What is REST?

REST stands for Representational State Transfer. (It is sometimes spelled “ReST”.) It relies on a stateless, client-server, cacheable communications protocol — and in virtually all cases, the HTTP protocol is used.

REST is an architecture style for designing networked applications. The idea is that, rather than using complex mechanisms such as CORBA, RPC or SOAP to connect between machines, simple HTTP is used to make calls between machines.

In many ways, the World Wide Web itself, based on HTTP, can be viewed as a REST-based architecture.

RESTful applications use HTTP requests to post data (create and/or update), read data (e.g., make queries), and delete data. Thus, REST uses HTTP for all four CRUD (Create/Read/Update/Delete) operations.

REST is a lightweight alternative to mechanisms like RPC (Remote Procedure Calls) and Web Services (SOAP, WSDL, et al.). Later, we will see how much more simple REST is.

  • Despite being simple, REST is fully-featured; there’s basically nothing you can do in Web Services that can’t be done with a RESTful architecture.

REST is not a “standard”. There will never be a W3C recommendataion for REST, for example. And while there are REST programming frameworks, working with REST is so simple that you can often “roll your own” with standard library features in languages like Perl, Java, or C#.

  • Architecture style – concept / theory
  • Architecture pattern – Components and how they interact with each other
  • Design pattern – Solution at code level and talks about logic and classes

 

REST As Light Weight Web Services

As a programming approach, REST is a lightweight alternative to Web Services and RPC.

Much like Web Services, a REST service is:

  • Platform-independent (you don’t care if the server is Unix, the client is a Mac, or anything else),
  • Language-independent (C# can talk to Java, etc.),
  • Standards-based (runs on top of HTTP), and
  • Can easily be used in the presence of firewalls.

Like Web Services, REST offers no built-in security features, encryption, session management, QoS guarantees, etc. But also as with Web Services, these can be added by building on top of HTTP:

  • For security, username/password tokens are often used.
  • For encryption, REST can be used on top of HTTPS (secure sockets).
  • … etc.

One thing that is not part of a good REST design is cookies: The “ST” in “REST” stands for “State Transfer”, and indeed, in a good REST design operations are self-contained, and each request carries with it (transfers) all the information (state) that the server needs in order to complete it.

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