WebAPI Tip #6: Is This Stuff Only Good For CRUD?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

It doesn't take long to realize that the HTTP methods POST, GET, PUT, and DELETE can map directly to the database operations we call CRUD (create, read, update, and delete).

It also doesn't take much effort to find samples that demonstrate CRUD applications with the WebAPI. In fact, the built-in scaffolding can give you code where the only software between an incoming HTTP message and the database is the EntityFramework.

Is CRUD all the WebAPI is good for? That's a question I've heard asked a few times.

Stepping Back

I think one of the reasons we see CRUD with the WebAPI is because CRUD is simple. CRUD is the easiest approach to building a running application. CRUD is also the easiest approach to building a demo, and for explaining how a new technology works. CRUD isn't specific to the WebAPI, you can build CRUD applications on any framework that sits on the top or the outer layer of an application.

CRUD is Everywhere

All the above applications would have these characteristics:

- Minimal business logic

- Database structure mimicked in the output (on the screen, or in request and response messages).

There is nothing inherently wrong with CRUD, and for some applications it's all that is needed.

But Can It Do More?

Let's not talk about WebAPI as yet, let's  talk about these 2 WPF scenarios:

1) When the user clicks the Save button, take the information in the "New Customer" form, check for required fields, and save the data in the Customers table.


2) When the user clicks the Save button, take the information from the "New Customer" form. Send the data to the Customer service for validation, identification, and eventual storage. If the first stage validation succeeds, send a message to the legacy Sales service  so it has the chance to build alerts based on the customer profile. Finally, send a message to the Tenant Provisioning service to start reserving hardware resources for the customer and retrieve a token for future progress checks on the provisioning of the service.

#1 is simple CRUD and relatively trivial to build with most frameworks. In fact, scaffolding and code generation might get you 90% of the way there.

#2 presents a few more challenges, but it's no more challenging with WPF than it would be with the WebAPI (in fact, I think it might be a bit simpler in a stateless environment like a web service). The framework presents no inherent obstacles to building a feature rich application in a complex domain.

Of course, you should think about the problem differently with the WebAPI (see How To GET A Cup Of Coffee, for example), but most of the hard work, as always, is building a domain and architecture with just the right amount of flexibility to solve the business problem for today and tomorrow. That's something no reusable framework gives you out of the box.

gravatar Stuart Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Is it considered good practice to use the HTTP verb PUT when updating an entity that already exists on the server?
gravatar Scott Allen Tuesday, April 2, 2013
@Stuart: Yes, you'll find some debate on the topic but in general: "The PUT method requests that the state of the target resource be created or replaced with the state defined by the representation enclosed in the request message payload.", so an update is a very reasonable thing to do.
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