In the digital age that we live in, everything changes at a rapid rate. Last year’s top technology is this year’s old news. Being a few generations behind on a phone often equates to a huge gap in capabilities. One area that is also changing at an ever-growing speed is the world of REST API. In order to make sure you aren’t getting lost in the swirl of these changes, we have put together 10 REST API best practices you probably don’t know about yet.

Each of these REST API best practices has been put together by experts in the field who have learned from their mistakes and years of working with these programs. Not only will these help make sure your API is the best that it can be, but up-to-date as well.

Even if you already have a good understanding of RESTful API design, you might be surprised by you find. Let’s get to it.

restful api best practices

1. Use proper RESTful Methods

An obvious yet often ignored REST API best practice is to use RESTful methods. Instead of putting in the extra effort to type out something like /api/getCustomers, you should be using the proper methods such as GET /api/customers. Here are a few other examples to work off of that you should be using.

  •      Use GET for retrieving resources.
  •      Use POST for creating new resources.
  •      Use PATCH for updating resources.
  •      Use DELETE for deleting resources.

And so on and so on.

2. Use JSON to send data

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a lightweight data-interchange format. It is easy for humans to read and write and easy for machines to parse and generate.

While it used to be common practice to use XML or SOAP for data transfers, JSON is the preferred tool of REST API design. JSON makes everything more readable and can be assembled for consumers much more easily.

3. Use proper HTTP status codes

Instead of always using 200 status for everything, user the proper HTTP status codes. This REST API best practice will make status codes easier to understand and sort. Here are some of the most commonly used status codes we employ.

  •      200 OK: Use this if everything worked well.
  •      201 CREATED: Use this for POST requests when you create a new resource.
  •      204 NO CONTENT: Use this when you successfully delete a resource.
  •      400 INVALID REQUEST: use this if all the parameters are not provided.
  •      401 UNAUTHORIZED: Use this if you have a permissions issue.
  •      403 FORBIDDEN: Use this if you have a permissions issue.
  •      404 NOT FOUND: Use this if you were not able to find the resource.
  •      500 INTERNAL SERVER ERROR: Use this if your server encounters an error.

man developing computer program

4. Everyone make mistakes: Monitor yours.

Handling errors in API requires careful planning, but when done correctly, it can save you a lot of headache. The REST API best practice here is to return error messages in the same format every time. This way, the consumer doesn’t have to handle different semantics on different platforms.

If you are looking to go the extra mile, you can link a matching article when an error occurs. This allows the user to debug the program immediately. The worst thing is when an error has no message or links you to the wrong place. Make it easy on your consumers and keep everything consistent.

5. Always paginate your results

Less is more when it comes to managing results. Thankfully, REST API programs often have add-ons that you can employ that make pagination simple. This way, when your customers are looking through their data, they will not have thousands of results. Instead, they will have much fewer results that then can be opened up to view the data points.

Avoid providing meta data such as total number of results. This REST API best practice will make sure you aren’t wasting computing time and decrease the query load on the database.

6. Rate Limiting

As you initially get started with your API, you probably won’t have to worry about performance or limiting resources. However, you should build your API with growth in mind. Hopefully soon thousands of users will begin to use your API, but when this happens, if everything starts loading slow, your success will not last for long.

Implement a rate-limit early on to avoid clogging up your servers. What happens when developers forget to do this is one user might load a page thousands of times in one hour and crash the entire service. Be proactive and give yourself and your users room to grow.

7. Version your API

This is another REST API best practice that often goes unused. By versioning your API, you are making everything predictable for your customers, which they will appreciate. Along with that, having multiple versions makes backwards compatibility easy while allowing for changes to be consistently made to the program.

computer code and meta data

8. Separate your JSON responses into meta and data fields

When you are sending out a JSON response, divide the information into meta and data fields. This way, instead of sending the customer information about the request they just made, you can send them just the information they are looking for.

This pattern makes it easy for your customers to send you error messages, helping everyone in the process. If you prefer, you can use HTTP response headers to store the meta data. Either way that you choose, the most important part is using the same pattern for everything.

9. Use plural names for all resources.

By giving your resources plural names, everything makes more sense to your customers. For example, instead of saying /api/customer: fetch all customer, you will say /api/customers: fetch all customers.

This is incredibly simple, but that is how your design should be. Not only will your users thank you for saving them lost minutes trying to understand your API, but it makes your life easier too not having to reply to so many error messages that this creates.

10.  Use query strings to manipulate data

Query strings should be used for sorting, searching, and filtering data. You can also pagination, as we talked about earlier, but query strings often make it easier to look through. Don’t forget that filtering should generally be done by attribute name of the resource.

We hope that you were able to learn some new tips and tricks from this list. By employing these REST API best practices, you are setting yourself up for massive success.