10 Best Practices to Follow for REST API Development

REST API Development

Developers have been given a red carpet welcome by Facebook, GitHub, Netflix, and a few other tech juggernauts who have opened their data to them. The trend today is for innovative tech platforms to add beautifully composed REST APIs to elevate their platform. APIs prescribe a set of rules that define how devices or programs can communicate with one another. 

Developers can communicate with the data using an API, which is a reflective interface. Developers’ lives can be made easier and more comfortable by an API that is beautifully structured and designed. Yet, the critical point here is – fully designed REST APIs. When a REST API isn’t crafted with precision, it can cause problems for developers in lieu of easing the user experience. For this reason, it is extremely important to adhere to the conventions of API design in order to provide the best solution to your developers or clients.

What is a REST API?

A REST API (also known as RESTful API) is an application programming interface (API or web API) that conforms to the constraints of REST architectural style and allows for interaction with RESTful web services. REST stands for representational state transfer and was created by computer scientist Roy Fielding.

1. Use JSON as a data format

Different data formats, such as HTML, XML, and CSV, can be used, but JSON is the most commonly used. It is easy to parse & fast to execute data using JSON, and it can be prettified to be human-readable. Furthermore, it is compatible with most major web browsers.

2. Use Nouns

When naming endpoints, don’t use verbs; use nouns instead. An HTTP method (e.g. GET, POST, PUT, PATCH) is used to trigger actions and already informs you of what action is being performed. Depending on how the endpoint is used, these factors will be a major factor.

3. Use the plurals

Each of your data resources is a collection. This means you will likely have many collections with many elements. This is not just good development practice but also helps your end-users understand the endpoint.

4. Use Resource Nesting

Whenever there is a functional hierarchy or interdependence among resource objectives, the objectives are always related. While nesting is preferable in REST APIs, too many levels can lead to a lack of elegance. Limit the nesting to one level. If we consider online stores, “users” and “orders” are part of stores.

5. Pay attention to Error Handling

A project is always prone to errors, no matter how great of a developer you are. Consequently, error handling is an important skill in API development. It is very important that an API returns the appropriate HTTP error code, which would accurately describe the type of individual error that occurred. A problem that is detected early is easier to fix and cheaper. HTTP status codes consist of 71 distinct codes with clear error messages. In most cases, standard error handling of HTTP statuses is sufficient, but adding a verbose message with the internal code reference makes the message more user-friendly.

The ideal code for error handling should include the following elements:

Error – a unique identifier for the error

Message – a concise, readable message

Details – an explanation in greater detail

6. Versioning

There are certain to be more options and new methods when you create APIs. You may also need to change data structures. Providing your users with the option to stay with an older version of your API might be a good option for you.

7. Proper Documentation

It is crucial that documentation be provided for each framework, application, or software before being used in order to understand the solution and serve as a reference source for troubleshooting. It is essential that API documentation be concise and easy to understand by both technical and non-technical users.

The documentation you create will help your users understand aspects such as authentication, security, and error handling. Utilize training and tutorials as well as easily accessible resources and sources. The easier it is for your users to use your API the more organized your documentation will be.

8. Security

A REST API Best Practice is to encrypt communication using SSL/TLS. Ensuring database security for API developers is key. It is very important to earn the trust of the customers by keeping their sensitive details private. In order to prevent security breaches, SSL (Secure Socket Layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security) should be used. Secure connections are provided by SSL/TSL by using public and private keys. In this way, TSL provides better protection and security than SSL. 

9. Data Filtering REST API Best Practices

Massive databases can become challenging to manage. The most difficult aspect of securing API connections is to retrieve only the data requested without exposing the entire database. This can be accomplished by using a filter that will only return data when the request is fulfilled. As a result, the client requires much less bandwidth. Adding data filters becomes increasingly important as your database grows. REST API provides different types of filters such as –

  • Filtering
  • Sorting
  • Paging
  • Field Selection

Filtering, sorting, paging, and field selection are important features for efficiently using REST API. Most of these resource collections are often overwhelmingly vast, and retrieving specific data from this big list can be like finding a needle in a haystack. 

10. Automate caching

Repeatedly requesting and responding to the same data exhausts resources and is a sign of a flawed design. It is possible to resolve this problem by storing data obtained from the API on the server, and serving it from there.

Nevertheless, it is possible that the data might become outdated. Caching solutions like Redis and Amazon ElasticCache are industry standards that can cache data after every update.

Let’s give REST a great name!

All of us should strive to make APIs easy to use. This article has hopefully helped you learn how to write better REST APIs. I think it all comes down to semantics, simplicity, and common sense.

More than anything else, designing REST APIs is a craft. Would love to hear how you approach some of the points above in a different way. If you would like to get in touch, just let us know and we’ll be in touch within 24 hours.

In the meantime, keep ’em great APIs coming!