An API is a set of rules that determine how apps or devices communicate and connect with each other. Tech giants like Facebook, GitHub, and Netflix are the leaders of this show as they are hiring developers with open arms to exploit their data by using APIs.
Since APIs help developers communicate with the data, they become more comfortable and easier for developers. However, REST APIs must be well-designed; else, they can create many difficulties for developers rather than enhancing the user experience. This is why REST API best practices must be followed when it comes to catering to your clients with the most efficiency.
What is REST API?
REST API (also known as RESTful API) is an application programming interface. Usually, HTTPS communication protocol accesses the Restful app programming interface.
Basic Features of REST API
Before delving into the best practices for the RESTful API design, let’s first learn the key traits of REST API:
1. Easy to View and Read
Developers can easily and comfortably work with a precisely designed API as it is easy to read. They can remember its related functions and resources while dealing with it constantly.
2. Hard to Misuse
You can somewhat reduce the possibilities of writing wrong code if you execute and integrate your API with a sharp and clean design. Also, it gives crucial feedback without commanding tough instructions on the end customer.
3. Outright and to the Point
A comprehensive API helps developers make potential apps against the data hazard revealed by you. Hence, many API developers don’t hurry to complete the whole project simultaneously but rather create on the existing APIs.
10 Best Practices to Follow for REST API Development
If you want to make your API user’s life simple and precise, you must follow some of the best REST API design and development practices. Here are some proven methods to follow while designing and developing REST APIs:
1. Clear and Concise Documentation
You must have complete and clear documentation. Oftentimes, documentation is produced automatically depending on the API definition. Otherwise, you will have to ensure that the documentation can be understood easily by people with less or no experience.
You need complete documentation so it can help users learn security, authentication, and error management. Moreover, it provides engaging tutorials, guides, and easy-to-use resources. Comprehensive documentation makes it simpler for users to use your API.
2. Utilizing JSON as a Data Format
JSON is the most commonly utilized data format, although you can send data in other formats like CSV, XML, and HTML. JSON syntax can make data easy to read for humans. It is easy to use and offers quick and easy data assessment and execution. Moreover, it contains an extensive array of supported browser compatibility.
3. API Versioning
This practice enables developers to make changes in particular actions or the data structure. You may deal with more than one API version if your project increases with time and in size. But the benefit is that this enables developers to create more enhancements and changes in their service alongside holding a part of API users that are slow in accepting new changes or not ready to change.
We find mixed feedback on whether we should include an API version in the URL or a header. Academically, it should be placed in the header. But, the version must be present in the REST API URL. This makes sure the search of the browser across different versions, offering a seamless and easy experience of development.
An API is usually unstable and variable as well. Although you cannot avoid the change, you should check the ways of dealing with the change. Scheduling a well-documented and declared depreciation every month is a great practice for plenty of APIs.
4. Error Management
Errors should be smartly managed to reduce confusion for every API user. This returns the HTTP response codes that explain the nature of the mistake that occurred. The API maintainers get ample data from it to assess the source and reason behind the issue.
If you want to keep your system error-free, just leave them unmanaged. Hence, the API customer needs to deal with errors. Here are some basic error HTTP status codes:
- 404 Not Found – This means that there are no resources.
- 403 Forbidden – This implies that an improper user has no permission to use a resource even if he/she gets verified.
- 401 Unauthorized – This means that the user is not authorized to employ a resource. Generally, it goes back if a user does not get verified.
- 400 Bad Requests – This implies that the client-side input has been unsuccessful in documentation or validation.
- 503 Service Unavailable – This marks that something unnecessary and unexpected action occurred on the server-side; for example, system failure, part failure, server overload, etc.
- 502 Bad Gateway – This denotes a null or invalid response from a crucial server.
- 500 Internal Server Error – It’s a basic server error.
5. Enhancing API Security
Using present security frameworks like TLS and SSL is another great practice for creating APIs. SSL certificates can create a secure connection by offering a private and public key. Without this encrypted connection, you cannot get an assurance that you are safeguarding sensitive data like financial or medical info properly.
