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ยท 10 min read
Anders Qvist

HTTP has become the de-facto standard transport protocol for programmatic communication in software-as-a-service offerings. This mostly entails publishing request-response style APIs. We often refer to these APIs as "RESTful APIs":

[When a] request is made via a RESTful API, [the response is] a representation of the state of the resource[.] --

Let's decrypt that: "representation" has come to mean JSON, while "state" refers to those ubiquitous (and unwieldy) relational databases and "resource" is an object from our domain model.

The literature on API design will exhort you to analyze the problem space and consider your design choices carefully. Indeed, design choices will significantly impact the lifecycle of APIs that are part of a software-as-a-service offering. However, when designing a software-as-a-service API, we do not really know the details of future usage. The goal must therefore be to maximize our freedom to evolve the APIs without having to change the formal or informal contracts that regulate their usage. The API should become a facade behind which we are free to evolve the implementation.

This post proposes and motivates a set of guidelines for RESTful APIs (and by extension their contracts) intended to maximize their life span and support rapid evolution throughout it. The post focuses on organizations that want to provide commercial software-as-a-service offerings, though many of the guidelines have wider application.