The future may just as well be RESTful

Chris Zheng has just published an article on “Why the future is NOT RESTful”. It made a bit of a splash, but I think it’s based on false assumptions and quite wrong. Here’s why.

Chris observes that client takes more and more responsibilities from the server. He suggests that server is slowly becoming just a database frontend with authorization. I think it’s very wrong if not dangerous.

Server will never be a dumb database frontend except for trivial CRUD applications. If you have more than one user in the system working with the same thing concurrently, you have to have some coordination on server side. If you have any business logic at all, you have to have it on the server side.

Client is becoming thicker, fine. It may have a database, offline state and a lot logic. But it does not mean that server is losing any of its thickness in domain model. We’re only moving the presentation side (all of it), enhancing it, maybe duplicating the domain logic. But ultimately we cannot trust the client about anything. It’s all in hands of the users, exposed to reverse engineering, all kinds of forgery and so on. I can send whatever I want to the server with curl.

Next point: With REST you can’t have security. I’m young, green and new to the game, but is that really true? Does REST mean no authorization, no results filtered for each user? If Jim can see some “accounts” in the system and Jessica some others, does it make it impossible to return different results for GET /account depending on context?

To take it a step further: We’re not talking about the very monolithic view here, are we? REST doesn’t mean that you only can have one representation of an “account”, and only one GET/POST/PUT on it. You can still have more representations, each tailored for a specific use case. Getting a list of Jimmy’s friends would be a completely different endpoint from managing user permissions, account settings etc. Even if they’re all “accounts”.

Another point that Chris is making is that for some reason having one resource for one thing is bad, but there’s little explanation for it except for a restaurant counters analogy. It’s hard to argue if there are no real arguments on the other side, but…

Having concrete, well-defined resources that represent one thing each doesn’t really sound like a bad idea to me. If anything, it’s more like the ideal interface segregation and single responsibility. Are they not desirable anymore? Going back to blurry restaurant analogies – I may go for fries or rice, I do order dessert from a different part of the menu than the main course, I may even order wine from a different menu altogether. I may be served by more than one waiter. Heck, sometimes I may even go for a buffet!

To sum up, REST is more than dumb CRUD, and server is much more than just an authorizing database front end. Popularity of REST is a bit of fashion, it’s just another way to solve the problem, and by no means is it the silver bullet. But still, the future may just as well be RESTful.

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