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XHTML-REST Brainstorming

This page collects ideas from rest-examples how to best encode REST data in an XHTML microformat.

Constraints

The underlying premise of this investigation is that REST is less useful that it could be due to concerns about a) interoperability, and b) discoverability. To address this, we propose adopting microformat-style conventions to further constrain the ways REST already constrains web services.

In particular, we constrain REST to work with existing web browser clients -- yet also be machine-parseable. This means:

This may seem very strict, but that's the point: by adding more constraints, we reduce gratuitous degrees of freedom and enable greater consistency.

This may not solve every conceivable problem, but it should handle the 50% case pretty well:

or, put another way:

Conventions

To make parsing and auto-discovery easier -- and also simplify the design process -- we propose the following additional conventions.

Nouns

As usual in REST, every noun must be a URI. However, we explicitly define three types of URIs:

base
The base URI for the web service, e.g.: http://example.com/site/.
records
URIs representing individual entities, e.g.: http://example.com/webservice/users/me%40drernie.com.
tables
The URIs used to create or search for those instances, e.g.: http://example.com/webservice/users.

Note that each record is defined by a set of key-value pairs living under that table.

There can also be 'singletons' - a class which only has a single instance.

Verbs

REST depends on using verbs properly. Your typical verbs are POST (create), GET (retrieve), PUT (update), and DELETE (delete). More verbs can be defined and used, but the listed above are most commonly used and supported.

As we know, HTML forms spec (and therefore commonly used UAs) only provides support for POST and GET verbs. This limitation has been the biggest argument against mixing HTML and REST: tunnelling of PUT and DELETE verbs through POST (or even worse, GET) creates architectural unREST.

However, some architectures simply do not need deletion and update operations. Using HTML with REST requires employing such architectures.

While that may seem overly restrictive, as a practical matter those cover the "80%" of public web services we are trying to solve (after all, you are welcome to use your own private methods if you need to).

Even better, we can define very precise semantics for what GET & POST mean for each of the different nouns:

GET base
GET base?view=api # Return hyperlinks and forms
GET base?query   # search for records across multiple table
GET table
GET table?view=api
GET table?query  # search for records in that table
POST table?create # create record
GET record # encode as xoxo
GET record?view=edit # encode as hyperlinks/anchors
GET record?view=api # encode as hyperlinks/anchors + descriptions
POST record?update # update record -- this is tunnelling, a no-no

For simplicity, we assume:

To be sure, there are natural ways to extend this protocol to provide that functionality. However, as that is primarly for admin usage, and thus a private API, we're glossing over it here. From a user's point of view, we provide analogous capabilities using POST:

Format

Results should be returned in a xoxo-compatible format. In particular, query results should leverage OpenSearch 1.1.

[Do HTML bindings for this already exist?]

Questions for further research

Patterns

Anchor Design Pattern

<a class="rest" href="http//somesite.com/prog/adduser">label</a>

Forms Design Pattern

I use a number of <form>s to declare the API for a web resource:

The visual human name in h1-tags:

Foobalize

A human readable explanation using in some html.

Foobalizer foobalizes grunts and glomph. Note that blorks already must be gazzed!

Then the form that specifies one function:

<form id="fooblize" action="GET" action="http://www.example.com/glurt">

<label for="grunt">Grunt</label> <input type="text" class="varchar(20)" />

<label for="grunt">Blork</label> <input type="text" class="int4" />

<input type="submit" value="Foobalize" /> </form>

See Also

Proposed REST API

rest/brainstorming was last modified: Sunday, January 4th, 2009

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