If you are looking to design a REST API for your database-driven application, there is likely a few different routes that you are considering. Some companies prefer to simply find the API they need online. Others, often with more technical expertise, try to create their own RESTful API design so that they can have creative control over their product.

For those that are looking to create their own RESTful API design, we have put together 7 tips or guidelines to help walk you through the process. By following the REST API best practices that we lay out, not only will you be able to create a well-function API, but hopefully soon you will have others reaching out to you asking for your design. Let’s get started.

REST API Design

RESTful API design tips

Before we get into the nitty gritty, we first wanted to mention what it means to design a REST API that will stand the test of time. While many developers and designers typically use HTTP for their RESTful API design, there are certain limitations that come with it we would rather avoid.

Instead of thinking of things as database-driven, we want to focus on creating a RESTful API design that is logical and can’t be cracked. With this in mind, let’s take a look at what this means from a technical perspective.

1. User-centric API design

According to Sam Newman, instead of designing with a database-driven model, he suggests that you divide your application into what is called bounded contexts. Think of bounded contexts as ways in which users will interact with your application. Then, from there, you can divide your API into how users will use your application, opposed to the old way of dividing by what data will be used.

By starting off your design by thinking of how your users will interact with your API, you will find that there is a lot that goes into RESTful API design that can be left out. As Joshua Bloch says, “When it doubt, leave it out.” Not only will this cut down on redundancies, but your design should flow much smoother without irrelevant functions weighing it down.

2. Use subresources to highlight relationships

Instead of using top-level resources to make relationships obvious you can use subresources to reduce dependencies. When you are dividing your subresources, a good rule of thumb on deciding what should or shouldn’t be a subresource is whether or not it is seen as a part of something else.

Keep in mind, however, that subresources cannot be used outside of their parent resource. If you are designing to have a small amount of subresources, this is worth considering. In the end, the important thing is simply being consistent. For us and the experts we follow, they recommend this method, but regardless of what you pick, your entire RESTful API design should be on the same page. This is more important than having maximized efficiency.

api design

3. Use Snapshots for dashboard data

A common request from managers is to see a report with certain data fields. For whatever purpose they might need this, it often means that you will need to access multiple subresources that may or may not be available depending on how you show relationships.

Instead of simply flattening your entire design, Subbu Allamaraju suggests a different approach called Snapshots. Snapshots allow you to create a snapshot resource using

/orders/snapshot

Incorporating this with your RESTful API design can allow you to more easily find the data you or your manager are looking for.

4. Hide internal codes

For those with experience in mobile app design or a similar field, you might be familiar with hiding internal codes to make a more user-friendly experience with your application. The same can be applied to RESTful API design.

A good approach is to let the REST API translate your code into a more human-readable view and then simply remove the Id part, leaving you with a more readable text. This can potentially lead to a slower service, but unless you have massive amounts of lookup fields, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Ultimately, your users will thank you for making your API more readable, even if it means it is slightly less capable when it comes to performance.

5. Translate your RESTful API design automatically

For many companies in the globalized world we live in, you will need your RESTful API design to work across multiple languages. Thankfully, the API can do the work for you. By simply allowing users to select their preferred language under HTTP header Accept-Language,  they can get started with their correct language and never look back.

megadata subresource

6. Create a megadata subresource

For designers that are looking to build a robust API solution, creating a megadata subresource is the perfect way to make sure that your users can find everything they are looking for. After all, what is the point of spending time creating a wonderful RESTful API design if no one can use it?

Within your megadata subresource, provide a list of values and other megadata that are needed when using specific resources. Make sure that your responses are cached properly if you want to avoid loss in performance. Doing this will not only lead to a more robust solution, but a more flexible one as well.

Conclusion

That’s all that we have for today, but with the information we have relayed from some of our favorite RESTful API designers you should be set for creating a solution that meets your business needs.

Not only that, but if you are able to keep the user in mind throughout the entire process, you are likely to stand out from other designers who are still operating from a top-down approach. So, what are you waiting for? Get designing!

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