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Time for a REST

What I say three times is true.

- The Bellman from Alice in Wonderland

Although Lewis Carroll the mathematician certainly knew that proof by repetition offered no proof at all, it is equally true in real life ideas that are heard again and again over time probably have some staying power. One of them is REST, the concept of Representational State Transfer. The term originated in a 2000 doctoral dissertation about the web written by Roy Fielding, and refers to an architecture style than emphasizes certain tenets of practice.

It turns out that the principles behind REST are useful in the design of Web-based applications. REST received a lot of attention at the Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summit in San Diego last week. Gartner defined the REST style as applying the following principles:

Use of universal resource identification (URI) to abstract resources

Manipulation of resources through representations

Self-descriptive messages and a uniform intermediary processing model

Hypermedia as the engine of application state

One point to these principles is that we have to start thinking of data in different ways than we have in the past. We have traditionally used the Web as a way of communicating data that is stored in a specific, fixed location. REST implies that data should be an integral part of the Web, distributed and always available in a location that is abstracted away from a physical location. Further, data should be completely accessible through a small and fundamental number of processes; in the case of HTTP, POST, GET, PUT and DELETE.

REST provides the tenets of the so-called Web 2.0 (with both credit and blame to Tim O'Reilly). While the term is wildly over-hyped, the concepts are worthwhile. Simplicity is better than complexity, and abstraction is better than physical reality.

If you're not looking at the REST architectural style to build your Web-enabled applications, you're making more work for yourself, and building applications that are difficult to maintain and enhance. You can find more on REST on the Wikipedia at

Posted by Peter Varhol on 06/26/2006

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