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The Big Shift from Web Pages to RESTful Apps

Browser-based HTML5 applications, native mobile applications for iOS and Android, the Internet of Things, and new wearable devices are all causing big changes for application developers. Instead of browsing a web site, users want to touch, swipe, and use voice commands to access their favorite content and services on a mobile phone or tablet.

This explosion of smart devices is driving the need for a new way to connect apps with data. RESTful APIs are emerging as an efficient and elegant way to power collaborative and data-driven mobile applications. Instead of multi-page web sites that update with every user interaction, the smart app of the future will occupy a single screen and communicate in a seamless manner with backend services.

These big changes on the client are leading to a major disruption on the server side as well. For over a decade, application servers and other HTML page generation technologies have supplied web pages to desktop browsers. Each page contains an entire picture of the application including layout, styling, graphics, scripting, and content. Every user action requires another page to be generated. And while this has worked well enough for a dedicated Ethernet connection, this architecture provides a mediocre user experience on mobile networks with bandwidth constraints and unpredictable latency.

RESTful services address this issue by delivering JSON or XML documents to the client with only the information that is actually needed for a given transaction. The application itself resides on the client device in the form of compiled code or cached JavaScript. This strategy dramatically lowers bandwidth requirements by 95% compared to HTML page generation. The latency problem can be addressed by combining REST APIs with occasionally connected applications that work well offline or between cellular zones.

Looking ahead, the widespread use of REST APIs has the potential to transform all of application development. Companies will rewrite traditional websites using the same RESTful services that their mobile apps are already using. Increasingly, cloud services will be the medium of choice for apps running outside the firewall on mobile devices. Developers will need an agile way to provide RESTful services connected to legacy data sources like SQL databases and file storage, and new data sources such as NoSQL and PaaS.

Where does all this lead? Business and consumer applications move to the tablet, phone, or wearable device. Websites become searchable billboards that advertise relevant mobile applications or provide administrative services for them. We are seeing the start of a gigantic paradigm shift that reduces the importance of web pages and leaves the venerable application server out in the cold, a dinosaur unable to compete with new smaller, faster, warm-blooded competitors that can efficiently serve all kinds of content to highly evolved client devices.