Understanding And Using REST APIs

Written by Chris Bovan

If you want to be able to read API documentations and use them effectively, you’ll first need to understand everything about REST APIs. Let’s get started.

Understanding And Using REST APIs

There’s a high chance you came across the term “REST API” if you’ve thought about getting data from another source on the internet, such as Twitter or Github. But what is a REST API? What can it do for you? How do you use it?

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about REST APIs to be able to read API documentations and use them effectively.

What Is A REST API

Let’s say you’re trying to find videos about Batman on Youtube. You open up Youtube, type “Batman” into a search field, hit enter, and you see a list of videos about Batman. A REST API works in a similar way. You search for something, and you get a list of results back from the service you’re requesting from.

An API is an application programming interface. It is a set of rules that allow programs to talk to each other. The developer creates the API on the server and allows the client to talk to it.

REST determines how the API looks like. It stands for “Representational State Transfer”. It is a set of rules that developers follow when they create their API. One of these rules states that you should be able to get a piece of data (called a resource) when you link to a specific URL.

Each URL is called a request while the data sent back to you is called a response.

The Anatomy Of A Request

It’s important to know that a request is made up of four things:

  • The endpoint
  • The method
  • The headers
  • The data (or body)

The endpoint (or route) is the url you request for. It follows this structure:

root-endpoint/?

The root-endpoint is the starting point of the API you’re requesting from. The root-endpoint of Github’s API is https://api.github.com while the root-endpoint Twitter’s API is https://api.twitter.com.

The path determines the resource you’re requesting for. Think of it like an automatic answering machine that asks you to press 1 for a service, press 2 for another service, 3 for yet another service and so on.

Advantages of Rest API

Key advantage of Rest API is the its language independence. Any programming language can take advantage of using Rest API in a matter of minutes using core services and functions. No special libraries are required. Making an HTTP request is possible in every modern programming language.

Concrete Social Instagram API

Our API is essentially build using the same REST idea. The root-endpoint for our API is https://concretesocial.io/1.0

If you are looking to get started quickly you may want to consider using REST clients. The few that we think are simple and awesome and can easily be added to your browser in just a few clicks are:

RESTClient, a debugger for RESTful web services.