Server API’s

Dr. Greg Bernstein

Updated October 31st, 2021

Server APIs

API Overview

What are they?

  • API: Application Programming Interface
  • Web APIs: How clients talk to servers, and how servers talk to each other
  • How should our Front-end (GUI) in the browser talk to our server?

General Readings

RPC Concepts

From Understanding RPC, REST and GraphQL

RPC is the earliest, simplest form of API interaction. It is about executing a block of code on another server

An API is built by defining public methods; then, the methods are called with arguments. RPC is just a bunch of functions…

RPC Implementations 1

  • All client server interactions look like remote procedure calls
  • Additional “standards” can help specify these interactions more formally.
  • Standards/Implementations can be very light weight suitable for IoT or very elaborate suitable for server to server interactions.
  • You can safely consider all our server interfaces in class so far as RPC APIs.

RPC Implementations 2

Some well known RPC implementations

  • JSON-RPC: Wikipedia JSON-RPC, JSON-RPC v2. Lightweight easy to understand.

  • SOAP:Wikipedia SOAP “a messaging protocol specification for exchanging structured information in the implementation of web services in computer networks.”. Very heavy designed for multiple different transports including HTTP.

  • gRPC: gRPC website Open source from Google. “gRPC is a modern open source high performance RPC framework that can run in any environment.”

JSON-RPC Example

From Wikipedia

  • Calling a subtraction function:
{"jsonrpc": "2.0", "method": "subtract",
"params": {"minuend": 42, "subtrahend": 23}, "id": 3}
  • Receiving the result:
{"jsonrpc": "2.0", "result": 19, "id": 3}

JSON-RPC Features

  • Protocol versioning via jsonrpc field
  • Request/response correlation via id field
  • Consistent and simple error handling approach (see specification)


  • Based on Roy Fielding’s PhD thesis. Not a specification!
  • Works well with HTTP 1.1 since Fielding was a co-author of RFC2616
  • Not the same as HTTP! We will cover in more detail.


From Introduction to GraphQL

GraphQL is a query language for your API, and a server-side runtime for executing queries by using a type system you define for your data. GraphQL isn’t tied to any specific database or storage engine and is instead backed by your existing code and data.

GraphQL History

  • Originated with Facebook to solve performance problems they encountered with REST.
  • Open sourced and turned over to the Linux Foundation as a project.



What is it?

My very high and low level views

  • An architectural approach to designing client-server interfaces
  • Makes strong use of existing web infrastructure:
    1. URLs identify application resources
    2. HTTP methods identify resource operations: Get, Put, Post, Delete
    3. Content negotiation via “Content-Type” and “Accept” headers
    4. HTTP response codes used to indicate success or failure and sometimes why

REST Principles 1

Representational State Transfer – Guiding Principles –

  1. Client-Server (a given for us)
  2. Stateless: “Each request from client to server must contain all of the information necessary to understand the request, and cannot take advantage of any stored context on the server”
  3. Uniform Interface: “identification of resources; manipulation of resources through representations; self-descriptive messages;”

REST Principles 2

Representational State Transfer – Guiding Principles –

  1. Cacheable: Or better as cache sensitive via explicit or implicit cache control. This can be an important optimization, but we will not cover it.

  2. Layered Systems: This is a common architectural technique we won’t cover it explicitly.

  3. Code on demand (optional): We won’t cover this. Note dynamic JavaScript module loading seems to do this.


  • A key concept in REST is that of a resource.
  • Resources can be a single item or a collection of items
  • Resources can contain sub-collections of resources

Resources and URL Naming

  • We will map resources to server URLs
  • There are naming conventions used to do this consistently
  • We will use the patterns and conventions from REST Resource Naming Guide

Nouns for Resources

From REST Resource Naming Guide

  • “RESTful URIs should refer to a resource that is a thing (noun) instead of referring to an action (verb)”.
  • Examples:{id}

Resource Archetypes

  • Document: a singular thing, use a singular noun for it.

  • Collection: “A collection resource is a server-managed directory of resources. Clients may propose new resources to be added to a collection.” Use a plural noun.

  • Store: “A store is a client-managed resource repository. A store resource lets an API client put resources in, get them back out, and decide when to delete them.” Think shopping cart…

Applied to our Project 1

Our ficticious multi-user assignment/peer review site

  • Users and a specific user
  • Assignments and a specific assignment

Applied to our Project 2

  • Teacher looks at all assignment submissions
  • Hmm, these URL look complicated, how can we deal with them on the server?

Route Parameters in Express

route parameters

Naming Recommendations 1

From REST Resource Naming Guide

  1. Use forward slash (/) to indicate a hierarchical relationships
  2. Do not use trailing forward slash (/) in URIs
  3. Use hyphens (-) to improve the readability of URIs

Naming Recommendations 2

From REST Resource Naming Guide

  1. Do not use underscores ( _ )
  2. Use lowercase letters in URIs
  3. Do not use file extensions

What can we do with resources?

  • We can map operations with resources (which we specify via URLs) to HTTP methods.
  • For create, read, update, and delete (CRUD) operations there are “standard” ways of doing this.

HTTP Methods and REST 1

From HTTP Methods and REST

  • Use GET requests to retrieve resource information only, not modifying resources
    1. Response code OK (200) when resource is found
    2. Response code NOT FOUND (404) when resource is not found
    3. Response code BAD REQUEST (400) when URL for resource is badly formed

HTTP Methods and REST 2

From HTTP Methods and REST

  • Use the POST method to create a new resource into a collection of resources.

    1. If successful return response code CREATED (201)
  • Use the PUT method primarily to update existing resource.

  • Use the DELETE method for deleting resources

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