs interact seamlessly.

Some teams may choose to deviate from these standards for various reasons, but it's important to understand the implications of these decisions. In my experience, these deviations can lead to confusion and frustration for developers and users alike.

No matter what your team decides, it's crucial to document these decisions and communicate them clearly to all stakeholders. This way, everyone can understand the reasoning behind these choices and make informed decisions about how to proceed.

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