Modern APIs allow so much freedom to create incredible applications from 3rd party servers. The REST architecture is also the most popular, and it’s the one that most startups choose when building their own APIs.
If you’re a developer just getting into API development then you might be uncertain where to start.
I’ve curated the most helpful REST API books with a variety of experience levels. Each book in this list is valuable for a specific purpose, either getting you started or advancing your existing knowledge. But they’re all fantastic choices and they all cover API development in great detail.
Build APIs You Won’t Hate
When first getting started with APIs you’ll want to understand best practices and common technologies for building scalable models. This is the goal of Build APIs You Won’t Hate .
You’ll learn a lot of best practices with live PHP code examples. But you’ll also get to read common mistakes, bugs, and anecdotes of past experiences from the authors. These anecdotes come with solutions and lessons learned in the context of API development.
More inexperienced developers might feel this book is a bit too advanced for a newcomer. But it’s worth having on your bookshelf if you’re serious about API development.
RESTful Web APIs
If you simply want to understand the fundamental REST concepts without writing much code then RESTful Web APIs is for you. This is mostly a beginner’s book talking about the roots of API development.
The author discusses SOAP vs REST architectures, backend languages, and JSON vs XML response formats.
However there aren’t code examples in the book. It’s meant to be free of any platform so that it can teach anyone how to think about APIs. This is great for brand new developers who are eager to understand the groundwork of APIs before writing any code.
RESTful Web Services Cookbook
Every dev cookbook I’ve ever bought has greatly improved my skillset, and this is also true of Subbu Allamaraju’s RESTful Web Services Cookbook .
Each recipe covers detailed scenarios and offers best practices with code snippets you can implement yourself. It’s very clear and to the point.
I personally loved the section about user authentication for public API access.
It’s a 316 page book so there’s plenty of recipes to go around. But the writing style is very dry and to the point, so there’s no hand-holding for beginners. I would recommend this cookbook for intermediate or advanced API developers who want to properly scale and design their API projects with reusable proven snippets.
The REST API Design Handbook
Cheap and super easy to follow, this 90 page handbook walks you through all the basics of designing a custom REST API from scratch.
The REST API Design Handbook is perfect for beginners who might not even know what REST or API stands for. You’ll learn the fundamentals of crafting a new API or connecting to an existing one.
Design principles are a big part of this book’s content with a focus on proper implementation. API versioning and scalability are two crucial components. It may seem light but for the price this is definitely the best book you could nab for getting started with API work.
REST in Practice
To practically understand web development you typically need to build projects and learn as you go. This is the beauty of REST in Practice because it offers so many common solutions, design patterns, and more importantly ways of thinking that mesh with practical REST API development.
You’ll learn exactly how a REST API functions and what makes it tick. You’ll learn the proper way to architect new RESTful APIs by following diagrams, charts, and code written with C# and Java.
The best part of REST in Practice is the writing style. It comes across very natural and it’s just easy to understand. Beginners and experts alike can find value in this book.
RESTful PHP Web Services
There’s no denying the success of PHP and how far PHP APIs have come in the past decade. Many startups and web services still use PHP as a backend language because it’s very popular and easy to pick up.
That’s why RESTful PHP Web Services is the best intro book for young PHP developers. You’ll learn all the fundamental concepts behind REST as it applies to PHP. The author shares real-world design patterns with code snippets you can copy into your own projects.
With only 200 pages this is a short read. But it’s perfect for a new PHP dev who wants to get into API development quickly.
PHP Web Services: APIs for the Modern Web
If you want to go further with PHP development then I’d also recommend PHP Web Services by Lorna Jane Mitchell. She offers common recipes and solutions to theoretical problems when developing APIs in PHP.
Laura covers return types, cURL, and the Zend framework as it applies to API development. The book also covers SOAP and REST architectures while touching upon RPC. She talks about the best services, crucial design patterns, and she shares code snippets for each example.
In the later chapters you’ll learn how to properly document your PHP API so that others can use it. This is slightly more advanced but it’s the best way to bring your PHP skills up to the next level.
Service Design Patterns
More advanced developers may not know where to turn for improving and scaling a modern API. I would say Service Design Patterns by Robert Daigneau fits the bill perfectly.
It covers RESTful web services in great detail from troubleshooting to adapting the API for all users.
Robert explains the best scenarios when an API makes sense and helps you avoid common pitfalls during the dev process. The book is full of request/response design patterns and it covers a wide variety of endpoint styles. All code is written in .NET or Java, so it’s mostly a programming book for the web.
I’d recommend this to programmers who already know their language well and want to delve further into APIs.
ASP.NET Web API 2
The full title of this book is ASP.NET Web API 2: Building a REST Service from Start to Finish and it’s currently in its 2nd edition. The title aptly explains how this book teaches you to build APIs: from start to finish.
Since this is written solely for ASP.NET you will already need to be comfortable programming .NET applications. This book doesn’t hold your hand with development, but it does treat you like a newcomer to API work.
Many new sections were added in the 2nd edition and it’s certainly the best book to help .NET developers create web APIs from scratch.
REST API Design Rulebook
Learning the rules of a system should be the #1 priority before trying to build on that system. The REST API Design Rulebook was written to teach you the basic rules of CRUD and HTTP requests for API development.
The book spends quite a while discussing WRML(Web Resource Modeling Language) which may not be something you’re interested in learning. But the examples are very high quality and everything in this book can apply to real projects.
Since the book is all about rules and proper patterns for regulating RESTful APIs, you’ll spend most of your time reading and understanding. You won’t be diving into practice applications quickly but you will learn a lot of general talking points about REST which can fit any application.
The term “microservice” relates to a newer style of application development. It focuses on very small, modularized features which each work on one task very well. Sam Newman wrote Building Microservices as an introduction to this concept.
His book is platform-agnostic so he doesn’t care whether you choose REST or SOAP, or if you use PHP or Java. This book covers the entire process of designing and scaling a microservice from the ground up. It goes far beyond API design to include coding patterns, unit testing, and continuous integration.
Please note this book is not solely an API book.
However it will help you understand API development in the context of modern microservices. If you’re looking into this area of development then Building Microservices will be worth the read.
APIs: A Strategy Guide
While this book is only 130 pages long it packs quite a bit of info into those pages. APIs: A Strategy Guide was written for companies and teams that may be looking into API development, but aren’t sure where to begin.
It covers basic topics like how to design, structure, secure, and maintain an API. You’ll learn about the business side of API development and how it can affect customers.
This may be more useful for new startups and project managers who are on the fence about building an API. If you already have an API or want to work with other APIs then this book won’t help you.
Most online APIs work through the REST architecture. Michael Stowe’s Undisturbed REST is a great beginner’s book for introducing yourself to REST APIs. You’ll learn how they work and how to connect into other APIs with live code examples.
Plus you’ll get valuable tips for designing your own API from scratch.
It may not seem like a detailed book on API development, but it’ll give beginners a lot to start with.
RESTful Web API Handbook
Here’s another short but sweet guide to the REST architecture. The RESTful Web API Handbook is 122 pages long and spans cover-to-cover with important philosophies for implementing REST properly into your workflow.
I can’t say if this will be the best choice for a beginner. When I first read this book I was completely lost and moved onto other resources. Then after a few months I picked it up again with some knowledge of REST under my belt and it made way more sense.
I think the RESTful Web API Handbook works best as a reference guide for beginners who already know some basics and want to get better. But I don’t think it’ll be the right solution for everyone.
Restlet in Action: Developing RESTful APIs in Java
If you’ve done any Java development for the web you know it can be complex and sometimes downright insane. Thankfully HTTP APIs can be handled with the Java Restlet framework , which is the focus of this entire book.
Restlet in Action is undeniably the most practical book you’ll find on Java REST development. The framework is stunning and this book is the perfect companion for learning to use it from start to finish.
You will need to already have some competence with Java to get the most from this book.
However I found the topics to be detailed, insightful, and very easy to learn without struggle. It certainly helps if you can pick up the basics of REST first by reading a theory book like RESTful Web APIs . But you can get by just fine if you’re competent in Java and willing to learn.
These are simply my top recommended books for API development. Coming from a background in PHP and C# I found these to be the most useful(some more than others). REST is another beast altogether so learning RESTful API development can take a long time.
But with a little elbow grease and the right resources you can learn this stuff pretty quickly.
Author: Alex Turner
Alex is a fullstack developer with years of experience working in digital agencies and as a freelancer. He writes about educational resources and tools for programmers building the future of the web.