Get more REST - Using YUI and JavaScript for REST

Today, we'll look into building a fully capable REST client in YUI that allows record creation, retrieving, updating and deletion (CRUD) as well as searching. This is not a copy and paste article, but explains the general concepts as a read-along to reading the source of the example application.

Start Here First: Understanding REST

To make the most of this article, it is important to not only understand the basic idea of REST but to also see how it works within Catalyst.

To start out understanding REST, read the excellent article by Ryan Tomayko, about explaining REST in simple terms that a non technical person is able to understand. It will help a technical person understand it even more.

Up next is to get a good understanding for how REST works inside of Catalyst, using Adam Jacob's excellent Catalyst::Action::REST package. The best way to get up to speed is to review Day 9 from the 2006 Advent Calendar, at

Following Along: Using the Source

The examples that are listed here are available from the Catalyst subversion repository, available via:

 svn co

This is a fully functional application that uses REST webservices instead of the traditional method of form submission and posting. While this isn't an ideal use of REST, and it doesn't give you anything over a non-JavaScript based form, it should help people think about things a little different and show the power of a framework that can use any view, not just HTML, to represent objects.

This article talks about building the core pieces, but there are many other important points in the example application that are not covered specifically in the article. Please check out the source above, run the application and read the source as you read this article.

Why use JavaScript?

The big question that comes along when working with REST in the browser is why do you have to use JavaScript. The reason why we're required to use JavaScript for a full REST service is because the vocabulary that a browser speaks natively is limited to only two verbs: GET and POST.

However, when using the XmlHttpRequest JavaScript object that is available in all Grade A browsers the vocabulary is extended to support PUT, DELETE and HEAD and many others.

With this, you can write a web application that is also a web service, with very little redundant code. Additionally, the tests can test the data and separate tests can test the HTML rendering. This makes things much less tedious, and the tests more accurate.

With Selenium testing the JavaScript, you can have full end-to-end testing with very little pain. To me, we're finally at a point in browser development where the question is why not use JavaScript.

Connecting to REST

The general idea of REST is getting what you ask for, in the format you want. In the simplest form, an XmlHttpRequest isn't enough to talk to a REST webservice. There are a few major points that come together to make everything work:

Content Type

Because YUI assumes you're working with a brain-dead framework that can't support wonderful things like REST, you have to map the default content-type (or dig into YUI and setup different content type headers, but this is quite a bit of work). In the REST controller, assigning this content type to serialization format is a piece of cake:

    # Set the default serialization to JSON
    'default' => 'JSON',
    'map' => {
        # Remap x-www-form-urlencoded to use JSON for serialization
        'application/x-www-form-urlencoded' => 'JSON',

YUI will also not set the default content type header to a useful value, so you have to do that in the JavaScript. This is covered later in detail.

Request Method

The request method is the verb. This means you are GETting a resource, POSTting a new resource in the system, PUTing an update to an existing resource or DELETEing something.

Luckily, XmlHttpRequest and YUI supports this just fine without any additional tweaking.

Data Serialization

The Content-Type not only specifies how you want the data back, but it specifies how you are sending data. In the context of a PUT or POST, any data you send has to match the Content-Type provided. So if you send a Content-type header of 'text/x-json', the data has to be in JSON. There are a ton of serialization for mats available, so pick what works best for you in each application.

If you're working with a JavaScript-based interface, I prefer JSON. If I'm doing command line interaction, I like serialization in YAML. The same resource can handle multiple serialization formats, just change the Content-type!

Starting the Catalyst Application

We're taking last year's AdventREST example app and slightly modifying it to add support for YUI.

So, to get started you can check out that application from subversion by doing:

 svn co

Or check out the completed RestYUI application.

The only fundamental change to the application is adding the Template Toolkit view:

 script/ view TT TT

Also, we have to grab the static files for YUI itself. As of writing this, version 2.3.1 is available from Check the latest version at

After extracting the files from the zip archive, just copy over the .js files to the root/static directory. My preferred method is to do this:

 cd MyApp
 mkdir root/static/yui
 cd /where/you/unpacked/yui/build
 for i in *; do cp $i/$i.js $i/$i-beta.js /path/to/MyApp/root/static/yui; done

That will copy all the non-minimized (but not debug versions) and beta JS files into your static/yui path, so you can reference them with an easy URI:/static/yui/yahoo.js

The other files that are very useful are the "sam" CSS and image files. For the datatable, we're going to use sam/datatable.css and a few other images:


Those will make the DataTable look nice and stylish. If you want to expand more on the YUI styles then the buttons, containers and other layouts are a great asset provided by Yahoo.

Preparing the REST WebService

To gain access to the REST services, we'll be accessing both the list and the item actions. The list is going to be pulled by using a customized YUI DataSource object.

