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REST API vs RESTful API are two terms that are often used interchangeably in the web development community, but they have distinct meanings and implications. In this article, we will explain what REST and RESTful APIs are, how they differ from each other, and why they are important for web applications.
What is REST?
REST stands for Representational State Transfer, and it is a software architectural style that defines a set of constraints and principles for designing web services. REST was proposed by Roy Fielding in his doctoral dissertation in 2000, and it is based on the idea of using the existing features and protocols of the web, such as HTTP, URIs, and MIME types, to create uniform and standardized interfaces for interacting with resources.
A resource is any piece of information that can be identified by a URI, such as a document, an image, a video, or a collection of data. A resource can have different representations, such as HTML, XML, JSON, or plain text, depending on the context and the client’s preferences. A representation is what the client receives when it requests a resource from the server.
The main constraints and principles of REST are:
- Client-server: The client and the server are separate entities communicating through a standardized interface. The client is responsible for initiating requests and handling responses, while the server is responsible for processing requests and providing responses. This separation of concerns improves the scalability, modularity, and portability of the system.
- Stateless: The server does not store any information about the client’s state or session. Each request from the client must contain all the necessary information for the server to process it. This simplifies the server’s design and improves the system’s performance, reliability, and scalability.
- Cacheable: The server can indicate to the client whether a response can be cached or not, and for how long. This reduces the network traffic and improves the efficiency and responsiveness of the system.
- Uniform interface: The server provides a consistent and standardized interface for accessing and manipulating resources. The four main aspects of a uniform interface are:
- Identification of resources: Each resource is uniquely identified by a URI.
- Manipulation of resources through representations: The client can modify or delete a resource by sending a representation to the server.
- Self-descriptive messages: Each message (request or response) contains enough information to describe its format, content, and meaning.
- Hypermedia as the engine of application state (HATEOAS): The server provides links to related resources in each response, allowing the client to discover new resources and navigate through the application state.
- Layered system: The system can be composed of multiple layers of components that are interconnected but invisible to each other. This allows for encapsulation, abstraction, and modularity of the system.
- Code on demand (optional): The server can optionally send executable code to the client to extend its functionality or behaviour. This allows for dynamic adaptation and customization of the system.
What is RESTful API?
A RESTful API is an API that follows the principles and constraints of the REST architecture. An API (Application Programming Interface) is a set of rules and specifications that define how different software components or systems can communicate and exchange data with each other.
A RESTful API provides a uniform and standardized way for clients (such as web browsers, mobile apps, or other servers) to access and manipulate resources on a server (such as web applications, databases, or cloud services). A RESTful API uses HTTP methods (such as GET, POST, PUT, PATCH, DELETE) to perform operations on resources, and HTTP status codes (such as 200 OK, 404 Not Found, 500 Internal Server Error) to indicate the outcome of those operations.
A RESTful API also uses media types (such as application/json, application/XML) to specify the format of the representations of resources that are exchanged between the client and the server. A RESTful API also provides hyperlinks to related resources in each response, enabling the client to discover new resources and navigate through the application state.
Basic Differences between REST API vs RESTful API
The basic difference between REST vs RESTful API is that:
- REST is an architectural style that defines a set of constraints and principles for designing web services.
- RESTful is an adjective that describes an API that follows the constraints and principles of the REST architecture.
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Key Differences between REST vs RESTful API
The key differences between REST vs RESTful API are:
- Architecture: A REST API is an API that follows the principles of the REST architecture, while a RESTful API is an API that follows the principles of the REST architecture and meets specific requirements, such as using HTTP methods, status codes, media types, and hyperlinks.
- Cacheability: A REST API can indicate to the client whether a response can be cached or not, and for how long, while a RESTful API must indicate to the client whether a response can be cached or not, and for how long, using HTTP headers, such as Cache-Control, Expires, or ETag.
- Stability: A REST API can change its interface over time, as long as it does not violate the principles of the REST architecture, while a RESTful API must maintain its interface over time, as any change can break the existing clients that rely on it.
- Multi-layered system: A REST API can be composed of multiple layers of components that are interconnected but invisible to each other, while a RESTful API must be composed of multiple layers of components that are interconnected but invisible to each other, using HTTP proxies, gateways, or firewalls.
- Uniform interface: A REST API provides a consistent and standardized interface for accessing and manipulating resources, while a RESTful API provides a consistent and standardized interface for accessing and manipulating resources, using HTTP methods, URIs, media types, and hyperlinks.
- Remote procedure call on web services: A REST API can use a remote procedure call (RPC) on web services to invoke specific functions or methods on the server, while a RESTful API must not use a remote procedure call (RPC) on web services to invoke specific functions or methods on the server, as this violates the principle of resource orientation and statelessness.
CRUD Operations of REST vs RESTful APIs
CRUD stands for Create, Read, Update, and Delete, and it refers to the four basic operations that can be performed on resources. A REST or RESTful API can use HTTP methods to perform CRUD operations on resources, as shown in the table below:
|Retrieves a representation of a resource
|Creates a new resource
|Replaces an existing resource
|Modifies an existing resource
|Deletes an existing resource
Endpoints of REST vs RESTful APIs
An endpoint is a specific URI that identifies a resource or a collection of resources on a server. A REST or RESTful API can use endpoints to provide access and manipulation of resources, as shown in the examples below:
- GET /users: Retrieves a list of all users
- GET /users/123: Retrieves a specific user with id 123
- POST /users: Creates a new user
- PUT /users/123: Replace the user with id 123
- PATCH /users/123: Modifies the user with id 123
- DELETE /users/123: Deletes the user with id 123
The Future of REST vs RESTful API
REST and RESTful APIs are widely used and popular in the web development community, as they provide many benefits, such as simplicity, scalability, modularity, portability, efficiency, and security. However, they also have some limitations and challenges, such as:
- Complexity: As web applications become more complex and dynamic, the number and variety of resources and representations increase, making it harder to design and maintain a uniform and consistent interface for all scenarios.
- Performance: As web applications become more interactive and real-time, the latency and bandwidth of HTTP requests and responses become more critical, making it harder to achieve optimal performance and responsiveness for all clients.
- Evolution: As web applications evolve over time, the requirements and expectations of clients change, making it harder to maintain backward compatibility and forward compatibility for all versions of the API.
To overcome these limitations and challenges, some alternatives or extensions to REST and RESTful APIs have been proposed or developed, such as:
- GraphQL: A query language and runtime system that allows clients to specify exactly what data they need from the server in a single request. GraphQL reduces over-fetching and under-fetching of data, improves performance and efficiency, and enables rapid development and evolution of APIs.
- gRPC: A framework that uses protocol buffers (a binary serialization format) and HTTP/2 (a multiplexed binary protocol) to enable fast and efficient communication between microservices. gRPC supports streaming, bidirectional communication, authentication, load balancing, tracing, monitoring, and more.
- WebSockets: A protocol that enables full-duplex communication between clients and servers over a single TCP connection. WebSockets support real-time updates, push notifications, chat applications, online games, and more.
In this article, we have explained what REST and RESTful APIs are, how they differ from each other, and why they are important for web applications. We have also discussed the CRUD operations and endpoints of REST vs REST