What is the difference between a traditional API and a REST API? To answer this question, let's take a quick look at how it all started.
Back in 2000, emerging startups like Salesforce, Amazon, and eBay set out to change the way we did business on the web by adding the ".com" and making products and services available to customers through a single website.
When you hear the acronym API, it almost always refers to the modern approach of using HTTP to provide access to machine-readable data in a JSON or XML format, often referred to simply as Web APIs.
This article focuses on the REST API, defining it and analyzing how it differs from other APIs.
An API, or Application Programming Interface, is a set of protocols that allow different software components to transfer data. Developers use APIs to bridge the gaps between small, discrete pieces of code to create robust, stable, secure, and responsive applications.
There are many different types of APIs and ways to categorize them, for instance, by who has access to them or by their architectural style. We're going to focus on the most common architectural styles, which include the following:
REpresentational State Transfer, or REST, is a software architectural style that developers apply to web APIs. REST APIs provide simple, uniform interfaces because they can be used to make data, content, algorithms, media, and other digital resources available through web URLs. In essence, REST APIs are the most common APIs used on the Web today.
The key elements of a REST API are:
To get access to a resource, the client sends an HTTP request. In return, the server generates an HTTP response with encoded data on the resource. Both types of REST messages are self-descriptive, meaning they contain information on how to interpret and process them.
While APIs and REST APIs are often used interchangeably, there are some important differences between the two. APIs can refer to any type of interface that enables communication between different systems. REST APIs are a specific type of API that adheres to the constraints of the REST architecture.
RESTful APIs use HTTP requests to interact with data, while traditional APIs can use a variety of protocols. Also, RESTful APIs are designed to be stateless, meaning that each request contains all the information necessary to complete it, whereas traditional APIs may require additional context or information to be passed between systems.
This particular type of API adheres to six specific architectural imperatives:
Although RESTful APIs provide an easier way to access and manipulate applications, security issues can still arise. For example, a client can send thousands of requests per second and crash your server. Other security challenges with REST APIs include:
REST APIs are highly scalable. They are stateless, meaning that each request contains all the necessary information for the server to process it. This design allows REST APIs to handle a large number of concurrent requests and scale easily across multiple servers.
The speed of data transfer and the impact on data transfer speed can vary depending on the type of API involved.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Whether selecting an existing API for use in a software project or building a new API from scratch, consider the following:
Well, every project and industry is different in terms of goals and requirements. Just keep the following considerations in mind:
One of the great things about APIs is that you can test and experiment with them on a small scale or in a sandbox environment before committing to them fully. Experiment with sample requests, evaluate the API's response times, security, reliability, and overall performance, and determine whether the API meets the performance expectations and provides the functionality you need.
Directual has everything you need to build your own APIs. Our API builder can help you configure complex API settings, such as filtering, validating, sorting, custom query parameters processing, and (a unique Directual feature!) calling synchronic scenarios. Check out our 101 crash course to start building REST APIs tailerod to your needs like a pro.
With REST APIs, operations are performed using a variety of HTTP methods, including GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, OPTIONS, and PATCH. This makes REST APIs extremely powerful.
The client and server are completely decoupled, allowing for layers of abstraction that help maintain flexibility as a system grows and evolves. In addition, REST is cache-friendly and supports multiple formats, which is important when you're building public APIs. Flexible data formatting makes REST APIs extremely useful for a wide variety of applications.
REST APIs are most often used as management APIs to interact with objects in a system, making them useful for building simple resource-driven applications that don't require a lot of query flexibility.
REST APIs metadata creates large payloads that can sometimes cause more problems. You can get over- and under-fetching problems that require more API requests, slowing down the process.
There is no required structure for messages. As a result, there is a lot of tinkering when it comes to implementation - which can lead to unnecessary frustration and bottlenecks.
SOAP is completely independent in terms of programming language and processing platform. The standardized format ensures that no matter what is receiving the message on the other end, the request can be executed.
This type of API also helps developers resolve issues before they become critical because native error handling is already in place.
One of SOAP's greatest strengths is its ability to provide secure data transfer in situations where two parties have agreed to a specific legal contract. SOAP's standardization performs wonderfully, allowing the terms of the contract to be formally codified throughout the API's processing.
The standardization of SOAP makes requests incredibly accessible to applications, but as a side effect, the format can become very verbose. Each message must include an envelope tag at the beginning and end, a body that contains the actual request, a header for specific information and additional requirements, and any errors that occur during processing.
In recent years, SOAP has declined in popularity due to the sheer amount of information it requires. The XML files are often unnecessarily bulky, especially for simple systems. The number of people who specialize in SOAP servers is shrinking rapidly, making it difficult to maintain them if you don't already have the right talent on your team.
GraphQL API queries are well-documented, giving users all the information they need to use them effectively. The precise results, detailed error messages, and flexible permissions make for balanced and highly functional APIs. This is especially true when it comes to data structuring, where GraphQL gives users significant flexibility.
GraphQL suffers from performance issues if you have too many nested fields in a request. It also doesn't reuse standard HTTP caching semantics, so it requires custom effort to achieve proper caching, making it difficult to learn without a lot of training and experience.
It's simple, use GET to get information and POST for everything else. This means that functions are easy to add, and you get great overall performance for lightweight payloads. The ability to define any type of function makes it infinitely configurable.
By simplifying otherwise complex remote calls, gRPC has also become a staple of the Docker-based application world, proving its value when you need to make large numbers of remote calls.
gRPC is tightly coupled to the underlying system, which limits its reusability in many cases. In addition, there is no abstraction layer between the API and the actual system functions, which can raise security concerns.
WebSockets act as a light transport layer that sits on top of your TCP/IP technology stack. The API allows you to send messages to a server and receive event-driven responses without having to poll the server for a response.
The inherent difference between a WebSockets API and a gRPC API is that WebSockets is based on HTTP/1.1 while gRPC was built on HTTP/2. It was a natural evolution of technology, but that's not to say that one is better than the other.
In summary, REST APIs offer simplicity, scalability, and better integration capabilities because they rely on standard Web technologies. They also tend to have better performance and security options. However, traditional APIs still have their use cases and may be appropriate in scenarios where legacy systems or specific protocols are already in place.
REST stands for Representational State Transfer. This means that when a client requests a resource using a REST API, the server returns the current state of the resource in a standardized representation.
No, they are not. JSON is a compact data format that can be used by RESTful web services. REST is a software architectural style. Learn more about JSON and no-code.
No, not always. The REST architecture allows API providers to deliver data in multiple formats such as plain text, HTML, XML, YAML, and JSON.
REST is a standard architectural type used for developing backend APIs.
While many people continue to use REST and HTTP interchangeably, the truth is that they are different things. REST refers to a set of attributes of a particular architectural style, while HTTP is a well-defined protocol that happens to have many of the characteristics of a RESTful system.
No, Google itself is not a REST API. However, Google provides various RESTful APIs for developers to utilize with their services.
Join 15,000+ no-coders using Directual and create something you can be proud of—both faster and cheaper than ever before. It’s easy to start thanks to the visual development UI, and just as easy to scale with powerful, enterprise-grade databases and backend.