HTTP + XML do not a RESTful interface make

I’ve been stumbling across criticisms of the un-RESTful design of Amazon’s new SimpleDB service. Worth reading in particular is a piece by someone named Subbu Allamaraju, who seems both smart and accomplished. He did a quick rewrite of the API in his post, A RESTful version of Amazon’s SimpleDB. It’s a great example of how clean URLs can be when a bit of thought is put into them.

And people should also read it to clear up a popular misunderstanding about REST. I’ve already given it away in my title: HTTP + XML do not a RESTful interface make.

As Roy Fielding’s dissertation chapter lays it out, a REST architecture should follow the abstraction of “resources” from the “connectors” that perform operations on them. The HTTP protocol happens to be able to do this nicely: URLs refer to resources and the GET/POST/PUT/DELETE methods manipulate them. However, this isn’t inherent or automatic: you have to use its vocabulary properly. SimpleDB is a perfect example: it violates the principle that resource identification and operations should be separate. The API embeds operations in URLs.

So yes, it uses HTTP and XML. But no, those things alone don’t make it truly RESTful.

REST is certainly a huge step forward in enforcing cleaner abstractions, though in Amazon’s defense, it’s obvious why they choose to design their API the way they did. The URLs for SimpleDB have the same structure as those in ECS; consistency was probably the goal. So yes, it’s a conservative move that forward-thinking coders are turning their noses up at, but it’s also one for which existing developers will probably be grateful. Rant all you want about the evils of non-idempotent GET requests… for Amazon’s customers, the old API style feels familiar, and means one less new thing to get used to, or to learn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *