Resource-oriented design

Resource-oriented design is a pattern for specifying RPC APIs, based on several high-level design principles (most of which are common to recent public HTTP APIs):

  • The fundamental building blocks of an API are individually-named resources (nouns) and the relationships and hierarchy that exist between them.
  • A small number of standard methods (verbs) provide the semantics for most common operations. However, custom methods are available in situations where the standard methods do not fit.
  • Stateless protocol: Each interaction between the client and the server is independent, and both the client and server have clear roles.

Readers might notice similarities between these principles and some principles of REST; resource-oriented design borrows many principles from REST, while also defining its own patterns where appropriate.


When designing an API, consider the following (roughly in logical order):

  • The resources (nouns) the API will provide
  • The relationships and hierarchies between those resources
  • The schema of each resource
  • The methods (verbs) each resource provides, relying as much as possible on the standard verbs.


A resource-oriented API should generally be modeled as a resource hierarchy, where each node is either a simple resource or a collection of resources.

A collection contains resources of the same type. For example, a publisher has the collection of books that it publishes. A resource usually has fields, and resources may have any number of sub-resources (usually collections).

Note: While there is some conceptual alignment between storage systems and APIs, a service with a resource-oriented API is not necessarily a database, and has enormous flexibility in how it interprets resources and methods. API designers should not expect that their API will be reflective of their database schema. In fact, having an API that is identical to the underlying database schema is actually an anti-pattern, as it tightly couples the surface to the underlying system.


Resource-oriented APIs emphasize resources (data model) over the methods performed on those resources (functionality). A typical resource-oriented API exposes a large number of resources with a small number of methods on each resource. The methods can be either the standard methods (Get, List, Create, Update, Delete), or custom methods.

If the request to or the response from a standard method (or a custom method in the same service) is the resource or contains the resource, the resource schema for that resource across all methods must be the same.

Standard method Request Response
Create Contains the resource Is the resource
Get None Is the resource
Update Contains the resource Is the resource
Delete None None
List None Is the resource

The table above describes each standard method's relationship to the resource, where "None" indicates that the resource neither is nor is contained in the request or the response

A resource must support at minimum Get: clients must be able to validate the state of resources after performing a mutation such as Create, Update, or Delete.

A resource must also support List, except for singleton resources where more than one resource is not possible.

Note: A custom method in resource-oriented design does not entail defining a new or custom HTTP verb. Custom methods use traditional HTTP verbs (usually POST) and define the custom verb in the URI.

APIs should prefer standard methods over custom methods; the purpose of custom methods is to define functionality that does not cleanly map to any of the standard methods. Custom methods offer the same design freedom as traditional RPC APIs, which can be used to implement common programming patterns, such as database transactions, import and export, or data analysis.

Strong Consistency

For methods that operate on the management plane, the completion of those operations (either successful or with an error, long-running operation, or synchronous) must mean that the state of the resource's existence and all user-settable values have reached a steady-state.

output only values unrelated to the resource state should also have reached a steady-state. for values that are related to the resource state.

Examples include:

  • Following a successful create that is the latest mutation on a resource, a get request for a resource must return the resource.
  • Following a successful update that is the latest mutation on a resource, a get request for a resource must return the final values from the update request.
  • Following a successful delete that is the latest mutation on a resource, a get request for a resource must return NOT_FOUND (or the resource with the DELETED state value in the case of soft delete)

Clients of resource-oriented APIs often need to orchestrate multiple operations in sequence (e.g. create resource A, create resource B which depends on A), and ensuring that resources immediately reflect steady user state after an operation is complete ensures clients can rely on method completion as a signal to begin the next operation.

output only fields ideally would follow the same guidelines, but as these fields can often represent a resources live state, it's sometimes necessary for these values to change after a successful mutation operation to reflect a state change.

Stateless protocol

As with most public APIs available today, resource-oriented APIs must operate over a stateless protocol: The fundamental behavior of any individual request is independent of other requests made by the caller. This is to say, each request happens in isolation of other requests made by that client or another, and resources exposed by an API are directly addressable without needing to apply a series of specific requests to "reach" the desired resource.

In an API with a stateless protocol, the server has the responsibility for persisting data, which may be shared between multiple clients, while clients have sole responsibility and authority for maintaining the application state.

Cyclic References

The relationship between resources, such as parent-child or resource references, must be representable via a directed acyclic graph.

A cyclic relationship between resources increases the complexity of managing resources. Consider resources A and B that refer to each other. The process to create said resources are:

  1. create resource A without a reference to B. Retrieve id for resource A.
  2. create resource B with a reference to A. Retrieve id for resource B.
  3. update resource A with the reference to B.

The delete operation may also become more complex, due to reasoning about which resource must be dereferenced first for a successful deletion.

This requirement does not apply to relationships that are expressed via output only fields, as they do not require the user to specify the values and in turn do not increase resource management complexity.


  • 2023-08-24: Added guidance on consistency guarantees of methods.
  • 2023-07-23: Clarify stateless protocol definition.
  • 2023-01-21: Explicitly require matching schema across standard methods.
  • 2022-12-19: Added a section requiring Get and List.
  • 2022-11-02: Added a section restricting resource references.
  • 2019-08-01: Changed the examples from "shelves" to "publishers", to present a better example of resource ownership.