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The Resource-Oriented Architecture


If you have an interest in building web sites that can be used by machines, keep reading. In this four-part article series, you'll learn about the architecture behind Representational State Transfer (REST) and how to make use of it. It 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
Rating: 5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars / 5
January 29, 2009
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. · The Resource-Oriented Architecture
  2. · What’s a Resource?
  3. · URIs Should Be Descriptive
  4. · The Relationship Between URIs and Resources

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The Resource-Oriented Architecture - The Relationship Between URIs and Resources
(Page 4 of 4 )

Let’s consider some edge cases. Can two resources be the same? Can two URIs designate the same resource? Can a single URI designate two resources?

By definition, no two resources can be the same. If they were the same, you’d only have one resource. However, at some moment in time two different resources may point to the same data. If the current software release is 1.0.3, then http://www.example.com/software/releases/1.0.3.tar.gz and http://www.example.com/software/releases/ latest.tar.gz will refer to the same file for a while. But the ideas behind those two URIs are different: one of them always points to a particular version, and the other points to whatever version is newest at the time the client accesses it. That’s two concepts and two resources. You wouldn’t link to latest when reporting a bug in version 1.0.3.

A resource may have one URI or many. The sales numbers available at http:// www.example.com/sales/2004/Q4 might also be available at http://www.example.com/sales/Q42004. If a resource has multiple URIs, it’s easier for clients to refer to the resource. The downside is that each additional URI dilutes the value of all the others. Some clients use one URI, some use another, and there’s no automatic way to verify that all the URIs refer to the same resource.

One way to get around this is to expose multiple URIs for the same resource, but have one of them be the “canonical” URI for that resource. When a client requests the canonical URI, the server sends the appropriate data along with response code of 200 (“OK”). When a client requests one of the other URIs, the server sends a response code 303 (“See Also”) along with the canonical URI. The client can’t see whether two URIs point to the same resource, but it can make two HEAD requests and see if one URI redirects to the other or if they both redirect to a third URI.

Another way is to serve all the URIs as though they were the same, but give the “canonical” URI in the Content-Location response header whenever someone requests a non-canonical URI.

Fetching sales/2004/Q4 might get you the same bytestream as fetching sales/Q42004, because they’re different URIs for the same resource: “sales for the last quarter of 2004.” Fetching releases/1.0.3.tar.gz might give you the exact same bytestream as fetching releases/latest.tar.gz, but they’re different resources because they represent different things: “version 1.0.3” and “the latest version.”

Every URI designates exactly one resource. If it designated more than one, it wouldn’t be a Universal Resource Identifier. However, when you fetch a URI the server may send you information about multiple resources: the one you requested and other, related ones. When you fetch a web page, it usually conveys some information of its own, but it also has links to other web pages. When you retrieve an S3 bucket with an Amazon S3 client, you get a document that contains information about the bucket, and information about related resources: the objects in the bucket.

Please check back next week for the second part of the series.


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