This will ask the REST service for a list of our people objects, and in a simple form is nothing more than a DBIx::Class search:

   sub user_list_GET {
       my ( $self, $c ) = @_;

       my %user_list;
       my $user_rs = $c->model('DB::User')->search;
       while ( my $user_row = $user_rs->next ) {
           $user_list{ $user_row->user_id } =
             $c->uri_for( '/user/' . $user_row->user_id )->as_string;
       $self->status_ok( $c, entity => \%user_list );

That is from the original REST article, and to make the most of the list we're going to enhance the listing to provide some additional meta information that enhances the webservice with features such as pagination and other contextual information. We'll add in pagination with a CGI parameter "page" and a param for the number of items per page called "per_page"

   sub user_list_GET {
       my ( $self, $c ) = @_;
       my $page     = $c->req->params->{page} || 1;
       my $per_page = $c->req->params->{per_page} || 10;

       # We'll use an array now:
       my @user_list;
       my $rs = $c->model('DB::User')
           ->search(undef, { rows => $per_page })->page( $page );
       while ( my $user_row = $rs->next ) {
           push @user_list, {
               uri => $c->uri_for( '/user/' . $user_row->user_id )->as_string

       $self->status_ok( $c, entity => {
           result_set => {
               totalResultsAvailable => $rs->pager->total_entries,
               totalResultsReturned  => $rs->pager->entries_on_this_page,
               firstResultPosition   => $rs->pager->current_page,
               result => [ @user_list ]

So now we have a serialized structure that looks like this in JSON:

Connecting with YUI

After the webservice is up, it is time to setup the Yahoo DataSource object.

We'll create a simple template off of the index action in, so create this action in

 sub index : Private {
     my ( $self, $c ) = @_;
     $c->forward( $c->view('TT') );

That will just direct the action for "/" to go to TT, and render an "" template.

The file is pretty basic, and after the HTML tags this is the crux of what gets the job done:

    /* Create the YAHOO.util.DataSource object, the parameter is the
       URI to your REST service
    this.myDataSource = new YAHOO.util.DataSource("[%
         c.uri_for( c.controller('User').action_for('user_list') ) %]");
    this.myDataSource.responseType = YAHOO.util.DataSource.TYPE_JSON;
    this.myDataSource.connXhrMode = "queueRequests";
    this.myDataSource.responseSchema = {
    	resultsList: "result_set.result",
        /* We have to define the fields for usage elsewhere */
        fields: [
            "pk1", "token", "default_lang", "languages",
            "url", "t_created", "t_updated", "actions"

After this, we have a functional DataSource object that can be tied into a DataTable:

        myDataTable = new YAHOO.widget.DataTable(
            "kb_list", myColumnDefs,
            this.myDataSource, {
                /* The initialRequest is appended to the URI to set params */
                initialRequest: "page=1&content-type=text/x-json"

Adding REST PUT and POST Methods via YUI

The fundamental difference between a PUT and POST is a POST creates a new resource and PUTT updates an existing resource. In the original advent article, the PUT and POST articles were aliased and therefore provide identicali functionality. We're not going to change this, because for the purposes of this article it doesn't matter. YUI will respect whatever method provided in the asyncRequest call. So if you want to do a PUT, the call looks like:

    var request = YAHOO.util.Connect.asyncRequest(
        uri, callback, json_data

It's a good idea to read the overview and some examples of how to use asyncRequest, but the usage is very simple. That is really all that is necessary to trigger a REST call in YUI, but you have to watch the content type. By default, YUI will not set the proper content type, and since JSON is by far the easiest serialization method to use in JavaScript, we're going to use that.

YUI fortunately has an easy method for changing the content type, but it isn't a well-named method and you have to be careful because it sets the content type on subsequent calls, even if they're not a POST:


Adding that line before any asyncRequest calls will ensure you are sending the right content type header, and won't cause the REST service any confusion. The next step is actually encoding the JSON data from the form.

JSON Parsing and Encoding in JavaScript

The json2.js JSON stringifier and parser is used in this article and is available from It is public domain, and works very well.

From Form to JSON to REST

Given a form object, as what is declared in the root/user/ file, and hijack the normal submit mechanisms to enable a REST POST or PUT to a backend webservice is just a simple few lines of JavaScript:

    /* Setup the listener when the form is submitted: */
    YAHOO.util.Event.addListener(form, "submit", function(e) {
        /* Cancel the default submit event.
           You can get creative here for graceful fallbacks, think about it!
        /* Start a timeout to encapsulate the REST call */
        window.setTimeout(function() {
            /* What URI are we going to POST or PUT to?  Ourselves, in this case */
            var uri  = '[% c.req.uri %]';

            /* The actual data structure, it still is just JavaScript at this point.
               Keep in mind there are better ways to take a form and translate it into
               JSON, but being explicit never killed anybody
            var data = {
                user_id:     form['user_id'].value,
                fullname:    form['fullname'].value,
                description: form['description'].value
            /* Set the content-type to text/x-json, otherwise things will break! */ 
            /* The actual call, this bit makes the HTTP call */
            var request = YAHOO.util.Connect.asyncRequest(
                '[% method %]',
                /* Callback should contain a success and failure method, read the
                   YUI asyncRequest docs! */
                /* Stringify our data structure into JSON, this is sent in the HTTP BODY */
        }, 200);

That's it, with a lot of comments! This will send a PUT or POST request to the backend service with the form data encoded in JSON. You're not limited to PUT or POST methods, you can also use DELETE, HEAD and any other method defined in the RFC.

To see the full page, check out root/user/ in the RestYUI example.

The State of (un)REST in the Browser World

Beware, that not all browsers support every method so YUI and REST is not guaranteed to work on every browser and every platform. It's up to the browser developers to decide to support full specifications and I'm happy to report that most browsers do in this context, including both Internet Explorer 6.x and 7.


J. Shirley wrote the YUI based portions, with the original 2006 REST article being written by Adam Jacob.

Adam Jacob also wrote the Catalyst::Action::REST module, which is the foundation to all of this.