Magazine article Computers in Libraries

RESTful HTTP: What It Stands For: REpresentational State Transfer and Hypertext Transfer Protocol

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

RESTful HTTP: What It Stands For: REpresentational State Transfer and Hypertext Transfer Protocol

Article excerpt

WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?

REST is a proposed style for thinking about and designing Web applications. It describes a cohesive, resource-centric view of resources published on the Web and how to follow the intent and specifics of HTTP very closely to pattern specific types of behavior for those resources. In some ways, REST is a challenge to software developers to work harder to follow several best practices it defines for Web application design, each of which, the REST model argues, makes for a better Web experience for everybody.

GROUP BEHIND IT:

REST itself was coined and first described by Roy Fielding in his doctoral dissertation. (Trust me, this is one for your systems people.) Fielding is one of the authors of the HTTP specification itself, and his work in this area is closely followed by members of the network software community.

DOES IT REPLACE OR UPDATE A PREVIOUS STANDARD?

No, but it emphasizes the value of taking a more literal view of how to build applications using the HTTP specification. In that way, it augments what we know about building Web applications, even though it is not even a standard. Similarly, the influence of RESTful thinking is leading many Web software developers to update or to replace their tools to use newer, more RESTful ones, but these are not standards, either, just common tools.

WHAT STAGE OF DEVELOPMENT IS IT AT?

Though there has never been a "REST specification" per se, Dr. Fielding's dissertation has been widely read for several years, and its influence has been widely felt. If you use some of the newer, Web 2.0-style applications you might have read about in CIL, take a look at the URLs you visit on those sites. If the URLs seem to follow a coherent, concise pattern that maybe even makes sense in English (or other languages as appropriate), it's possible that that site's developers are using RESTful HTTP patterns, and it's likely that they have at least been influenced by the trend toward the REST approach. Contrast this with what you might remember from older Web applications, with their lengthy, impossible-to-transcribe-or-read URLs, and you'll have a hint at the kinds of best practices the REST model tries to drive developers toward.

PROS & CONS:

Pros: There are many benefits to following RESTful HTTP style. Because many of the latest and most popular Web development tools are influenced by REST, you might find it easier to design and publish Web resources that follow these techniques. …

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