REST API, you keep hearing about it, but what is it?

Throughout my time in college, I like many others have heard plenty of different terms related to computer science. REST API was one of those terms. Now I was familiar with what an API was, but I did not know what the distinction is between that and REST. With a little research I was able to find out that the difference is that REST APIs are just normal APIs that follow the REST architectural style. REST stands for representational state transfer, which was developed by Dr. Roy Fielding in 2000 and provides six API design principals that should developers choose to follow would give them a relatively high level of freedom and flexibility. These six design principals are:

  • Uniform Interface:
    • This design principle ensures that all requests for the same resources need to look the same in order to ensure that data can only belong to one URI or Uniform Recourse Identifier
  • Client-Server decoupling
    • This design principal exists to ensure that the client apps and server apps remain independent of each other
  • Statelessness
    • Statelessness allows REST APIs to disregard the need to requests to be processed through an independent server session, and instead ensures that all requests contain all the information needed to process it
  • Cache-ability:
    • Cache-ability ensures that resources can be cached either on the client or server side. This is intended to help improve performance on the client side, while simultaneously improving scalability on the server side
  • Layered system architecture
    • The design of a REST API should make sure that the requests to the API go through multiple layers, in order to prevent the client and server from knowing whether they are communicating directly with an intermediary or the end application
  • Code on Demand
    • This is an optional step, and if the developer elects to include it it should allow the API to send back executable code in its responses, as opposed to the static responses that it usually send

Now all this may seem like a bunch of rules that need to be followed and it may not immediately be obvious as to the benefits that REST gives developers. I recommend you watch this video which goes into detail on what a REST API is and its benefits https: //; but in summary the main benefits are that it it simple to use and standardize, scalable, and they tend to be high performance. REST allows developers to not need to worry about the state of the data and how the requests need to be formatted for different situations. It eliminates some headaches that come with working with other non standardized APIs, allowing them to simply focus on getting the necessary information from the API and applying it to their application. I would also recommend you read this short article from IBM which includes the information found in this blog post, as well as more detail about the best practices with REST APIs as well as their use cases

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