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The Difference Between HTTP and REST?

Main Difference

When learning about REST, it can be easy to get confused about the difference between HTTP and REST. While these are very closely intertwined, there are some distinct differences you should be aware of.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the life of the web. And while REST is not specifically restricted only to the web, it’s most commonly implemented as such. REST was inspired by HTTP and they both play to very similar strengths. However, without REST, you would need to build relatively complex conventions on top of HTTP for connection negotiation and data manipulation functions.

The design principles of REST underpin HTTP and allow you to build powerful interfaces that can be used from nearly any device or operating system. As a result, REST can be used wherever HTTP can. But to be clear, REST and HTTP are not the same. Within the REST architectural style, data and functionality are considered resources and are accessed using URIs. These resources are acted upon by using a set of simple, well-defined REST operations. Alternatively, HTTP is the standard protocol that clients and servers use to exchange resource representations.

The Technical Advantages of REST

Now that we’ve introduced you to the primary concepts behind REST, let’s take a look at how REST can make your software better. The two major benefits of using REST are that it improves the portability of client apps by separating the user interface from the data and functionality that powers it, and it makes it easier for the different components of a product or service to evolve independently.

REST Decouples Client and Server Operations

REST scales very well because the client and server are very loosely coupled and the server is free to change the exposed resources at will. The client needs only know the initial URI, and the available methods. REST allows developers to more easily change the underlying servers, as long as they continue to send the expected data, allowing for rapid evolution of servers and for a large number of client apps to interact freely on an ad hoc basis. Other approaches can become untenable as the number of servers and clients grows.

REST Makes Interoperability Simpler

REST is the most widespread API standard for internet services. It has a flexible, provisional structure that is suited for an immense range of apps and services, and it’s easy to use and interact with because it helps you organize even the most complex applications into simple resources. REST APIs have native support in most programming languages, so you can integrate with them no matter the language your product is built in.

When to Choose REST Over SOAP or GraphQL

REST isn’t the only option on the market for APIs, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and GraphQL are the two biggest competitors with the former being much older and the latter being much younger. While these all accomplish very similar tasks, they are fundamentally different items: SOAP is a protocol, REST is an architectural style, and GraphQL is a query language. However, this isn’t where the differences stop, let’s take a closer look at them.

SOAP was introduced to the world in 1998, and is an extremely verbose protocol that requires the use of highly-structured XML for all requests. It’s ideal for situations where you need absolute data integrity for things like ACID compliance. However, with this reliability comes increased complexity because SOAP APIs require you to know the exact structure of the data you’re requesting before you interact with the API. This complexity also results in more bandwidth usage vs. REST APIs which can make SOAP untenable in situations where bandwidth is restricted or unreliable.