What are the benefits of designing a Rails application to be RESTful?

Ruby on Rails is emerging as a leading player for building enterprise-level web applications. You can picture Rails as a box of development tools, lending your developers the necessary framework to structure their codes in. Thanks to the presence of open-source software libraries, known as RubyGems, startups too will find it a perfect framework for building their websites. Rails is designed keeping the best programming practices in mind, so it almost guides you into writing good code for your backend. It does this by stressing on convention over configuration, which is then codified as Rails API.

An Application Programming Interface (API) is a messenger of sorts. An API will take your requests and tell the system what you want it to do, then brings the response back to you. A lot like a waiter in a restaurant who takes your order to the kitchen where it’s made and returns the response or the food back to your table. A well documented and consistent API is essential. No matter how fantastic your application might be, it will never reach the heights you envision for it if it cannot easily integrate with other services. When it comes to third-party integration, the easiest way to it is to expose your REST (representational state transfer technology) API for consumption. In other words, a RESTful interface allows your backend Rails application to communicate with your front-end web and mobile clients.

What makes an API RESTful?

Simply put, a RESTful API uses HTTP requests to GET, PUT, POST and DELETE data. The REST used by browsers is in a way the language of the internet. Cloud has been gaining popularity and with APIs bringing a new wave of web services, choosing REST to build APIs which allow your consumers to interact with cloud services is a logical decision. Below are the main principles governing a RESTful API.

  • All of it is a resource. In this architectural style, both functionality and data are treated as resources.
  • Each of these resources must be addressable through a Unique Resource Identifier (URI)
  • Use uniform, simple, constrained interfaces to manipulate your resources.
  • Communication or interaction is through the representation of the service.
  • Remain Stateless, since they are easier to scale. Meaning client state must not be retained on the server between executions.
  • Allow your data formats to drive state transitions in your applications.

Advantages:

  1. REST understands the way the web works and rather than try to hack it. Rest goes along with what’s natural. One of the main principles followed by Rails application is convention over configuration, and a RESTful app design. Rails comes with a whole lot of conventions to speed up the process of web app development, so your developers won’t need to spend time and effort configuring the files for setup.

  2. With REST, your developers are creating smarter forms to differentiate between methods and not only URLS, by using HTTP methods other than POST, to program your server. Remember, a single URL describes one resource. One post is one resource. In this way, with REST you’re handling resources naturally.

  3. Representational State Transfer or REST is a framework based on your client-server relationship. Their applications have a logical structure, which means they can be engineered as an API without much difficulty.

  4. Now since all the calls are stateless, it comes with an advantage. Stateless components are redeployed easily when something fails as there is nothing saved or retained which has to be recollected by the next transaction.

  5. REST has become the standard format for modern server applications to communicate with mobile apps since REST APIs are easy to debug and implement. They work well with the HTTP Protocol and adding authentication won’t take much of development time.

  6. Thinking in terms of resources will help to simplify your code and make it more readable and understandable. It's the simplicity between request types and URLs which makes REST readable. POST for creating things, GET for viewing things, PUT for updating things and DELETE for deleting things. There will be exceptions, but often what you think are exceptions will turn out to be their resources.

  7. Not only does it create consistency for the developer, it also allows for consistency for users. Generally, with RESTful apps, URLs tend to make a lot of sense, something which search engines prefer over obscure ones.

In conclusion, you don't have to design Rails apps in a RESTful way, but Rails is heavily optimized towards this style, and now since you understand the advantages which come with it, I hope it makes your decision easier.

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