Tim Bray on REST and Web services

By | 2003/05/13

A very nice piece from Tim on how Web services should look; RESTful.

Dave, Sam, and Don have all responded.

First, to Tim, right on man. It’s about time too. For quite a while, he’s seemed to be on the fence, but this seems to make it quite clear where he stands, and hopefully where he’ll be voting on Decision Day. Perhaps with a name as well respected as his firmly in the REST camp, more people will take notice.

To Sam, a couple of points. First, safety != idempotency. Safety means messages don’t change state (roughly). Idempotency means multiple messages have the same effect as one. All safe operations are idempotent, but not all idempotent operations are safe. For example, PUT is idempotent but not safe. In addition, having the response change for a GET, even in a very short period of time, is perfectly RESTful. What isn’t RESTful is if the result changes because GET was invoked (and the owner cares about the change).

Also, the “take three parameters” analogue misses a major point I believe. In the POST/SOAP/XML-RPC case, sure you get the same info back, but you have no way to refer to that info, or pass references around to other parties. When you marshal data into a http URI, you are creating a token which has associated with it a publicly specified method for dereferencing. That is a vast improvement over the one-time use-and-consume approach of POST for retrievals.

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