Rest – Patterns for handling batch operations in REST web services


What proven design patterns exist for batch operations on resources within a REST style web service?

I'm trying to be strike a balance between ideals and reality in terms of performance and stability. We've got an API right now where all operations either retrieve from a list resource (ie: GET /user) or on a single instance (PUT /user/1, DELETE /user/22, etc).

There are some cases where you want to update a single field of a whole set of objects. It seems very wasteful to send the entire representation for each object back and forth to update the one field.

In an RPC style API, you could have a method:

/,2,3,4... etc. 

What's the REST equivalent here? Or is it ok to compromise now and then. Does it ruin the design to add in a few specific operations where it really improves the performance, etc? The client in all cases right now is a Web Browser (javascript application on the client side).

Best Solution

A simple RESTful pattern for batches is to make use of a collection resource. For example, to delete several messages at once.

DELETE /mail?&id=0&id=1&id=2

It's a little more complicated to batch update partial resources, or resource attributes. That is, update each markedAsRead attribute. Basically, instead of treating the attribute as part of each resource, you treat it as a bucket into which to put resources. One example was already posted. I adjusted it a little.

POST /mail?markAsRead=true
POSTDATA: ids=[0,1,2]

Basically, you are updating the list of mail marked as read.

You can also use this for assigning several items to the same category.

POST /mail?category=junk
POSTDATA: ids=[0,1,2]

It's obviously much more complicated to do iTunes-style batch partial updates (e.g., artist+albumTitle but not trackTitle). The bucket analogy starts to break down.

POST /mail?markAsRead=true&category=junk
POSTDATA: ids=[0,1,2]

In the long run, it's much easier to update a single partial resource, or resource attributes. Just make use of a subresource.

POST /mail/0/markAsRead

Alternatively, you could use parameterized resources. This is less common in REST patterns, but is allowed in the URI and HTTP specs. A semicolon divides horizontally related parameters within a resource.

Update several attributes, several resources:

POST /mail/0;1;2/markAsRead;category
POSTDATA: markAsRead=true,category=junk

Update several resources, just one attribute:

POST /mail/0;1;2/markAsRead

Update several attributes, just one resource:

POST /mail/0/markAsRead;category
POSTDATA: markAsRead=true,category=junk

The RESTful creativity abounds.