http - Is REST DELETE really idempotent?

ID : 20009

viewed : 20

Tags : httpresthttp-headershttp

Top 5 Answer for http - Is REST DELETE really idempotent?

vote vote

95

Idempotence refers to the state of the system after the request has completed


In all cases (apart from the error issues - see below), the account no longer exists.

From here

"Methods can also have the property of "idempotence" in that (aside from error or expiration issues) the side-effects of N > 0 identical requests is the same as for a single request. The methods GET, HEAD, PUT and DELETE share this property. Also, the methods OPTIONS and TRACE SHOULD NOT have side effects, and so are inherently idempotent. "


The key bit there is the side-effects of N > 0 identical requests is the same as for a single request.

You would be correct to expect that the status code would be different but this does not affect the core concept of idempotency - you can send the request more than once without additional changes to the state of the server.

vote vote

89

Idempotent is about the effect of the request, not about the response code that you get.

http://www.w3.org/Protocols/rfc2616/rfc2616-sec9.html#sec9.1.2 says:

Methods can also have the property of "idempotence" in that (aside from error or expiration issues) the side-effects of N > 0 identical requests is the same as for a single request.

While you may get a different response code, the effect of sending N+1 DELETE requests to the same resource can be considered to be the same.

vote vote

74

The important distinction is that idempotent refers to side-effects, not all-effects or responses. If you do a DELETE http://example.com/account/123 then the effect is that account 123 is now deleted from the server. That is the one and only effect, the one and only change to the state of the server. Now lets say you do the same DELETE http://example.com/account/123 request again, the server will respond differently, but its state is the same.

Its not like the DELETE request decided to change the server state in a different way because the account was missing, such as removing another account, or leaving an error log. Nay, you could call the same DELETE request a million times and you can be sure that the server is in the same state as it was the first time you called it.

vote vote

62

Quoted from my another answer here:

Historically, RFC 2616, published at 1999, was the most-referenced HTTP 1.1 specs. Unfortunately its description on idempotency was vague, that leaves room for all these debates. But that specs has been superseded by RFC 7231. Quoted from RFC 7231, section 4.2.2 Idempotent Methods, emphasis mine:

A request method is considered "idempotent" if the intended EFFECT ON THE SERVER of multiple identical requests with that method is the same as the effect for a single such request. Of the request methods defined by this specification, PUT, DELETE, and safe request methods are idempotent.

So, it is written in the specs, idempotency is all about the effect on the server. The first DELETE returning a 204 and then subsequent DELETE returning 404, such different status code does NOT make the DELETE non-idempotent. Using this argument to justify a subsequent 204 return, is simply irrelevant.


OK so it is not about idempotency. But then a follow-up question may be, what if we still choose to use 204 in subsequent DELETE? Is it OK?

Good question. The motivation is understandable: to allow the client to still reach its intended outcome, without worrying about error handling. I would say, returning 204 in subsequent DELETE, is a largely harmless server-side "white lie", which the client-side won't immediately tell a difference. That's why there are people doing that in the wild and it still works. Just keep in mind that, such lie can be considered semantically weird, because "GET /non-exist" returns 404 but "DELETE /non-exist" gives 204, at that point the client would figure out your service does not fully comply with section 6.5.4 404 Not Found.

But then, the intended way hinted by RFC 7231, i.e. returning 404 on subsequent DELETE, shouldn't be an issue in the first place. Many more developers chose to do that. That is presumably because, any client which implements HTTP DELETE (or any HTTP method, for that matter), would not blindly assume the result would always be successful 2xx. And then, once the developer starts to consider the error handling, 404 Not Found would be one of the first errors that comes into mind. At that point, he/she would hopefully draw a conclusion that, it is semantically safe for an HTTP DELETE operation to ignore a 404 error. Problem solved.

vote vote

58

From the HTTP RFC:

Methods can also have the property of "idempotence" in that (aside from error or expiration issues) the side-effects of N > 0 identical requests is the same as for a single request.

Note that's "side effects", not "response".

Top 3 video Explaining http - Is REST DELETE really idempotent?

Related QUESTION?