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RESTful API Design With NodeJS & Restify

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

The RESTful API consists of two main concepts: Resource, and Representation. Resource can be any object associated with data, or identified with a URI (more than one URI can refer to the same resource), and can be operated using HTTP methods. Representation is the way you display the resource. In this tutorial we will cover some theoretical information about RESTful API design, and implement an example blogging application API by using NodeJS.


Choosing the correct resources for a RESTful API is an important section of designing. First of all, you need to analyze your business domain and then decide how many and what kind of resources will be used that are relevant to your business need. If you are designing a blogging API, you will probably use Article, User, and Comment. Those are the resource names, and the data associated with that is the resource itself:

Resource Verbs

You can proceed with a resource operation after you have decided on the required resources. Operation here refers to HTTP methods. For example, in order to create an article, you can make the following request:

In the same way, you can view an existing article by issuing the following request:

What about updating an existing article? I can hear that you are saying:

I can make another POST request to /articles/update/123456789012 with the payload.

Maybe preferable, but the URI is becoming more complex. As we said earlier, operations can refer to HTTP methods. This means, state the update operation in the HTTP method instead of putting that in the URI. For example:

By the way, in this example you see tags and category fields. Those don't need to be mandatory fields. You can leave them blank and set them in future. 

Sometimes, you need to delete an article when it is outdated. In that case you can use a DELETE HTTP request to /articles/123456789012.

HTTP methods are standard concepts. If you use them as an operation, you will have simple URIs, and this kind of simple API will help you gain happy consumers.

What if you want to insert a comment to an article? You can select the article and add a new comment to the selected article. By using this statement, you can use the following request:

The above form of resource is called as a sub-resource. Comment is a sub-resource of Article. The Comment payload above will be inserted in the database as a child of Article. Sometimes, a different URI refers to the same resource. For example, to view a specific comment, you can use either:



In general, API features change frequently in order to provide new features to consumers. In that case, two versions of the same API can exist at the same time. In order to separate those two features, you can use versioning. There are two forms of versioning

  1. Version in URI: You can provide the version number in the URI. For example, /v1.1/articles/123456789012. 
  2. Version in Header: Provide the version number in the header, and never change the URI. For example:

Actually, the version changes only the representation of the resource, not the concept of the resource. So, you do not need to change the URI structure. In v1.1, maybe a new field was added to Article. However, it still returns an article. In the second option, the URI is still simple and consumers do not need to change their URI in client-side implementations. 

It is important to design a strategy for situations where the consumer does not provide a version number. You can raise an error when version is not provided, or you can return a response by using the first version. If you use the latest stable version as a default, consumers can get many errors for their client-side implementations.


Representation is the way that an API displays the resource. When you call an API endpoint, you will get returned a resource. This resource can be in any format like XML, JSON, etc. JSON is preferable if you are designing a new API. However, if you are updating an existing API that used to return an XML response, you can provide another version for a JSON response. 

That's enough theoretical information about RESTful API design. Let's have a look at real life usage by designing and implementing a Blogging API using Restify.

Blogging REST API


In order to design a RESTful API, we need to analyze the business domain. Then we can define our resources. In a Blogging API, we need:

  • Create, Update, Delete, View Article
  • Create a comment for a specific Article, Update, Delete, View, Comment
  • Create, Update, Delete, View User

In this API, I will not cover how to authenticate a user in order to create an article or comment. For the authentication part, you can refer to the Token-Based Authentication with AngularJS & NodeJS tutorial. 

Our resource names are ready. Resource operations are simply CRUD. You can refer to the following table for a general showcase of API.

Resource Name HTTP Verbs HTTP Methods
Article create Article
update Article
delete Article
view Article
POST /articles with Payload
PUT /articles/123 with Payload
DELETE /articles/123
GET /article/123
Comment create Comment
update Coment
delete Comment
view Comment
POST /articles/123/comments with Payload
PUT /comments/123 with Payload
DELETE /comments/123
GET /comments/123
User create User
update User
delete User
view User
POST /users with Payload
PUT /users/123 with Payload
DELETE /users/123
GET /users/123

Project Setup

In this project we will use NodeJS with Restify. The resources will be saved in the MongoDB database. First of all, we can define resources as models in Restify.




There won't be any operation for the User resource. We will assume that we already know the current user who will be able to operate on articles or comments.

You may ask where this mongoose module comes from. It is the most popular ORM framework for MongoDB written as a NodeJS module. This module is included in the project within another config file. 

Now we can define our HTTP verbs for the above resources. You can see the following:

In this code snippet, first of all the controller files that contain controller methods are iterated and all the controllers are initialized in order to execute a specific request to the URI. After that, URIs for specific operations are defined for basic CRUD operations. There is also versioning for one of the operations on Article. 

For example, if you state version as 2 in Accept-Version header, viewArticle_v2 will be executed. viewArticle and viewArticle_v2 both do the same job, showing the resource, but they show Article resource in a different format, as you can see in the title field below. Finally, the server is started on a specific port, and some error reporting checks are applied. We can proceed with controller methods for HTTP operations on resources.


You can find an explanation of basic CRUD operations on the Mongoose side below:

  • createArticle: This is a simple save operation on articleModel sent from the request body. A new model can be created by passing the request body as a constructor to a model like var articleModel = new Article(req.body)
  • viewArticle: In order to view article detail, an article ID is needed in the URL parameter. findOne with an ID parameter is enough to return article detail.
  • updateArticle: Article update is a simple find query and some data manipulation on the returned article. Finally, the updated model needs to be saved to the database by issuing a save command.
  • deleteArticle: findByIdAndRemove is the best way to delete an article by providing the article ID.

The Mongoose commands mentioned above are simply static like method through Article object that is also a reference of the Mongoose schema.


When you make a request to one of the resource URIs, the related function stated in the controller will be executed. Every function inside the controller files can use the req and res objects. The comment resource here is a sub-resource of Article. All the query operations are made through the Article model in order to find a sub-document and make the necessary update. However, whenever you try to view a Comment resource, you will see one even if there is no collection in MongoDB.  

Other Design Suggestions

  • Select easy-to-understand resources in order to provide easy usage to consumers.
  • Let business logic be implemented by consumers. For example, the Article resource has a field called slug. Consumers do not need to send this detail to the REST API. This slug strategy should manage on the REST API side to reduce coupling between API and consumers. Consumers only need to send title detail, and you can generate the slug according to your business needs on the REST API side.
  • Implement an authorization layer for your API endpoints. Unauthorized consumers can access restricted data that belongs to another user. In this tutorial, we did not cover the User resource, but you can refer to Token Based Authentication with AngularJS & NodeJS for more information about API authentications.
  • User URI instead of query string. /articles/123  (Good), /articles?id=123 (Bad).
  • Do not keep the state; always use instant input/output.
  • Use noun for your resources. You can use HTTP methods in order to operate on resources.

Finally, if you design a RESTful API by following these fundamental rules, you will always have a flexible, maintainable, easily understandable system.

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