REST is an acronym for Representational State Transfer and describes an architectural style for creating distributed web services. REST allows users to use standard HTTP requests to remotely call code and receive responses. REST has several advantages over other protocols:
It separates data storage concerns from the user interface, meaning a back-end server running an API can handle all of the logic to access databases and manipulate data before returning it to a user in a uniform, structured way. This consistent access and structure of data allows developers to build front-end applications easily, which makes porting the front end of your app to other platforms a breeze. REST APIs support caching of commonly requested static resources, lending to better performance. REST is stateless, so all information to complete the request is included in the request. This simplifies the API by removing the need for server-side state synchronization logic. This also makes scaling easier, as any server can handle any request without tracking sessions.
HTTP has over 100 status codes already built in. Using status codes in your RESTful API to communicate the general error is a godsend for developers. Developers will be able to immediately identify the issue, which means spending less time writing parsers to handle all the different types of errors. Is the request being denied because the session is not logged in? There’s a status code for that.
Is there a missing resource? Did the CRUD service receive the request but fail to connect to the database? There are status codes for those, and nearly every other common behaviour. Status codes can also be combined with specific error messages to provide detailed information about unsuccessful requests.
Documentation is one of the most important — and most overlooked — aspects of an API. Official documentation can be a customer’s first point of contact with a product, and a key factor in whether or not a development team adopts it. Good documentation looks clean and consistent, and adequately prepares a developer to use your API quickly.
The faster someone can learn your API, the faster they can start producing with it. Documentation should have a uniform look and include all of the relevant information: the endpoint, compatible methods (GET, POST, PUT, etc.), what parameters are optional and required, and the data type expected.
API requests can be resource intensive, requiring serious computing power and storage. If you aren’t careful, many successive, concurrent requests can slow down or even DOS your server. An easy way to do this is to use one of the many available tools like express-rate-limit, an Express middleware designed specifically to handle Rate Limiting in an easy, intuitive way.
APIs need to be secure! Hackers use automated scripts to attack services indiscriminately, so an API needs to have proactive security measures to keep operations running smoothly and to protect sensitive data. First and foremost, every web application should have a HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) policy to ensure all connections are encrypted. Securing the connection prevents network sniffing, man-in-the-middle attacks, protocol downgrade attacks, and session hijacking via cookie theft.
The purpose of an API is to serve data from your company’s resources. There are three formats that are commonly used to return the data according to Nordic APIs: XML, YAML, and JSON.
Implementing these five practices with your RESTful APIs will make your API easier and safer to use. A safe, secure API with good documentation can deliver a great developer experience, and the added ease of use will help your adoption rates. Furthermore, these best practices will keep your code clean, and your operations running smoothly, and your customers happy.
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