RESTful API Design Best Practices

RESTful API: Best Practices in Designing It

When designing a RESTful API, developers should follow specific rules or conventions. This will ensure those that use and maintain it will not run into problems. Here are some best practices for RESTful API implementation. 

RESTful API programmers have much in common with content writers. The main goal is proper communications. Writers have to make sure the readers understand what they are trying to say. They do this by using standard conventions in creating content. 

Programmers have a similar responsibility. They have to make sure the programs communicate with each other properly. The RESTful API design should also follow certain best practices, so work flows as expected. Doing so is critical in ensuring no problems will crop up for the people using and maintaining them.

What is REST API?

REST API is currently among the most commonly used web services because it uses less network bandwidth. It uses the architectural style of REpresentational State Transfer (REST). The API or application program interface allows browser apps to communicate with a server through client requests. Any API that follows the said convention is referred to as RESTful.

The request may be in JSON, HTML, Python, XLT, or PHP format. It may even be in plain text. Whatever the format, the idea is to get and use data when needed. The more efficiently the API can convert the request and send it to the endpoint and back, the faster the transaction. 

Best practices for RESTful API design

The advantage of a RESTful API is that it performs well and is easy to use. However, since it will most likely handle confidential data, it needs to be secure. Below are best practices to ensure it conforms to specific restraints and works properly.

Use JSON to accept and respond to data requests

JSON is the standard format for data transfer because it is lightweight and easy to understand. It is not the only way, but it is the most widely supported by network technology.  

One problem is JSON does not work as well when sending files. In that case, you will need to use form data. However, JSON is the ideal format when it comes to text and numbers. Using it to accept and respond to data requests in the REST API increases its efficiency. 

To do this, set the response header as “header(“Content-Type: application”);” to make sure the client interprets that the API response uses JSON. The client will then parse it as such. You also want to make sure it returns a response in JSON. You can do this by typing “header(“Content-Type: application/json; charset=UTF-8”);”. 

Avoid verbs in endpoints

HTTP requests begin with verbs. Therefore, putting another verb in the API endpoints does not add information. It is much better to use nouns instead.  This represents the resource the API is trying to retrieve or manipulate. For example, you can create paths using the HTTP verb GET to retrieve sources, e.g., GET /articles/, where “articles “is the resource.

Group associated info on endpoints

You should aim to group data in your design if they are associated. It is not only logical but it also denies potential attackers additional information about the database structure. For instance, if you want to retrieve or get comments attached to a particular article, you can add the path /comments to the end of the /articles, e.g., GET ‘/articles/:articleId/comments’. 

In this structure, the assumption is that “comments” is associated only with a particular article. In that case it can nest with the parent “article” endpoint.  However, it is not a good idea to go further than third-level nesting as it can become unwieldy.

Use standard error codes

Use Standard HTML Error Codess

Using standard HTTP error codes helps you avoid confusion when something goes wrong. RESTful API maintainers will get the correct information so they can handle the problem. Among these standard HTTP errors are: 

  • 400 Bad Request – client-side data input failed validation
  • 402 Unauthorized – user has no authority or failed authentication to access a particular endpoint
  • 403 Forbidden – user passed authentication but has no authority to access a specific endpoint
  • 404 Not Found – Resource unavailable
  • 502 Bad Gateway – Invalid response from a server
  • 503 Service Unavailable – Server-side unexpected error

Remember to include messages with the error codes. This is to let API maintainers know how to fix the issue. However, make sure you are not giving out too much information. Hackers can use that to carry out attacks.

Allow for filtering

REST API databases can get huge over time. You need to include a way to filter the data to avoid returning unnecessary data in response to a request. For example, a filter by name can look something like this: GET /api/articles?filter[name]=Jane

You can also paginate the data so the API will only return a few results at one time. This will help the API perform much better.

Use SSL certificates to secure data

There is a good chance that any data that passes between the client and a server is confidential. To keep it so, you need to load an SSL certificate on the server. Doing so does not cost much, and it is not very hard. That way, all REST API communications are over a secure channel. 

To make the most of the benefits of an SSL certificate, put in access restrictions. Automate the granting of access as appropriate for each role. For instance, only administrators should be able to add or remove features for users. Automating this in the design means you will not have to do it manually for each user and role

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Add caching for return data

To improve the performance of the RESTful API, think about location. Design it so that the API caches return data in the local memory. Doing that lets the API get data faster because there is not need to retrieve it from the database. 

Of course, at some point, the data will become outdated. To avoid this, integrate caching software that will allow you to change the parameters as needed. 

Use versions

If you are making several versions of your REST API, name them. Use easy-to-understand naming protocols for each one. Doing so will let people know there is more than one version available. That way, you avoid confusion when you keep older versions around for those who want to stay on them.

You definitely have to use standard versioning protocols if the API is for open use. Neglecting to identify different versions of your API can lead to problems. Third-party apps might use the wrong one, and that will break them.  

You can do versioning in RESTful API in this format: /v1/, /v2/, and so on. Tack it on to the start of the API path.

Summary

When it comes to getting the best possible results in anything you do, consistency is the key. RESTful API design is no different. Following these best practices ensures you conform to established standards. Your API will have the performance, consistency, and reliability it needs to be high quality. 

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