Apps exist for just about every sector under the sun. While the terms and features of apps like social media apps, fitness apps, and travel apps will differ, they all have one thing in common: a client-server architecture.
RESTful APIs have become the standard for communicating between a product’s server part and its clients. An excellent RESTful API should support different types of clients and be easily understandable by developers using the API. Let’s take a closer look at the best practices and tips involved with creating your own RESTful API.
Use the Appropriate Supported Data Format
Your RESTful API should send and receive data in an understandable and convenient format. Your data format will determine how effective your API is. The three most commonly used formats used in RESTful APIs are:
- Direct data formats, such as JSON and XML.
- Feed data formats, such as RSS and Atom.
- Database data formats, such as SQL and CSV.
Use Uniform Resource Identifiers
Before building your own API, you should have a thorough knowledge of Uniform Resource Identifiers. Dividing your API into logical resources is a key principle of REST. By using the sequence of symbols that identify resources of a Uniform Resource Identifier, developers are able to access representations of that resource.
Endpoints specify where resources are located and how third-party software can access them. Naming resource endpoints is critical for API usability. Tips for naming endpoints include:
- Use nouns rather than verbs for your chosen resource path names.
- Do not mix singular and plural nouns.
- Use sub-resources for relations if one resource is related to another.
Keep Older Versions of Your RESTful API
Even if your RESTful API is updated multiple times and even completely rewritten, it is essential you keep older versions running and supported. As long as people use those older versions, they need to be available, and they need to run smoothly still.
Ensure Your API is Secure
It goes without saying that protecting your API against hackers is vital. You can ensure security at the backend development stage by:
- Only using HTTPS endpoints to authenticate credentials like passwords and JSON Web Tokens.
- Adding a timestamp to HTTP requests so that requests can only be made within a specific timeframe, such as one minute.
- Restricting HTTP methods by creating a list of permitted methods, which allows other requests to be rejected.
- Putting vigorous validation checks in place to reject requests that immediately fail validation.
- Not exposing sensitive data in URLs, such as usernames, passwords, and API keys.
Monitor API Access and Usage to Identify Error Handling
It is crucial you monitor real-time API access and usage so you can control exception handling and provide information that enables API clients to understand what happens on the server. You should map all exceptions in an error payload and demonstrate where errors came from.
Understand Error Codes
Anyone creating a RESTful API must understand what different error codes mean. Also known as HTTP status codes, these codes are the standard responses that web servers identify to show whether a performed action was successful or not. Error codes also help developers with troubleshooting and error handling. Common error codes include:
- 204: No Content.
- 400: Bad Request.
- 401: Unauthorized.
- 404: Not Found.
- 500: Internal Server Error.
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