HTTP API vs REST API: 3 Critical Differentiators

on API, Data Driven, Data Driven Strategies, Data Engineering, ETL, HTTP, HTTP API, REST API • November 3rd, 2021 • Write for Hevo

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Application Programming Interfaces (API) facilitate the integration of diverse applications by offering code documentation and information pipelines to aid developers in developing powerful digital solutions. APIs operate as a bridge between applications, allowing them to communicate more efficiently. APIs can be categorized into various types based on application designs and other constraints, such as Web API, HTTP API, REST API, and many more.

REST API is a Software Architectural Style that is used to guide the creation and design of the architecture of the World Wide Web. In other words, REST APIs establish a set of guidelines for how a distributed system’s architecture should function. On the other hand, HTTP API is an application that communicates between two systems using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol. HTTP APIs make endpoints available as API gateways, allowing HTTP queries to connect to a server. But, do you know the differences between HTTP API vs REST API? If not, read ahead to know more.

In this article, you will learn more about HTTP APIs and REST APIs. You will understand the key factors that drive HTTP API vs REST API comparison. You will also understand when and where to use either of the API. So, let’s dive deep into the HTTP API vs REST API comparison.

Table of Contents

Introduction to HTTP APIs

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The HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is a method of transferring files such as text, images, sound, video, and other multimedia files. This protocol is used to link sites on the internet, often known as the World Wide Web. A Web API is a protocol that explains how clients can access resources and which methods are compatible with your architecture. These resources can be in the form of JavaScript or HTML elements, information, or images, among other media kinds. You can think of it as a technological translation handbook.

An HTTP API  communicates between two systems using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol. HTTP APIs make endpoints available as API gateways, allowing HTTP queries to connect to a server. When you schedule a Zoom meeting on your Google calendar, for instance, you utilize an HTTP API. Instead of copying and pasting the meeting invitation into a field, the API explains how Zoom may communicate directly with Google’s servers to embed a Zoom meeting within the event.

HTTP APIs is a broad concept, which means they come in a variety of forms depending on their intended task. The architectural design concepts leveraged to construct HTTP APIs are used to further categorize them. The majority are used in hypermedia information systems or web development, although each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Introduction to REST APIs

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REST APIs (Representational State Transfer Application Programming Interface) is a data source’s frontend that allows users to create, retrieve, update, and delete data items. An API is frequently a portal to the rest of the world for developer teams.

REST, which was first described in 2000 by computer scientist Dr. Roy Fielding, gives developers a lot of flexibility and independence. REST APIs have become a popular approach for linking components and applications in a microservices architecture because of their versatility.

A REST API is a set of HTTP-based standards that control how different applications communicate with one another. There are 4 basic methods, which are also referred to as CRUD operations: 

  • POST: Create a record.
  • GET: Read a record.
  • PUT: Update a record.
  • DELETE: Delete a record.

In an HTTP request, these CRUD methods are used to access and use data. Information flows swiftly and efficiently because these components are loosely linked. As the data formats aren’t predefined, they can be employed for a multitude of uses.

In REST API calls, request headers and parameters are especially significant since they contain identifying information like Metadata, Authorizations, Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs), Caching, Cookies, and more. Within properly-designed REST APIs, request and response headers, as well as standard HTTP status codes, are employed.

To learn more about REST APIs, refer to the REST APIs page.

Now that you have a basic understanding of HTTP API and REST API, in the next section, you will understand some of the key differentiators that will help in HTTP API vs REST API comparison.

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Critical Factors that Drive the HTTP API vs REST API Comparison

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In this section, you will understand some key factors that will you to differentiate between HTTP API vs REST API. Let’s understand the following differentiators in detail.

1) HTTP API vs REST API: Conceptual Difference

REST APIs add no new capability to HTTP APIs. But it is an architectural style that was created in tandem with HTTP and most typically employs HTTP as its application layer protocol. However, REST isn’t always linked to HTTP. You can use other transfer protocols, such as FTP, SMTP, etc. and your API can still be RESTful.

Any API that uses HTTP as its transfer protocol is referred to as an HTTP API. This means that even SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) can be regarded as HTTP API if it uses HTTP for transport. If an HTTP API does not follow REST architectural styles, it is not necessarily a REST API.

