REST – HTTP POST vs. HTTP PUT

by , October 2, 2012

There seems to always be some confusion as to when to use the HTTP POST versus the HTTP PUT method for REST services. Most developers will try to associate CRUD operations directly to HTTP methods. I will argue that this is not correct and one can not simply associate the CRUD concepts to the HTTP methods. That is:

  • Create => HTTP PUT
  • Retrieve => HTTP GET
  • Update => HTTP POST
  • Delete => HTTP DELETE

It is true that the R(etrieve) and D(elete) of the CRUD operations can be mapped directly to the HTTP methods GET and DELETE respectively. However, the confusion lies in the C(reate) and U(update) operations. In some cases, one can use the PUT for a create while in other cases a POST will be required. The ambiguity lies in the definition of an HTTP PUT method versus an HTTP POST method.

According to the HTTP 1.1 specifications the GET, HEAD, DELETE, and PUT methods must be idempotent, and the POST method is not idempotent. That is to say that an operation is idempotent if it can be performed on a resource once or many times and always return the same state of that resource. Whereas a non idempotent operation can return a modified state of the resource from one request to another. Hence, in a non idempotent operation, there is no guarantee that one will receive the same state of a resource.

Based on the above idempotent definition, my take on using the HTTP PUT method versus using the HTTP POST method for REST services is:

Use the HTTP PUT method when:

  • The client includes all aspect of the resource including the unique identifier to uniquely identify the resource. Example: creating a new employee.
  • The client provides all the information for a resource to be able to modify that resource.This implies that the server side does not update any aspect of the resource (such as an update date).

In both cases, these operations can be performed multiple times with the same results. That is the resource will not be changed by requesting the operation more than once. Hence, a true idempotent operation.

Use the HTTP POST method when:

  • The server will provide some information concerning the newly created resource. For example, take a logging system. A new entry in the log will most likely have a numbering scheme which is determined on the server side. Upon creating a new log entry, the new sequence number will be determined by the server and not by the client.
  • On a modification of a resource, the server will provide such information as a resource state or an update date. Again in this case not all information was provided by the client and the resource will be changing from one modification request to the next. Hence a non idempotent operation.

Conclusion

Do not directly correlate and map CRUD operations to HTTP methods for REST services. The use of an HTTP PUT method versus an HTTP POST method should be based on the idempotent aspect of that operation. That is, if the operation is idempotent, then use the HTTP PUT method. If the operation is non idempotent, then use the HTTP POST method.

2 Comments

  • On October 16, 2012, John said :

    Which option will be the best to transfer large data, ex: large file of 1GB? Post or Put?

  • On October 16, 2012, Marcel said :

    The content size remains the same regardless of the HTTP method used. It is more a decision of which is the most appropriate HTTP method to use. If you are a purist then a PUT should be used for idempotent actions whereas POST should be used if the operation can change from one instantiation to the next.

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