Contact Us

7 HTTP methods every web developer should know and how to test them : Assertible

Ruby on Rails | February 3, 2021

Ever wondered what the difference is between GET and POST
requests, or when to use PUT? You’re not alone. Having a basic
understanding of the different HTTP methods, or verbs, an API
supports is an helpful knowledge when exploring and testing APIs.

In this post, I’ll discuss how each HTTP method is used and how to
incorporate them in your API testing.

GET requests are the most common and widely used methods in APIs and
websites. Simply put, the GET method is used to retreive data from a
server at the specified resource
. For example, say you have an API
with a /users endpoint. Making a GET request to that endpoint should
return a list of all available users.

Since a GET request is only requesting data and not modifying any
resources, it’s
considered
a safe and idempotent method.

Testing an API with GET requests

When you’re creating tests for an API, the GET method will likely be
the most frequent type of request made by consumers of the service, so
it’s important to check every known endpoint with a GET request.

At a basic level, these things should be validated:

GET is often the default method in HTTP clients, so creating tests
for these resources should be simple with any tool you choose.

In web services, POST requests are used to send data to the API
server
to create or udpate a resource. The data sent to the server is
stored in
the
request body of
the HTTP request.

The simplest example is a contact form on a website. When
you fill out the inputs in a form and hit Send, that data is put in
the response body of the request and sent to the server. This may
be JSON, XML, or query parameters (there’s plenty of other formats,
but these are the most common).

It’s worth noting that a POST request is non-idempotent. It
mutates data on the backend server (by creating or updating a
resource), as opposed to a GET request which does not change any
data. Here is a great explanation of idempotentcy.

Testing an API with POST requests

The second most common HTTP method you’ll encounter in your API tests
is POST. As mentioned above, POST requests are used to
send data to the API server and create or update a resource. Since
POST requests modify data, it’s important to have API tests for all
of your POST methods
.

Here are some tips for testing POST requests:

For some more ideas on common API testing
scenarios,
check out this post.

Simlar to POST, PUT requests are used to send data to the API to
update or create a resource. The difference is
that
. That
is, calling the same PUT request multiple times will always produce
the same result
. In contrast, calling a POST request repeatedly make
have side effects of creating the same resource multiple times.

Generally, when a PUT request creates a resource the server will
respond with a 201 (Created), and if the request modifies
existing resource the server will return a 200 (OK) or 204 (No
Content
).

Testing an API with PUT requests

Testing an APIs PUT methods is very similar to testing POST
requests. But now that we know the difference between the two
(idempotency), we can create API tests to confirm this behavior.

Check for these things when testing PUT requests:

A PATCH request is one of the lesser-known HTTP methods, but I’m
including it this high in the list since it is similar to POST and
PUT. The difference with PATCH is that you only apply partial
modifications to the resource
.

The difference between PATCH and PUT, is that
a
(like
a POST request).

To expand on partial modification, say you’re API has a
/users/{{userid}} endpoint, and a user has a username. With a
PATCH request, you may only need to send the updated username in
the request body – as opposed to POST and PUT which require the full
user entity.

Testing an API with PATCH requests

Since the PATCH method is so simlar to POST and PUT, many of the
same testing techniques apply.
It’s still important to validate the
behavior of any API endpoints that accept this method.

What to look for when testing PATCH requests:

The semantics of PATCH requests will largely depend on the specific API you’re testing.

The DELETE method is exactly as it sounds: delete the resource at
the specified URL
. This method is one of the more common in RESTful
APIs so it’s good to know how it works.

If a new user is created with a POST request to /users, and it can
be retrieved with a GET request to /users/{{userid}}, then making
a DELETE request to /users/{{userid}} will completely remove that
user.

Testing an API with DELETE requests

DELETE requests should be heavily tested since they generally remove
data from a database. Be careful when testing DELETE methods, make
sure you’re using the correct credentials and not testing with real
user data.

A typical test case for a DELETE request would look like this:

In addition, sending a DELETE request to an unknown resource should
return
a non-200 status code.

The HEAD method is almost identical to GET, except without the
response body
. In other words, if GET /users returns a list of
users, then HEAD /users will make the same request but won’t get
back the list of users.

HEAD requests are useful for checking what a GET request will
return
before actually making a GET request — like before
downloading a large file or response
body. Learn more about HEAD requests on MDN.

It’s worth pointing out that not every endpoint that supports GET
will support HEAD – it completely depends on the API you’re testing.

Testing an API with HEAD requests

Making API requests with HEAD methods is actually an effective way
of simply verifying that a resource is available. It is good
practice to have a test for HEAD requests everywhere you have a test
for GET requests (as long as the API supports it).

Check these things when testing an API with HEAD requests:

Another useful case for HEAD requests
is
API smoke testing –
make a HEAD request against every API endpoint to ensure they’re
available.

Last but not least we have OPTIONS requests. OPTIONS requests are
one of my favorites, though not as widely used as the other HTTP
methods. In a nutshell, an OPTIONS request should return data
describing what other methods and operations the server supports

at the given URL.

OPTIONS requests are more loosely defined and used than the others,
making them a good candidate to test for fatal API errors. If an
API isn’t expecting an OPTIONS request, it’s good to put a test case
in place that verifies failing behavior.

Testing an API with OPTIONS requests

Testing an OPTIONS request is dependent on the web service; whether
or not it supports that and what is supposed to return will define
how you should test it
.

How to validate an endpoint using OPTIONS:

More resources

What I’ve discussed above is just a starting point for digging in to
HTTP methods and testing various resources of an API. It also assumes
a mostly ideal case – in the real world, APIs are not as structured as
the examples above. This makes testing various methods against an API
an effective way to find unexpected bugs.

This content was originally published here.