2) HTTP API vs REST API: Design

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The second key differentiator for HTTP API vs REST API is the design or structure of an API. The majority of HTTP APIs are on the verge of becoming completely RESTful. But not all HTTP APIs are REST APIs. To be termed a REST API, the API must meet the following architectural requirements:

  • Client-Server: A server oversees the application’s data and state in REST applications. The server connects with a client, which is responsible for handling user interactions. The two components are separated by a clear separation of responsibilities. As a result, you’ll be able to update and upgrade them in separate tracks.
  • Stateless: Client state is not maintained by servers; instead, clients handle their own application state. All of the information needed to process the client’s requests are contained in the requests to the server.
  • Cacheable: Servers must indicate whether or not their responses are cacheable. To boost performance, systems and clients might cache replies when it is convenient. They also get rid of non-cacheable data, so no client has to deal with stale data.
  • Uniform Interface: REST’s most well-known characteristics are that the emphasis on a uniform interface between components is the primary aspect that distinguishes the REST architectural style from other network-based approaches. Data is provided as resources through REST services, which have a consistent namespace.
  • Layered System: The system’s components can’t look beyond their own layer. This limited scope makes it simple to add load-balancers and proxies to increase authentication security and performance.

3) HTTP API vs REST API: Use Cases and Industry Use Cases

To understand the HTTP API vs REST API comparison, you need to explore the industry use cases. Hence, this differentiator for HTTP API vs REST API will clear your concepts and confusion.

To download or upload data, and access other back-end services, most front-end applications must communicate with a server using the HTTP protocol. Hence, purely functional or another HTTP service is often more beneficial than RESTful HTTP in back-end development.

REST APIs are ideal for creating scalable general-purpose applications. Here are a few scenarios in which REST APIs are a good fit:

  • Scalable: REST APIs are intrinsically separated from your client-side tech, which means your application will run smoothly on iOS, the web, or a future device. As a result, you can construct your application without worrying about being tied to specific client-side stacks.  As a result, RESTful APIs are more scalable and durable.
  • Error Reporting and Monitoring: REST allows you to build a monitoring system based on API responses. 
  • Resource Attacks: REST APIs can come in handy to help protect you against DoS Denial of Service) attacks.
  • Caching: RESTful services can process more requests with fewer resources by caching responses and transmitting the cached response instead of redoing the request.

Industry Use Case

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In 2019, HTTP APIs were introduced by Amazon API Gateway, allowing clients to easily develop high-performance RESTful APIs at a lower cost. HTTP APIs are great for serverless workloads since they are built for developing APIs that proxy to AWS Lambda functions or HTTP backends.

You can use API Gateway’s HTTP APIs or REST APIs to create RESTful APIs. REST APIs come with several features for creating and managing RESTful APIs. When compared to REST APIs, HTTP APIs are 71% less expensive. HTTP APIs make it easier to create APIs with the most common functionalities required to create serverless apps or to proxy requests to HTTP endpoints. They provide features like throttling, metrics, and logging that are typical in API Gateways.

To learn more about AWS HTTP APIs, you can refer to HTTP APIs for Amazon API Gateway. To choose between AWS HTTP API and REST API, refer to the HTTP API vs REST API- Amazon API Gateway guide.

Now that you have understood the key factors that help in HTTP API vs REST API comparison, let’s understand some of the benefits and limitations in the next sections.

Benefits of HTTP APIs and REST APIs

REST APIs offer a lot of flexibility, which is one of its biggest benefits. As data isn’t linked to resources or methods, REST APIs may take a variety of requests, return different data formats, and even change structurally with the right hypermedia implementation. This flexibility enables developers to create a REST API that suits both you and your clients’ needs. Furthermore, REST APIs allow for excellent caching and lightweight communication via HTTP and lighter payloads, such as JSON.

Limitations of HTTP APIs and REST APIs

The advantage of employing HTTP constructs for REST APIs can also create certain constraints. Hence, many of the drawbacks of HTTP are also shortcomings of the REST architectural style. HTTP, for example, does not save state-based information between request-response cycles, implying that REST-based services must be stateless and that any state management activities must be handled by the client. Thus, the client bears the task of maintaining the state, making the client application heavy and difficult to maintain.

Moreover, unlike other APIs, such as SOAP, REST APIs do not impose security. That is why REST APIs are suitable for public URLs but not for the transmission of sensitive data between client and server. 

Conclusion

This article introduced you to HTTP and REST APIs. You understood some of the critical factors that drive HTTP API vs REST API comparison. So, depending upon your use case, you can effectively use the desired API, by keeping in mind the differentiators for HTTP API vs REST API comparison.

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