Good REST API Design

Why it's important

  • Public APIs are forever - one chance to get it right. It must stand the test of time
  • A language and a library (API) comprise a platform
  • Start with a short spec, ideally 1 page. Only start coding once you're confident

A Good API Should be

  • easy to learn
  • hard to misuse
  • easy to read and maintain
  • just powerful enough
  • easy to evolve
  • should do only one thing well
  • When in doubt, leave it out
  • Power-to-weight ratio - do a lot without learning a lot
  • Abstract implementation details, don't leak it into the API
  • Naming matters
  • Documentation matters
  • Don't return values that demand exception handling
  • Reduce the need for boilerplate code because it's an opportunity to introduce bugs
  • Fail Fast, ideally at compile-time

Proven Standards, Patterns, Best Practice for REST

  • Use nouns, not verbs for url/resources
  • Endpoint responses are coarse and not fine-grained
  • Response properties are camelCased and by default in JSON format
  • Limit to 2 types of resource - a collection and an instance
  • Use PUT to create the data if the client can specify the id of the record it's creating (creating a named object). PUT is always a full update (complete replacement of content).
  • Use POST for partial updates and is not idempotent
  • Versions are preferably passed in the url for ease of use
  • Dates and timestamps use the ISO 8601 standard format in GMT/UTC zone
  • For paging, ?offset=X&limit=Y is the convention, where offset is a zero-based index
  • Avoid sessions when possible, REST is ideally stateless
  • It's better for the client to determine the order of the results than to enforce one. Use the ?orderBy=key asc|desc parameter when doing so. Note the extra space after the orderBy key-value
  • You can use the ?fields parameter if you need a partial object response
  • Use PATCH as the upsert semantics
  • If you were to allow CORS such that Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *, make sure to authenticate for OAuth tokens
  • Services MUST increment their version number in response to any breaking API change
  • Meta parameters such as those for ordering, filtering, and paging are sometimes prefixed with a "$" symbol, e.g. $offset=0,$limit=5,$orderBy=name asc,$fields=name,id
  • Good generic guidelines for documentation
  • Use ETag for caching ????

Error Handling

  • 4xx errors are the result of client passing incorrect or invalid data
  • 5xx errors are the result of the service failing to response to a valid client request
  • Error response is a single object with the key name error
  • Required key/value child elements are code and message
  • Optional key/value child elements are target, details and innererror . Details of what each field means can be found here.
  • Unsupported requests are recommended to return a 400 error response
  • Examples of error codes
  • At the very least, an error message should be constructed such that a technical person can have an actionable response to it.
  • Avoid disclosing personal/sensitive information in the error message

Special Cases