Web UI to a restful interface, good idea?

0 votes
asked Nov 13, 2009 by jeffrey04

I am working on a experimental website (which is accessible through web browser) that will act as a front-end to a restful interface (a sub-system). The website will serve as an interface between a user and the restful interface, as it will make http requests to the restful interface for almost all database operations. Authentication will probably be done using openid and authorization for the database operations will be done via oAuth.

Just out of curiousity, is this a feasible solution or I should develop two systems that accesses the database in parallel (i.e. the website has its own data access logic, and the restful interface has another data access logic)? And what are the pros/cons if I insist on doing it this way (it is just an experiment project for me to learn things like how OpenID and oAuth work in real life anyway) besides there will be more database queries and http requests generated for each transaction?

6 Answers

0 votes
answered Nov 13, 2009 by alex-martelli

I think the general approach you outline is quite feasible -- the main pro is flexibility, the main con is that it won't protect clueless users against their own ((expletive deleted)) abuses. As most users are likely to be clueless, this isn't feasible for mass consumption... but, it's fine for really leet users!-)

0 votes
answered Nov 14, 2009 by bryan-kyle

Your concept sounds quite feasible. I'd say that you'll get some fairly good wins out of this approach. For starters you'll get a large degree of code reuse since you'll be able to put other front ends on top of the RESTful service. Additionally, you'll be able to unit test this architecture with relative ease. Finally, you'll be able to give 3rd party developers access to the same API that you use (subject possibly to some restrictions) which will be a huge win when it comes to attracting customers and developers to your platform.

On the down side, depending on how you structure your back end you could run into the standard problem of granularity. Too much granularity and you'll end up making lots of connections for very little amounts of data. Too little and you'll get more data than you need in some cases. As for security, you should be able to lock down the back end so that requests can only be made under certain conditions: requests contain an authorization token, api key, etc.

0 votes
answered Nov 14, 2009 by dso

So to clarify, you want to have your web UI call into your web service, which in turn calls into the database?

This is exactly the path I took for a recent project and I think it was a mistake because you end up creating a lot of extra work. Here's why:

When you are coding your web service, you will create a library to wrap database calls, which is typical. No problem there.

But then when you code your web UI, you will end up creating another library to wrap calls into the REST interface... because otherwise it will get cumbersome making all the raw HTTP calls.

So you essentially created 2 data access libraries, one to wrap DB and the other to wrap the Web service calls. This basically doubles the amount of work you do, because for every operation on a resource, you will end up implementing in both libraries. This gets tiring real fast.

The simpler alternative is to create a single library that wraps access to the database, as before, then use that library from BOTH the web UI and web service.

This is assuming that your web UI and web service reside on the same network and both have direct access to the backend database server (which was the case for me). In this setup having both go directly to the database is also a lot more efficient then having the UI go through the web service.

0 votes
answered Nov 14, 2009 by benb

Sounds good, but I'd recommend that you do this only if you plan to open up the restful API for other UI's to use, or simply to learn something cool. Support HTML XML and JSON for the interface.

Otherwise, use a great MVC framework instead (asp.net MVC, rails, cakephp). You'll end up with the same basic result but you'll be "strongerly" typed to the database.

0 votes
answered Nov 11, 2010 by ianmayo

with a modern javascript library your approach is quite straightforward.

ExtJS now has always had Ajax support, but it is now able to do this via a REST interface.

So, your ExtJS user interface components populate receive a URL. They populate themselves via a GET to the URL, and store update via POST to the URL.

This has worked really well on a project I'm currently working on. By applying RESTful principles there's an almost clinical separation between the front & backends - meaning it would be trivial undertaking to replace other. Plus, the API barely needs documenting, since it's an implementation of an existing mature standard.

Good luck, Ian

0 votes
answered Nov 26, 2016 by acv

woow! A question from 2009! And it's funny to read the answers. Many people seem to disagree with the web services approach and JS front end - which has nowadays become kind of standard, known as Single Page Applications..

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