Resources and Query Parameters
[Editor’s note: This is a cross-post from a Tumblr entry; I started to write it as a quick note because someone was wrong on the Internet, but by the time it was done, it was long enough to be a blog post in its own right.]
What kind of string is this?
Well, it’s a
URI (Uniform Resource Identifier)
as well as a
URL (Uniform Resource Locator).
But wait, that means the whole string (check
is resource identifier, which means the whole thing
identifies a resource (literally). Not just the
I often run into folks that think this string identifies a
http://example.com/path resource that happens to take a parameter,
which is understandable, because this is how almost every web
framework is set up to implement it (identify your
/path route, set
up your controller, pick off the parameters as arguments).
However, from an HTTP point of view, and especially from a hypermedia
point of view, this isn’t right.
protocol) treats everything from the path onward as an opaque
string–it shows up as a single token on the Request Line. The whole
thing (query included) is used as the key for an HTTP cache. In fact,
the only difference between a URL like
http://example.com/path?query=foo and one like
http://example.com/path/query/foo is that the former is
not cacheable by default if it comes from an HTTP/1.0 origin server
That’s it. And even that can be overridden with
From a hypermedia client point of view, you don’t care which style of
URL is used. Sure, you might have to construct your HTTP request
slightly differently if there are query parameters involved, but
that’s mechanical–no semantics involved, just syntactically
parsing the URL to figure out how to
GET it. The only reason to prefer
one over the other is purely stylistic; most modern web frameworks can
pluck arguments out of a path as easily as they can out of query
Remember, a hypermedia client never constructs URLs on its own;
besides a few well-known entry-points (which it should treat
opaquely), it is only using URLs directly fed to it by the server, or
constructed according to recipes provided by the server (typically
through forms or link templates). This here is probably the main
driver for which style you want to use; do you want to use
GET, use query parameters, or do you want to use
link templates, which
tend to use path parameters, stylistically (although they can support
query parameters too)?
So in a hypermedia world, there’s really no such thing as a “RESTful” URL structure; a truly RESTful client–one which understands and uses hypermedia affordances–doesn’t care.