The Ultimate Guide to Restful API (Representational State Transfer)

Posted on November 4, 2021 How-To Guides

In today’s digital world, nothing is an island. We’re more linked up and connected than before. Even our appliances are talking amongst themselves, at this point.

Linking up our devices and freeing up our data adds untold new dimensions of possibilities for every level of an organization. It also makes our workplaces and workflows infinitely more flexible and, thus, more useful. 

Application Program Interfaces (APIs) are the nervous system of this new way of computing and doing business. You need to come to grips with how to use a RESTful API (representational state transfer) if you hope to take advantage of this new paradigm. 

To help you get started, we’ve put together a short guide about RESTful APIs. When you’re finished, you’ll be able to use APIS in performance monitoring or any other kind of workflow you can imagine. 

What Is A RESTful API (Representational State transfer) 

Programmer and researcher Roy Fielding is the godfather of APIs. All of the rules and constraints surrounding the use of APIs were laid out in Fielding’s dissertation. He also specifies why these constraints need to be in place. 

Roy Fielding may have had some sort of crystal ball or access to a time machine, considering that he published his dissertation back in 2000. Fielding’s specifications about client-server architecture and stateless interactions are central to how Web 2.0 and mobile technology operate. 

Fielding’s dissertation lays out the precise definition of what a RESTful API (representational state transfer) is, so we’ll start there. Then we’ll delve into some specifics to show you how RESTful APIs factor into systems like application performance monitoring or a DNS performance monitor. 

RESTful APIs Follow Client-Server Architecture

The first rule of RESTful APIs is that the client must be kept separate from the server. Separating the consumer from the server allows for more flexibility from either side.

It’s also a key component for ensuring digital security.

Client-server architecture is built into the current iteration of the internet. For most day-to-day uses of the internet, you send some sort of request using a browser. You might tell your browser to open the homepage for the New York Times, for instance. 

This query prompts the browser to return a batch of HTML files, style sheets, and media files. Your browser then reassembles these pieces into an intelligible webpage. 

Everyday web use and RESTful principles are often hard to tell apart. This is, in part, due to the fact that HTTP follows many of the dictates of RESTful architecture. 

RESTful architecture isn’t solely confined to the internet, however. It’s also meant as a standard for FTP interactions and streaming, for instance.

RESTful Is Stateless 

The next dictate of RESTful is that every interaction needs to be stateless. This means that every request needs to contain all of the necessary information for the server to understand the request. 

In APIs, this most often manifests in API calls containing either a GET or POST command.

Including the request information in the API call reduces the monitoring requirements as the server only needs to assess one call at a time. It also helps to keep the server secure as the API call never actually interacts with the server. 

This can have some tradeoffs in terms of network performance, as a certain amount of redundancy is built into the system. Every system has its perks and drawbacks, however. 

RESTful Uses Cache

In RESTful architecture, there’s another stage between the client and the server. RESTful architecture needs to have some sort of cache system in place. 

On the upside, this can help reduce some of those performance issues were just talking about. On the downside, it also increases the likelihood of having outdated data, depending on when the last query was made. 

RESTful Uses Uniform Interfaces

Perhaps the most significant aspect of RESTful interactions is the insistence on having a uniform interface between components. This greatly enhances the scalability of each resource, as components can be used interchangeably throughout the system. 

It also helps to decouple individual elements, which is important for adopting AGILE frameworks and development syles.

The only downside to this uniformity is a trade-off in performance. Data needs to be translated from its native form into the standardized form. This adds a bit of processing time to each interaction.

RESTful Systems Use Layered Architecture

One of the main reasons that RESTful has caught on and been so widely adopted among developers is its focus on security. RESTful APIs ensure that consumers can’t see or interact with more of the server than is absolutely necessary.

RESTful systems adopt a layered architecture to make sure this is the case. Layered systems mean that every component can’t see beyond its immediate layer.

RESTful System Deliver Code-On-Command

The final tenet of Fielding’s RESTful definition is also one that’s most pertinent to modern applications like mobile applications. The code-on-command dictate states that not only data can be queried, but also programs, in the form of applets or scripts.

Another benefit of the code-on-command structure is you can restrict it to certain kinds of interactions. You might reserve transmitting Java applets through API calls, for instance, while restricting them through HTTP. 

This is just one more example of how RESTful architecture can help to increase security across your organization.

RESTful APIs In Action

Roy Fielding’s definitions for representational state transfer can seem confusingly academic at first glance. Let’s finish up with a quick look at an application program interface in action, so you can better visualize how to work them into your workflow. 

Imagine you’re maintaining a website. When a user opens your website, a bunch of magic happens behind the scenes before loading in their browser. First, the domain name is converted into an IP address, then it passes through a number of DNS filters.

These DNS servers are often the most vulnerable parts of a system. This makes them ripe for exploitation by cybercriminals.

One of these cybercriminals might try and overload the DNS server with a DoS attack. 

Now imagine that you’re running a DNS programming monitor. The DNS programming monitor is always gathering and indexing performance data, but you just don’t hear from the program when everything’s running smoothly. 

Now imagine the DoS attack occurs. This immediately alerts the monitor that something is amiss. Within one second, your entire IT department receives a push notification on their mobile device. 

This is thanks to an API.

The system is alerted when something out of the ordinary happens. This triggers a secondary protocol, transmitting a message with an incident log through some sort of messaging program. 

That’s just one action that might be triggered. Perhaps the greatest strength of RESTful APIs is their modular nature. You can link any API to any other API thanks to their uniform structure. This also lets you build robust, intricate solutions particular to you and your particular needs. 

RESTful APIs: Final Thoughts

We’re only going to continue to be more reliant on APIs from here on out. Application program interfaces are an integral part of remote and hybrid workplaces, for one thing. They’re also the lifeblood of any sort of data-centric platform, product, or service. 

Once you get used to using RESTful APIs it becomes second nature. They also make your organization open for collaboration with pretty much anybody. 

RESTful APIs ensure that you and your organization are as safe and secure from data breaches, which are constantly on the rise. They keep exposure of your server to a minimum while still maintaining accessibility and enhancing productivity. 

Finally, APIs help you to make the most of your data, no matter what it may be. It can transform isolated information into rich, actionable data for everything from increasing sales to enhancing security. 

RESTful APIs can even let you transform your data into a product in and of itself if you’re savvy. Just one more reason to get acquainted with this powerful technology, if you’re just now discovering it. Or to take your data-driven efforts to the next level and truly unlock their potential!

Looking For Cybersecurity Solutions?

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to cybersecurity. Even seconds of downtime can cost your organization dearly. 

If you’d like to set up some sort of RESTful API (representational state transfer) system for specialized systems like a security operations center (SEC) or robotic process automation, contact us today with any questions and let us know how we can help you! 

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