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I have the following scenario: a client app that consumes a REST API. The client is a mobile application. Therefore, it caches the API data for bandwidth saving and offline support.

With REST it can be done using the If-Modified-Since header. It is, the cache management system from the client side stores the HTTP-Date and send it as a Header within the request to the API, in which, is made a check and happen to send a '304 Not Modified' status in case the resource haven't been modified since the specified data.

The "If-Modified-Since" header field makes a GET or HEAD request method conditional on the selected representation's modification date being more recent than the date provided in the field-value. Transfer of the selected representation's data is avoided if that data has not changed (rfc7232#section-3.3 If-Modified-Since).

Assuming that, by "resources", it could be either a collection or a single record, the modified date would be the resource modified date (i.e., if it's a collection of records, the date would be the entire collection modified date). So, internally it'd make a database query to check if the record or the collection was modified since then and produce a proper response.

So far, this is how I intend to implement the caching strategy, as much REST as I can.

Problem is, it's a high impact design decision, and I'm not sure if it's a good approach or if there's a better way of implementing this. All the idea is based on logic and a little REST knowledge and I couldn't find any resource on how to implement this.

I'd like some critique on this model, whether it's good enough, have a better approach or even some caveats to improve the current idea, would be all appreciated.

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    RFC 2616 is out of date. Instead, refer to RFC 7230-7235. – Eric Stein Jul 12 '17 at 17:43
  • @EricStein done. – lenilsondc Jul 12 '17 at 17:57
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    Sounds reasonable to me, and I found a few websites with info on specifics. – Andrew Piliser Jul 12 '17 at 18:29
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If-Modified-Since works well for single resources where it is quick and easy to determine if the resource has been modified. For example, HTTP servers have this functionality baked in for static files since it can use the file's timestamp. The general concept is that processing the resource is more expensive than determining it's modification date. I would consider it for single resources, but not for collections.

There are several caching schemes to choose from, and you should only use the most appropriate one to solve the need. In some cases, caching is detrimental. Examples:

  • The results are bound to change each request (i.e. high rate of change)
  • Proxies can break caching schemes that are user specific (i.e. an inbox scenario)
  • The cost of determining if the item is newer is the same as retrieving it (i.e. the difference in time to just check a date and get a whole record from a database is usually negligible, but making 2 queries when one will do actually makes things worse)

I've been bitten by a number of proxy-induced caching bugs, particularly old and not well maintained proxy servers in customer networks. Test with multiple users to make sure that your caching efforts don't actually make things worse.

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The drawback of your approach is that it doesn't cover many of the caching scenarios. Every element seem to be cached forever (at least for a very long time), and when the client runs out of memory, it decides which cached elements to remove, without giving you any control over the process. In real life, you often need to be able to have this sort of control, in order, for instance, to get out of cache the elements which are rarely used, while keeping the ones which are used much more often.

If you don't need this sort of control, your approach is perfectly fine.

Note that if for some resources, you don't have the last modification date, you may use HTTP ETags instead, for instance by computing the hash of the object in the database, and comparing it to the hash provided by the client.

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