A few years ago, there were ongoing debates about whether REST (Representational State Transfer) or SOAP (Simple Object Access protocol) would reign supreme in the API world. If you’re not a programmer, this sentence might have been incredibly confusing. What do these acronyms even mean?

What is an API?

API stands for Application Program Interface. API is essentially a series of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) request messages that communicate routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. When building web-enabled and mobile-based applications, the API interacts with the API server by requesting and receiving data. There are many different APIs out there, but, a good API will make it easy for the developer to build a program that allows all components on the server to interact.

If this still doesn’t make sense, don’t worry! Check out this video to get another explanation.

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What kind of APIs are out there?

In our opening paragraph, we mentioned REST (Representational State Transfer) and SOAP (Simple Object Access protocol). These are the two main API protocols. While SOAP is generally prefered by programmers who deal with formal programming languages (Microsoft.NET and Java for example), REST is the most popular protocol.

Advantages of SOAP

Even though 70% of public APIs use REST, SOAP still does have some advantages including:

  • It’s language, platform, and transport independent.
  • It works wells in distributed enterprise environments.
  • It’s standardized.
  • It has pre-build extensibility.
  • It has built-in error handling.
  • It has automation when used with certain language products.  

Advantages of REST

In general, REST is easier for programmers to use and is significantly more flexible. Its advantages include:

  • It has no expensive tools required to interact with the web service.
  • It has a smaller learning curve.
  • It can use smaller message formats than SOAP which makes it more efficient.
  • It’s fast because it doesn’t require extensive processing.
  • It’s closer to other web technologies.

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REST API Best Practices

Now that we understand a little bit more about APIs – and specifically REST and SOAP – we are going to look deeper at how we can use REST and develop some best practices. There are a lot of guides out there that show you some of the best practices of REST API. Here are a few of them that we have created, so you can gain a better understanding of how to succeed using REST:

Managing State with REST

WIth the increasing popularity of cloud computing and microservices, it’s important for developers to understand how to manage state with REST. There are two main methods used to manage state:

  1. Pass state to the service in the RESTful call.
  2. Make sure state is maintained by a back-end database accessible by any instance of the service.

If you want REST applications to be just as compliant as SOAP ones, you need to be sure that your methods are consistent. Back-end management is preferable unless it’s impractical for your application.

How to Keep REST Secure

One of the main concerns with REST is that it is not as secure as SOAP. Security needs to be a top priority, and there are a few ways you can make sure it is secure:

  1. You can establish a private RFC 1918 address space where the components employ.
  2. You can use secure connection like https.
  3. You can use identify tokens.

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The Future of REST

It’s important for software developers and architects to get familiar with REST because cloud computing and microservices are becoming ever more popular. With REST becoming the most popular architecture used, it’s probably time for you to use REST while developing your next software application to ensure you don’t fall behind the times.