Optimizing REST APIs for Mobile Applications

Optimizing REST APIs for Mobile Applications


REST APIs are a crucial part of the technology stack. In order to scale and grow, we must make sure that our REST APIs are optimized properly. In this article, we will go over some best practices for optimizing your REST API for mobile applications.


Use JSON for Serialization

When developing an application that uses REST APIs, it’s important to use JSON for serialization. JSON is lightweight and easy to parse, making it the preferred choice over XML for mobile applications. Here are some advantages of using JSON:

  • JSON is more readable than XML
  • JSON is more compact than XML
  • JSON is less verbose than XML
  • JSON is more flexible than XML


Get Rid of XML

XML is verbose, and it can be difficult to read. The structure of XML documents is not as flexible as JSON, which means that if you have a lot of data in your API response and you want to use it in an app, JSON would be the way to go.

Another reason why XML should be avoided is that it is not easy for humans to parse. In fact, the standard for data interchange between applications (and even websites) these days is JSON—it’s just easier for us humans! And it’s more compact than XML too.


Compress Your Responses

Compress Your Responses

  • Use GZIP compression. Whenever you can, compress your responses using GZIP. This is usually done through HTTP headers, and it can significantly reduce the size of your response payloads without compromising on quality or performance.

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Build Your Data Model to Reduce Bandwidth

In general, you should strive to reduce the amount of data returned by your REST API. The fewer bytes your client needs to download, the faster its user experience will be and the less likely it will be to crash or stall. However, there are some nuances around this topic that deserve further exploration:

  • Reduce field count – If you can cut down on the number of fields returned, most good REST APIs will do so. This might mean consolidating multiple object types into a single entity or using lists instead of nested objects (see above).
  • Only return what’s necessary – It is not uncommon for an API designer to add unnecessary information about objects as part of their data model design process without realizing how much bandwidth this requires when transmitted across networks. For example, if you have an accounting system with three different types of account numbers that typically require separate text fields in all accounts related tables but never appear together in any one row (i.e., there are no multi-column primary keys), consider reducing this complexity by creating a field called “AccountID” and putting all three account type IDs into this single column (or even better yet adding multiple values through JSON Schema). Then use these new AccountID values within other tables where appropriate; for example: [var] = “numeric value” OR [“numeric value”] = “text value”. By doing so you can remove nine extra columns from your database design while still allowing access to all required information through standard SQL queries!


Version Your API

To begin, let’s talk about versioning. Versioning is a must for any software development, but it’s even more important for an API that you plan on exposing to the public. Having an intelligently versioned API will help prevent breaking changes from happening when you do make changes to your application logic or data models, as well as allow clients to choose which versions they want to target and avoid using older APIs that may not be supported anymore. In addition to preventing breaking changes in future releases of your application, proper versioning can also help you deploy new features without breaking existing clients (i.e., by sending them updates) or deploying them in a way that doesn’t require updating all existing client applications at once (i.e., by allowing clients to opt into getting the new features).


Limit Response Size

  • Define your problem. Before you start to solve a problem, it’s important to step back and think about what your true goal is. If you have a specific fitness goal of losing 10 pounds in three months, then that should be your primary focus when deciding on a solution. You can’t set up an incentive scheme that tells people they’ll lose weight faster if they exercise more—they already know this! Instead of encouraging them to do something they already intend on doing, try an approach that reinforces their existing behavior by rewarding them for small steps taken towards their ultimate goal.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself and others who will be using your product (including how much time it will take). If the people using your mobile application are going to care about something else besides achieving their own personal goals (like helping others), then make sure those goals align with yours so that everyone gets what they want from using the app!



Embrace HATEOAS and RESTful Services

To further leverage the discovery benefits of HATEOAS, you should embrace RESTful services. RESTful services are based on the principle that APIs should be self-descriptive and designed such that they comply with the following constraints:

  • Resources – Resources should be uniquely addressable by a URI (a URL)
  • Methods – There should be standard methods for accessing resources, like GET, POST and DELETE. These are known as “CRUD” operations (Create, Read, Update and Delete).
  • Response Codes – Responses from requests must communicate back to clients about whether the request was successful or not via status codes such as 200 OK or 404 Not Found


Error Messages Must Be Clear and Concise

When an API response contains an error code, it is crucial that the error message explain the reason for the failure in a clear and concise manner. According to the HTTP specification, all error messages must be self-explanatory; this means that your clients should not have to refer elsewhere for more information about why their request failed.

The best way to ensure that your error messages are clear and concise is by providing detailed descriptions of each possible failure scenario in documentation. However, if you don’t want users looking at documentation every time they hit an error message on your site, there are other ways of making sure they know what went wrong:

  • Use common sense when constructing error messages – don’t use technical terms or phrases when describing problems that could easily be explained using simpler language (e.g., “Not found” instead of “404”).
  • Try not to use too many words! The shorter your text is, the easier it will be for people without programming backgrounds to understand what went wrong with their requests—which means fewer support tickets filed against you!


It is incredibly important to ensure your REST API is done properly. It will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

It is incredibly important to ensure your REST API is done properly. It will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

If you don’t do it right, your API will be slow and hard to use. It can also be hard to fix once the API is out in the wild. There are many things that can go wrong when making an API and if you don’t do them all correctly, or at least try to anticipate problems that might arise from using it, then things can get really ugly fast!

You need to get it right from the start if you want people using your app or service on mobile devices through a 3rd party application like ours for example!


We hope that this post has helped you to better understand the importance of optimizing your REST API for mobile applications. If you’re looking to build an API, then make sure you follow these guidelines. We want to hear from you—if there are other tips or tricks that make your APIs faster and more efficient than ever before, don’t hesitate to comment below!

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