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The Resource-Oriented Architecture in Action

In this third part of a four-part article series on the resource-oriented architecture, you will learn how servers figure out which resource a client wants, the four basic things you can do to a resource online, and more. This article is excerpted from chapter four of the book RESTful Web Services, written by Leonard Richardson and Sam Ruby (O'Reilly, 2008; ISBN: 0596529260). Copyright © 2008 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media.

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By: O'Reilly Media
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February 12, 2009
  1. · The Resource-Oriented Architecture in Action
  2. · Links and Connectedness
  3. · The Uniform Interface
  4. · Creating subordinate resources

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The Resource-Oriented Architecture in Action - Creating subordinate resources
(Page 4 of 4 )

In a RESTful design, POST is commonly used to create subordinate resources: resources that exist in relation to some other “parent” resource. A weblog program may expose each weblog as a resource (/weblogs/myweblog), and the individual weblog entries as subordinate resources (/weblogs/myweblog/entries/1). A web-enabled database may expose a table as a resource, and the individual database rows as its subordinate resources. To create a weblog entry or a database record, you POST to the parent: the weblog or the database table. What data you post, and what format it’s in, depends on the service, but as with PUT, this is the point where application state becomes resource state. You may see this use of POST called POST(a), for “append”. When I say “POST” in this book, I almost always mean POST(a).

Why can’t you just use PUT to create subordinate resources? Well, sometimes you can. An S3 object is a subordinate resource: every S3 object is contained in some S3 bucket. But we don’t create an S3 object by sending a POST request to the bucket. We send a PUT request directly to the URI of the object. The difference between PUT and POST is this: the client uses PUT when it’s in charge of deciding which URI the new resource should have. The client uses POST when the server is in charge of deciding which URI the new resource should have.

The S3 service expects clients to create S3 objects with PUT, because an S3 object’s URI is completely determined by its name and the name of the bucket. If the client knows enough to create the object, it knows what its URI will be. The obvious URI to use as the target of the PUT request is the one the bucket will live at once it exists.

But consider an application in which the server has more control over the URIs: say, a weblog program. The client can gather all the information neccessary to create a weblog entry, and still not know what URI the entry will have once created. Maybe the server bases the URIs on ordering or an internal database ID: will the final URI be /weblogs/myweblog/entries/1 or /weblogs/myweblog/entries/1000? Maybe the final URI is based on the posting time: what time does the server think it is? The client shouldn’t have to know these things.

The POST method is a way of creating a new resource without the client having to know its exact URI. In most cases the client only needs to know the URI of a “parent” or “factory” resource. The server takes the representation from the entity-body and use it to create a new resource “underneath” the “parent” resource (the meaning of “underneath” depends on context).

The response to this sort of POST request usually has an HTTP status code of 201 (“Created”). Its Location header contains the URI of the newly created subordinate resource. Now that the resource actually exists and the client knows its URI, future requests can use the PUT method to modify that resource, GET to fetch a representation of it, and DELETE to delete it.

Table 4-1 shows how a PUT request to a URI might create or modify the underlying resource; and how a POST request to the same URI might create a new, subordinate

Table 4-1. PUT actions


PUT to a new resource

PUT to an existing resource



N/A (resource already ex-ists)

No effect

Create a new weblog


Create this weblog

Modify this weblog’s settings

Create a new weblog entry

/weblogs/myweblog/ entries/1

N/A (how would you get this URI?)

Edit this weblog entry

Post a comment to this weblog entry


Please check back next week for the conclusion to this article.

DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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