TLS is SSL’s most modern version that provides improved security and protection. Regular testing is one of the essential API security best practices. You can use these 2 necessary tests:
- Penetrating Testing – This test decides the exposure of APIs to a real cyber attack. The tester looks for susceptibilities that might be misused by the hackers.
- Fuzz Testing – This test is useful for checking how APIs respond to the unnecessary or invalid input for finding errors or flaws in the code.
Ultimately, rate limiting can easily prevent DoS (Denial of Service) attacks where excessive requests ruin an API’s basic functionality. Restricting the number of requests per user for some time can safeguard your API from such attacks.
6. Allowing Data Filtering, Sorting, Field Selection, and Paging
It’s tough to handle massive databases. Retrieving just the data that was asked for without showcasing the whole database is one of the most challenging aspects for making sure a secure connection with API. You must use a filter for doing this so it can just return the data that meets the request.
Moreover, it saves massive bandwidth size on the client-side. With the growth of your database, the necessity of data filters also becomes more essential. REST API provides a variety of filtering options:
Filtering – This helps check results using particular search parameters like country, creation data, etc.
GET /users?country=US GET /users?creation_date=2021-09-20
Sorting – This enables you to sort out the results in ascending or descending format using your chosen parameter like dates.
GET /users?sort=birthdate_date:asc GET /users?sort=birthdate_date:desc
Field Selection – This feasible REST API development function enables developers to ask for just a particular of the accessible data for a specific object. Therefore, if the object you are requesting has lots of fields like name, surname, birth date, phone number, email ID, and you just need a few ones, simply use field selection for mentioning the ones you need to add to the response.
Paging – Use ‘limit’ for checking the results in a particular number. Moreover, it uses ‘offset’ for informing which section of the whole results is showcased.
GET /users?limit=50 GET /users?offset=3
7. Optimizing for Human Readers
As mentioned above, APIs must be easy to understand and use. Apart from using JSON, you can use some other things to make APIs easy to use and understand:
- Utilize clear and easy naming systems with no abbreviation.
- Utilize nouns rather than verbs in HTTP methods.
- Have easy-to-understood and simple descriptions for error management, along with standardized error codes.
- Utilize plural nouns for collections according to the accepted norms.
8. Keeping Resource Nesting Limited
Resource nesting helps pair two functions that share a similar hierarchy or are associated with each other. If you consider an online store as an example, ‘orders’ and ‘users’ are resources under a similar category.
/users //list all users /users/xyz //specific user /users/xyz/orders //list of orders that belong to a specific user /users/xyz/orders/0001 //specific orders of a specific users order list
Nesting is an effective practice for the relevant pairing of resources. However, many developers overuse it, which reduces its appeal.
Moreover, it produces complex dependencies that a basic developer or user cannot understand properly. Thereby, using your resource nesting efficiently is one of the best practices for REST API development.
9. Exploiting Safe Methods
A few safe tactics are HTTP methods that restore the precise resource representation. HEAD, GET, OPTIONS, and TRACE strategies are considered safe. This implies that they can usually retrieve data without modifying a resource’s condition on the server. Furthermore, avoid using GET for erasing content.
Usually, you can execute these methods but when the HTTP specification gets violated, problems arise. Thereby, use HTTP methods according to the action you should carry out.
10. Caching Data in Frontend
Use caching, rather than asking for data several times. The benefit of caching is that users can receive data more quickly. However, the users may get outdated data also. Moreover, this may cause issues while fixing in production environments if something wrong occurs as we see outdated data constantly.
The aforesaid best practices can help you achieve your targets in REST API development, alongside making sure that your solution is easy to use and safe. However, these practices are sometimes challenging to attain also. With the help of an API management platform, you can create successful APIs with less or no knowledge of coding.
FAQs About REST API Development
In terms of APIs, there are no differences between REST and RESTful. REST is a set of constraints. RESTful refers to an API that follows those constraints.
A web service is a network-based resource that performs a specific task, whereas an API is an interface that enables you to build software that interacts with an existing application. We can say, all web services are APIs, but not all APIs are web services.
REST API offers many advantages such as a great deal of flexibility, easy to understand, can handle multiple types of calls, use standard HTTP procedure call, etc.