A survivor of intimate contact with many Cloud APIs, George Reese shared his thoughts about the experience in a blog post titled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of REST APIs“.
Here are the highlights of his verdict, with some comments.
“Supporting both JSON and XML [is good]”
I disagree: Two versions of a protocol is one too many (the post behind this link doesn’t specifically discuss the JSON/XML dichotomy but its logic applies to that situation, as Tim Bray pointed out in a comment).
“REST is good, SOAP is bad”
Not necessarily true for all integration projects, but in the context of Cloud APIs, I agree. As long as it’s “pragmatic REST”, not the kind that involves silly contortions to please the REST police.
“Meaningful error messages help a lot”
True and yet rarely done properly.
“Providing solid API documentation reduces my need for your help”
Goes without saying (for a good laugh, check out the commenter on George’s blog entry who wrote that “if you document an API, you API immediately ceases to have anything to do with REST” which I want to believe was meant as a joke but appears written in earnest).
“Map your API model to the way your data is consumed, not your data/object model”
Very important. This is a core part of Humble Architecture.
“Using OAuth authentication doesn’t map well for system-to-system interaction”
“Throttling is a terrible thing to do”
I don’t agree with that sweeping statement, but when George expands on this thought what he really seems to mean is more along the lines of “if you’re going to throttle, do it smartly and responsibly”, which I can’t disagree with.
“And while we’re at it, chatty APIs suck”
Yes. And one of the main causes of API chattiness is fear of angering the REST gods by violating the sacred ritual. Either ignore that fear or, if you can’t, hire an expensive REST consultant to rationalize a less-chatty design with some media-type black magic and REST-bless it.
Finally George ends by listing three “ugly” aspects of bad APIs (“returning HTML in your response body”, “failing to realize that a 4xx error means I messed up and a 5xx means you messed up” and “side-effects to 500 errors are evil”) which I agree on but I see those as a continuation of the earlier point about paying attention to the error messages you return (because that’s what the developers who invoke your API will be staring at most of the time, even if they represents only 0.01% of the messages you return).
What’s most interesting is what’s NOT in George’s list. No nit-picking about REST purity. That tells you something about what matters to implementers.
If I haven’t yet exhausted my quota of self-referential links, you can read REST in practice for IT and Cloud management for more on the topic.
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