REST API Meaning- Full Definition & How It Works

When businesses research API solutions to determine what type of integration would best meet their needs, learning the REST API meaning and its protocols allow management to understand how architecture affects functionality. The robust infrastructure and protocols of RESTful APIs ensure data exchange is streamlined using a layered system, information retention, and formatting management.

Modern API integration provides various types and protocols to meet every business's requirements, regardless of the architectural style and API design of existing systems. However, RESTful API software is among the most used models due to its flexibility and functionality.

What is REST API?

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First off, an application program interface (API) is software that enables multiple systems to integrate and share data. Representational state transfer (REST) is the architectural style and protocols used within an API to keep cloud-based data in a standard format. While similar to simple object access protocol (SOAP) APIs, REST has a less rigid structure, allowing flexible data sharing. Therefore, the REST API allows web services to connect and share functions, information, and consolidate processes.

REST APIs streamline communication between a company's internal departments to increase service speed, data transparency, and overall efficiency. However, these solutions can also connect with external systems, creating a server client relationship. For example, if a developer requests information from an Instagram API, the solution will send back a resource to the client. In this instance, the client is the browser that transmitted the user's request to the API. The resource is any information that is relevant to the command, in this case, likes, usernames, hashtags, and even photos.

Modern businesses commonly use RESTful APIs over other methods because it can operate using lesser bandwidth while connecting to several endpoints. This method offers organizations many other benefits, including-

  • Scalability - The functionality that REST API offers companies ensures that the solution can grow with business expansion. Developers can easily integrate additional components and features with the REST API design without creating new applications.
  • Flexibility - RESTful APIs are more efficient and straightforward to integrate than other methods due to their ability to handle various data formats. Users can communicate efficiently regardless of the content type or programming language.
  • Independence - By separating the client-side from the server-side, REST APIs allow changes to be made on one end without affecting the other application state. This also ensures that if the software ever needs to be adjusted, the API testing can be conducted without disrupting other operations.

How do REST APIs Work?

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Regardless of the type of API, the software works to gather resources according to the command it is given. Typically, when using REST APIs, the software follows the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), which uses a group of uniform resource locators (URLs) to mark the web API used. However, these resources can be in various formats, including JSON, XML, and HTML object access, or audio files that are translated via HTTP. This translation allows information to pass back through the software and to the user.

A more comprehensive way to look at a REST API is considering how a user generally browses online. If a person is looking for a restaurant, they may go to an internet browser and search local diners to which the search engine populates hundreds of pages. RESTful APIs operate similarly as they retrieve relevant results based on the user's command.

The solution seeks to break down a command into smaller components to address its intention better. The four standard requests include-

  • Get - Retrieve resources
  • Put - Alter resources
  • Post - Create new resources / Post request
  • Delete - Eliminate resources / Delete request

As RESTful APIs interpret resources using URLs, they make excellent integration solutions for businesses utilizing cloud-computing applications and services.

REST Protocols

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Like any API design, REST service has its own constraints and principles to abide by, such as-

1. Client-Service - The separation of the client and server allows developers to not only implement independent alterations but also improve portability. The user interface can scale across several platforms without disrupting data storage or other system components.

2. Stateless - In order to be stateless, the RESTful web service does not keep client information, apart from cache constraints, on its server. Therefore, every request sent from the client to the resource server should contain the appropriate data to fulfill the command. However, session state requires the client to store and handle the application data.

3. Cacheable - Not to be confused with statelessness, cache is the ability to store frequently used data, such as a login password. Within the REST architectural style, information that passes through must be labeled as cacheable or non-cacheable. If a response is cacheable, then the client is allowed to reuse the data later to satisfy a similar request.

4. Uniform Interface - By establishing a standard interface, the REST API design is simplified, and the interconnections between systems are enhanced. However, to achieve a completely uniform interface, all participating components must abide by the REST architecture requirements. In this model, the constraints include identifying resources, manipulating resource representation, descriptive messages, and hypermedia as the engine of the application state (HATEOAS).

5. Layered System - Creating a tiered system enhances component management by restricting what information each application is allowed to access. By constraining components to specific layers, they can only interact with other systems within the same levels.

There are several elements to the model that are necessary to consider when determining what integration method to use. Learning the process behind REST API integration is essential for businesses to understand how the solution can improve their performance, communication, and task execution.